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Subject: Vincent Liff, Casting Director for Many Broadway Hits

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Date Posted: March 02, 2003 10:17:01 EDT

Vincent G. Liff, a prolific casting director who assembled the talent for some of Broadway's biggest hits, died on Tuesday at his home at Manhattan. He was 52.

The cause was brain cancer, said Scott Rudin, a producer who was a friend and former employee.

Working with his business partner, Geoffrey Johnson, Mr. Liff was one of the busiest behind-the-scenes players in New York theater. His first Broadway credit came in 1975, when Johnson-Liff was chosen to cast the all-black ensemble of "The Wiz." Working with the director, Geoffrey Holder, and the choreographer, George Faison, Mr. Liff, then just 24, was responsible for picking some 40 cast members, many of them making Broadway debuts.

The cast Mr. Liff helped choose included a raft of up-and-coming black actors, among them Andre De Shields, Stephanie Mills, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Ted Ross. Mr. Ross and Ms. Bridgewater won Tony Awards for their performances.

"The Wiz" was just the first of scores of Tony winners for Johnson-Liff. Over the next 25 years, Mr. Liff and Mr. Johnson would cast more than 150 Broadway and touring productions, including such landmark musicals as "Cats," "Les Misérables," "The Phantom of the Opera," "Miss Saigon" and "Dreamgirls," as well as major plays like "The Elephant Man," "Equus," "Amadeus" and "The Dresser."

Directors like Trevor Nunn and Harold Prince sought out Johnson-Liff, as did countless aspiring actors, who bombarded their offices with headshots, postcards and other pleas for work. In the late 1980's the duo took on Andrew Zerman as a third partner; he worked with them on many of their major projects during the next decade.

Mr. Liff also gave entry-level jobs to several future movers and shakers, including Mr. Rudin and the casting director Tara Rubin.

But actors in particular were Mr. Liff's passion. He was widely known as a kind auditioner, capable of watching hundreds of auditions — often at open calls, where anyone can try out — without lapsing into depression. At a recent cocktail reception at Sardi's where Mr. Rudin was host, the actors Peter Gallagher and Gary Beach, who won a Tony for "The Producers," thanked Johnson-Liff for giving them their first break.

Mr. Liff's cancer was diagnosed in the late 1990's, but he continued to work. Among his later credits were "Contact" and "The Producers."

With Mr. Liff's condition worsening, he and Mr. Johnson chose to close their agency on Dec. 31.

Mr. Liff is survived by his companion, Ken Yung; his father, George, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; a brother, Stephen, of Jamaica Plains, Mass.; a sister, Martha Liff-Smith of Londonderry, N.H.; and an uncle, Samuel (Biff) Liff, an agent at the William Morris Agency in Manhattan.

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