Life Member. Piano
6/16/1954 – 5/1/2023
Jeff Rizzo’s favorite Broadway musical was… well, almost all of them. Well known for his opinionated theatrical viewpoints, if a show was well cast and directed, with a sufficiently large orchestra, and moved along (preferably under 90 minutes), he’d give it a thumbs up. Musical Theater was in his blood…musicals were his life and few people exist that share his vast knowledge on the subject.
Born in Utica, New York on June 16, 1954 to Pasquale (Pat) and Joan (DeGeronimo) Rizzo, Jeff’s love of musical theater started early with a trip to Broadway to see Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Flower Drum Song.” While still fairly young, his family up and moved to the new frontier of Sacramento, California, where they all suffered immense culture shock in finding everyone eating something called “tacos” and bizarre things like avocados, both of which he later grew to love. Jeff began writing original music and lyrics and creating hand-made puppets for live shows and he got his start in acting portraying an orphan in “Oliver!” at the Sacramento Music Circus. Even his mom got into the act playing the Widow Corney.
Jeff went on to earn a bachelor of music degree, graduating cum laude from USC in 1976, while still spending summers in Sacramento where he would conduct upwards of 10 summer stock musicals back-to-back, a new show each week, with stars like Donald O’Connor, Ken Berry, Vicky Lawrence, JoAnne Worley, Debby Boone, Helen Reddy and many more. There’s hardly a musical that does not appear on his impressive conducting resume.
Jeff toured the country conducting regional and touring productions of shows such as “Annie,” “Dreamgirls,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and many more. In 2011, he was conducting “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” in Japan when the Great Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami hit. He realized his dream of conducting a Broadway show with the Madison Square Garden production of “The Wizard of Oz,” starring Mickey Rooney and Eartha Kitt, and he was very proud to conduct the show’s Grammy-nominated original cast album that memorably includes his infectious arrangement of “The Jitterbug.”
Beyond conducting, Jeff composed the scores of several stage musicals including “Stroke of Noon,” “A Wonderful Life,” “Love is Like Riding a Bicycle,” “May Today be the Worst Day of the Rest of Your Life,” “Topper,” “Wanna Play!” (which was filmed for PBS), and “Jailbirds on Broadway,” which had a successful run in L.A. in 1987.
Jeff met his life partner of 39 years, Eric Andrist, in 1983 while both were working on “Annie” for the San Bernardino Civic Light Opera. Together they founded the Musical Theatre Guild, a membership musical theater company in Los Angeles in 1995 and ran the company from their home in Burbank through 1999. They created a highly successful series of musical staged readings performed at the Pasadena Playhouse, which continues to this day in other venues, often moving out their furniture to hold rehearsals in their living room. Together Jeff and Eric wrote “A Christmas Carol – The Musical” which had a staged reading at the Pasadena Playhouse and a full production in Illinois. In 2018, they formed the Valley Villagers Choir to perform at their Christmas Holiday Block Party, made up of mostly their neighbors. The group had so much fun they requested that the choir keep going which they did until Covid hit. Not wanting to stop giving people a way to sing, Jeff and Eric created a series of “virtual” choir videos utilizing musical theater performers from across the country who submitted their videos digitally. Those videos can all be seen on YouTube (bit.ly/virtualchoirvideos). Jeff did a number of the choral arrangements including “Into the Fire,” “Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like,” and “The Story Goes On,” from the musical “Baby” by Maltby and Shire (who called Jeff with high praise for his arrangement and for the video). Jeff also put together a choral arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “The Rainbow Connection,” which has turned out to be a favorite for many.
In more recent years, Jeff found a job he loved working at AMDA Hollywood (The American Musical and Dramatic Academy), where his devotion to working with young musical theater performers thrived, as they in turn thrived from his devotion.
Jeff made a lot of selfless sacrifices so that they could care for Eric’s elderly mom and disabled sister, both of whom died from medical errors in the ensuing years. Jeff continued to work closer to home so that Eric could volunteer as a patient safety advocate, which he continues to do.
In 2021, during the fun-loving days of the Covid lockdown, Jeff and Eric packed their bags and left Los Angeles, purchasing a 108-year-old historic home in Oxnard called the Henry Levy House, which turned out to be haunted. They were featured on the Thanksgiving 2022 Season Finale of the TV show “Ghost Adventures” which you can watch on their website at www.henrylevyhouse.com (Note: the show’s “ghost” embellishments were not approved by homeowners!)
Unfortunately, Jeff, too, was affected by bad medicine when a local doctor failed to diagnose the seriousness of his health condition and abandoned his care. By the time Jeff found out how serious things had gotten, he no longer qualified for the life-saving lung transplant he desperately needed to live. Sadly, Jeff succumbed to pulmonary fibrosis on May 1, 2023.
To honor Jeff’s life, and to help others afflicted by this terrible disease, you can donate to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation by texting PFFTribute1301 to 71777.
A memorial “show” is being planned for later in the year. For more information, you can email Eric at email@example.com.