The Australian theatre scene is in shock this afternoon following the passing of legendary publicist Suzie Howie.
Howie worked for three decades on some of the country’s biggest musicals including Cats, Les Miserables, Jersey Boys and The Phantom of the Opera. More recently, she was an integral part of the publicity and media juggernauts Wicked and Mary Poppins, two of the biggest shows to reach Australian shores in decades.
Whilst Howie had been battling illness for some years, there will be shock amongst the tight-knit industry today.
She recently moved into the Palliative Care Unit at the Kyneton District Hospital and was working up on the publicity for A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum until two weeks ago, when her husband took her laptop and phone from from her. Forum is currently in previews and will open tomorrow night at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne.
When she died last night, it was the conclusion of a seven year cancer battle.
Howie, primarily based in Melbourne, and Sydney’s Judith Johnson essentially ran theatre in this country for the best part of 30 years. Now, Australian theatre has lost the two doyennes of the industry.
The country’s leading producer, John Frost, said the loss of Suzie Howie would be felt profoundly.
“She was a shining star in my life, always funny, generous and thank God totally outrageous,” he said in a statement.
“The industry has lost a person who lived and loved being the best at what she did…Thank you Suzie for being a total original.”
Tributes have begun to flow for the publicity Queen with long-time theatre agent Les Solomon penning this moving eulogy:
Doing big theatrical shows in Australia is and always will be a battle. The most important person in getting the word on the show to the public is the publicist and in Australia there were two women who did this better than anyone – Judith Johnson and Suzie Howie. Judith sadly died six years ago on the eve of the opening of the show for which she was working at the time, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and yesterday Suzie Howie left us, working until the last minute on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum which opens this Saturday night.
Suzie was a dynamo and impossible to replace, I had many happy memories of working with her. Most recently, when I had been out of journalism for some years working as a theatrical agent and she knew I had taken to writing a small column for AussieTheatre, she invited me to the opening of Mary Poppins in Melbourne. She treated me like a king – she always knew how to treat people with respect and love.
My greatest memory of Suzie was in 1987 when Les Miserables first opened in Australia. I broadcast my Macquarie Network radio show live for three and a half hours from the opening night party. Suzie spent the entire night shuffling people over to the broadcast table from the actors to Prime Ministers and international producers. She did the whole exercise with such love and a sense of fun, as she did with everything. She is an impossible act to follow, we will miss her forever.
Other tributes include heartfelt messages from actors, media personalities, and colleagues.
2UE and 3AW entertainment reporter Peter Ford told 3AW it was a devastating day for the entertainment industry.
She did it better than anybody… we’re talking about the big shows – Peter Ford
Amanda Harrison, who starred as Elphaba in Wicked, said on Twitter:
RIP Suzie Howie. This lady looked after me so well.
Jo Litson, a long-time theatre journalist also tweeted:
I will miss her and her manic enthusiasm and energy. We had some great trips together. Sad day.
3AW broadcaster Neil Mitchell said she would be missed.
She publicised more than 600 shows, drama, opera, ballet. She knew the greats of the industry before they were great, and she IS one of the greats of the industry.
Despite the enormous grief being felt across the industry, Howie did not want a public funeral. In the end, she wanted her passing to be in total contradiction to what she did for a career.