We got too little of Michael Economos—which is hard to believe, because he gave so much.
I first got to know Michael from the audience, because he had walked in the company’s door in 2009 just as I was walking out to attend to family affairs. For the next few years I was largely out of touch with the company, but I managed to see most of the shows the group did—and it was a great time to be seeing the company, because there was a hilariously funny new guy, a little man with an outsized talent who couldn’t seem to get off the stage.
Michael took his first bows with us as a wonderfully goofy Major-General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance (2010), and went on to play a shady-but-charming John Wellington Wells in The Sorcerer (2011), a sincere (but not too sincere) Robin Oakapple in Ruddigore (2013) and the title character, a preening theater impresario, in Thespis (2014). Perhaps his greatest performance came as a frantic, flailing Ko-Ko in The Mikado (2012), who calmed down just long enough to deliver perhaps the most touching “Titwillow” I’ve ever heard.
In 2015 I came back to the company and got to know Michael up close, and I found him as charming, as hard-working and as dynamic as he’d seemed onstage. I sang Despard to his Robin and Nanki-Poo to his Ko-Ko in a few concert performances and, in one of the real treats of my years with the company, I got to direct him as Scrooge in A Gilbert & Sullivan Christmas Carol (2014). I was in the audience to see him as Capt. Corcoran in H.M.S. Pinafore (2015), backed his Lord Chancellor from the chorus in Iolanthe (2016) and was in the audience again to see him reprise his Major-General (if possible, even funnier the second time around) in The Pirates of Penzance (2017). It fell to me to step in for him as Bunthorne in Patience (2018), and I had a great time doing it, but I’ll always regret not seeing what he would have done with one of the Savoy operas’ juiciest parts.
Along the way I also sang with Michael in 20 or so performances of our revue, The World According to Gilbert & Sullivan, and that was a joy of its own kind. Sopranos, mezzos and baritones came and went (bass Martin Fuller stayed), but Michael was there for every performance, always giving his very best whether we were on a small stage in Plainview in front of 100-odd people, on a big stage in Uniondale in front of three people or battling a rainstorm at a park in Kings Park that ended with us and the audience huddled under a canopy as we doggedly (and damply) fought through to the final note.
This has been a great decade for the Gilbert & Sullivan Light Opera Company, and anyone who’s seen our shows during that time knows that. And if they’ve seen any of those shows—main productions, revues, Christmas Carol, fund-raising concerts—they’ve seen Michael Economos. More than me, more than Robert Del Monte, more than anybody else, the face of the company in the 2010s has been Michael’s face, with its cagey eyes, crooked smile and infectious excitement.
And yet, what Michael did onstage was only half the story. As the company’s president since 2015, he’s been our indefatigable leader, its bubbling source of ideas, inspiration, energy and enthusiasm.
Michael believed in leading by doing, and that he did: He seemed to be there for every board meeting, every set-building session, every fund raiser, every cast party, always 100% into whatever he was doing, and always looking forward to the next thing. Before a show he was a dervish, seemingly in dozens of places at once: running a song with the orchestra, setting up the box office, practicing a dance with a stage partner, reading through a press release, recruiting a new member for the board, brushing up his lines and, always, bouncing in front of the curtain just before the show to say to the audience, “Hello, we’re the Gilbert & Sullivan Light Opera Company of Long Island—say, is anyone here from Long Island?”
He was full of ideas to make the company bigger and better, and almost all of those ideas seemed to end with the words, “I’ll do it.” If he had a weakness as a leader, it was that it was hard to talk him into sharing the load, letting others who loved the group do their bit. Michael was a man of boundless energy, and it was at the disposal of those he loved: above all his family, but also his friends, his colleagues and the G&S company to which he gave so very much.
It’s been an honor and a privilege to share this wonderful journey with Michael, whether following him, leading him, walking by his side or cheering from the audience. It’s hard, even now, to believe that he won’t be there to continue it with us, but his legacy won’t be forgotten. Beyond the example of passion, commitment and hard work that he always set us, Michael was a zealous recruiter for the company, bringing into its ranks numerous family and friends, including his talented daughters Emily and Rebecca, his old friend Jordan Breslow and his beloved wife Christine, who has supported the company in all kinds of offstage duties.
That we’ve lost Michael so early is terribly unfair, to us for what we might yet have gotten from him, and to him for what he might yet have gotten from us. All the same, we’re fortunate to have known him so long and so well, and he remains a part of us as we go forward, the way he always wanted us to.