Benjamin Rush "Rusty" Magee was born August 6, 1955 in Washington, D.C., the son of Bettie Morris Magee and the late Dr. Kenneth Raymond Magee. After graduating from Philips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, Rusty enrolled at Brown University, where he received a bachelor's degree in music in 1978.
After graduation from Brown, Rusty worked for three years as the musical consultant and musical director for the Yale School of Drama and the Yale Repertory Theatre. In 1981 he was awarded an honorary Master of Fine Arts degree by the Yale School of Drama. He then moved to New York City, where he worked as a composer, lyricist and actor in theater, television, film and commercials. He also performed comedy at the West Bank Café in New York City and at other clubs, colleges and events.
In 1984 he married Alison Fraser, an actress and singer. They had one son, Nathaniel, born in April 1990.
Magee wrote music and lyrics for a number of plays that were produced on and off Broadway. In 1993 he won the New York Outer Critics' Circle James Fleetwood Award for most promising composer for his music and lyrics to the Classic Stage Company's adaptation of Moliere's Scapin . He wrote original music for A Midsummer Night's Dream and What You Will for Moonwork, a theater company that presents contemporary adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, and music and lyrics for the Manhattan Theatre Club's production of The Green Heart . In 1986 Magee arranged and performed the piano music for the revival at Lincoln Center of John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves, which was nominated for a Tony Award for best play that year. For many years he was the musical director at the Irish Repertory Theater in Manhattan, where he arranged the music for and performed in Frank McCourt's The Irish and How They Got That Way . He also wrote music for hundreds of one-act plays that were presented at the West Bank Café's Downstairs Theatre.
With his friend, comedian Lewis Black, Magee wrote The Czar of Rock and Roll, a musical that premiered at Houston's Alley Theater in 1990. At the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he wrote music and lyrics for Carlo Goldini's The Servant of Two Masters, Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid and Ubu Rock, an adaptation of Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi .
Magee also wrote music for children, including songs for The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss, seen on Nickelodeon Television, Arthur: A Live Adventure, which was seen at theaters around the country, and Flurry Tale, a children's Christmas opera produced by American Opera Projects at Lincoln Center in 1999. He wrote music for the television pilot Family Brood and the film New School Order, which competed at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival. As an actor, Magee appeared in the Woody Allen film Hannah and Her Sisters .
In 1998 Magee was awarded the "Coming up Taller" Humanitarian Award by First Lady Hilary Clinton for his work at the 52nd St. Project, a theater company in the "Hell's Kitchen" neighborhood of Manhattan. He was a member of the Actors Equity Association, the Screen Actors Guild, AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), The Dramatists Guild and the Ensemble Studio Theatre.
In May 2002 a tribute to Magee and his music called "Sweet Appreciation" was held at the West Bank Café. Magee passed away on February 16, 2003 after a long battle with cancer. A second tribute, "Sweet Appreciation II", was held in his memory in June 2003. In 2006 the Ackerman Institute for the Family, which provides services to families and couples facing a chronic or life-threatening illness, dedicated the Rusty Magee Clinic for Families and Health in his honor. A concert to benefit the clinic, called "Sweet Appreciation III", was held that year and again in 2007.
From the guide to the Rusty Magee papers, Magee (Rusty) papers, 1966-2007, (bulk 1978-2002), (Brown University Library Special Collections)