Elizabeth “Libbie” Anthony, a revered member of Vashon’s theater community for decades, died on Friday, July 20, in Woodsville, New Hampshire. She was 77.
Anthony had moved from Vashon to Berlin, New Hampshire, in 2014. She died of complications from diabetes and other medical conditions, said her sister, Janet Berg.
Anthony is recalled locally for her high-energy and inclusive approach to community theater. She was the director of many ambitious Drama Dock productions produced over the course of three decades. These included several Gilbert and Sullivan operettas — a zany, over-the-top Victorian-era theatrical form for which Anthony had an especially exuberant affinity.
She was also known for directing musicals filled with children, including “Annie,” “Oliver” “The Sound of Music” and “The Wizard of Oz.” It was a move that helped not only to foster a new generation of island performers but also drove box office sales, drawing big crowds of proud parents and grandparents to the community theater productions.
A gifted actress and singer, she also performed in many Drama Dock shows. A musical trio she formed with islanders Mary Litchfield Tuel and Velvet Neifert, called Women, Women and Song, recorded an album and performed frequently up and down the Pacific coast. Anthony wrote one of the group’s best-known songs, “Island Life.”
Gaye Detzer, who is still active in Drama Dock, remembers Anthony being a practitioner of “community theater at its best.”
“Libbie had this huge love for everybody she worked with — all the people who created the play as well as the audience — and it came across,” Detzer said. “She was great at taking different types of people and putting them together and giving everybody a shot.”
Lauri Hennessey, who first met Anthony when she and her young daughter were cast in “Annie,” also remembers good times both on and offstage with Anthony.
“’Annie’ had a cast party at The Hardware Store Restaurant,” Hennessey recalled. “The whole group of orphans ended up having a singalong. I looked at Libbie, and she yelled at me, over the singing and laughter, ‘This is as good as it gets.’ That’s how I will remember her, and a lot of kids will too.”
She was known for her sometimes ribald sense of humor, as well as outsized theatrical gestures, including once showing up at the airport to pick up her sister, Jean Coffman, with a group of people and a bagpiper in full dress kilt.
“Everyone in the boarding area was looking for the Hollywood celebrities that were visiting from L.A.,” Coffman said.
Anthony was born in 1941 in New Haven, Connecticut, the third of four children born to B. Kenneth Anthony, a pastor, and Helen, a homemaker. The family moved to Elyria, Ohio, when Anthony was 9. Berg remembers Anthony as an outgoing, smart and musical child, singing in the church choir and a capella groups.
She attended college as a physical education major at Oberlin College, in Ohio, where she got a life-changing break when she was cast in a Gilbert and Sullivan musical in her senior year. She went on to perform with the school’s Gilbert and Sullivan Players in summer presentations on Cape Cod in the early 1960s.
After college, Anthony worked as a YWCA staff member in New York City, and later, as a cab driver in Hawaii. She moved to Oahu in the 1970s, where she met and married Rod Anthony, who took his wife’s surname. The couple moved to Vashon in 1980, and eventually settled in a house Anthony insisted be painted pink. The marriage didn’t last, but Anthony’s romance with Vashon did, as she pursued her passion for the arts and formed lasting friendships with islanders. With one of those friends, Tamma Farra, Anthony embarked on budget-conscious travels to Hawaii, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Alaska and, in 2006, a tour of several Europe countries. By this time, Anthony was earning money as a self-employed bookkeeper and occasional house and pet sitter, but Farra said she stretched her dollars and saved for the trips, which brought her great joy.
Wherever the duo’s destination, Farra said, Anthony brought along cassette tapes of the local music to fully immerse herself and her companion in their travels. Their journeys were full of adventure and spontaneity — a metaphor for the larger way that Anthony lived her life.
“We both gave each other permission,” Farra said. “We told each other that if either of us saw a dirt road we wanted to go down, to just say so.”
Anthony is survived by her siblings Janet Berg, Jean Coffman, Kenneth W. “Ken” Anthony, and their spouses, as well as numerous cousins, nieces, great nieces and friends.
A celebration of her life will take place at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17. Billed as “Remembering Libbie: A Night of Song and Stories,” it will be held at Vashon High School theater and begin with desserts, conversation and mingling in the theater lobby, followed by a 7 p.m. presentation in the theater that will include a chance for participants to share a story or song in tribute to Anthony.
Anthony’s family has suggested that donations to Drama Dock may be made in her honor.