Jack Eric Williams

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Jack Eric Williams
Birth name Jack Eric Williams
Born (1944-03-28)March 28, 1944
Odessa, Texas, U.S.
Died January 28, 1994(1994-01-28) (aged 49)
New York City, U.S.
Genres Musical theatre
Occupation(s) Composer, lyricist, actor, director
Years active 1976–1993

Jack Eric Williams (March 28, 1944 – January 28, 1994) was an American actor, composer and lyricist for stage and film. He is most remembered for originating the role of Beadle Bamford in Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. In 2003 his life and death were the subject of one of William Finn's Elegies: A Song Cycle, The Ballad of Jack Eric Williams (and other 3-named composers). Williams died in New York City on January 28, 1994 from cardiac arrest due to complications of diabetes.


Jack Eric Williams appeared off-Broadway as Max in a 1974 production of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming at the Wonderhorse Theater. He made his Broadway debut in 1976 in the Lincoln Center revival of Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera, singing in the ensemble and understudying the role of the Ballad Singer. He next appeared in Stephen Sondheim's 1979 masterpiece Sweeney Todd, originating the role of the villainous Beadle Bamford. Sondheim wrote the exceptionally-difficult vocal lines with Williams' voice in mind. His performances in both shows are preserved on their original cast albums. In 1981 he appeared in the controversial film Strong Medicine. A noted tenor, he once gave a command performance for the King and Queen of Sweden. Williams regularly performed his work in cabaret venues around New York. His one-man show, Songs and Other Devices: A Cabaret Recital (volumes 1-4) was performed at The Ballroom, Lone Star Cafe, Reno Sweeney, S.N.A.F.U., The Other End, and The Westbank Cafe.


In spite of his high-profile Broadway appearances, Williams considered himself primarily a composer.

In 1980 Williams wrote the music to original lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for the play Galileo, originally written for and with Charles Laughton. He followed that with a dance score for choreographer Johanna Boyce's Waterbodies for the American Dance Festival. The work was performed in and around a swimming pool, rather than in a traditional theater.

In 1981 he composed the score for the movie thriller Nightmare -which was originally banned in the UK for its excessive violence and gore.

His 1983 musical biography of Frances Farmer, Mrs. Farmer's Daughter, was produced at the American Music Festival in Philadelphia in 1984. Lisa Vroman recorded one of the show's songs, "Full Moon", on her 2000 album Broadway Classic.

Sheldon Larry directed Williams' 1984 musical, Romance Language, at Playwrights Horizons in New York City.

Williams' most successful show was 1990's Swamp Gas and Shallow Feelings: A Brand New Nashville Musical Fable, which was work-shopped in 1988 and 1990 at the National Music Theater Conference of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, and again in 1991 at the National Music Theater Network as part of its Broadway Dozen Series. The work earned him the Richard Rodgers Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1990, and was produced by the Barter Theater in 2006.

The Public Theater commissioned Jack Eric Williams and Richard Isen to write an original ten-minute musical. The resulting show, Dear Someone, was performed at the theater. Williams also wrote another ten-minute opera for the same competition entitled, "Oh! God, I Loved Harry!".


Jack Eric Williams was married to Martha Elizabeth Lyne until her death in 1993. He was survived by his son, Eden Payne Williams, and many notable friends including author Quentin Crisp, actress Angela Lansbury, and composer William Finn. In "The Ballad of Jack Eric Williams (and other 3-named composers)" William Finn suggested that Williams, a diabetic, deliberately failed to take his insulin because he wanted to die. Williams did, in fact, go into a diabetic coma prior to his death. His musical compositions and lyrics are now managed by Eve Martinez, a former singer and actress who worked closely with Jack and administrated his estate. She lives in Brooklyn, NY and can be reached through the Dramatists Guild or ASCAP.