Marshall Mckay Murray, an actor known for his virtuoso performances of leading roles in many local theater productions, died on Saturday, Jan. 2, at Providence Hospital, in Everett. He was 41 years old.
His death was caused by pneumonia and other medical complications following a head injury on Dec. 20.
On Vashon, islanders involved in the theater community and beyond recalled Murray’s immense talent. They also spoke of how he helped instill esprit de corps throughout their community, always encouraging others to do their best work.
“I never saw more commitment on stage,” said Steffon Moody, who directed Murray in a local production of “Black Comedy” in 2013.
Moody described the rare blend of charm, comedy and gravity-defying athleticism that thrilled theatre-goers on Vashon.
“The audience would be left with the unforgettable feeling that Buster Keaton and Cary Grant had merged into one person and shown up at their community theater just for the heck of it,” he said.
Susan Hanson, who directed Murray in local productions of “Chicago” and Noises Off,” also praised his work onstage and off.
“It was his ability to make the character really live on stage, physically and emotionally, that grabbed the audience and made them believe every line,” she said. “Marshall was a gifted performer, but he also supported those community actors who were new to the process. He was patient, kind and a joy to work with.”
Along the way, Murray influenced many young people who were cast in shows with him.
One of these, Max Lopuszynski, was first cast in a show with Murray when he was 12 years old. Subsequently, he appeared with Murray in other shows as he grew older and launched his own career as an actor.
Lopuszynski said he had found great inspiration and his own life’s calling in working with Murray.
“If you could think of a single word to describe Marshall it would be ‘fearless,’” he said. “He taught me how to be fearless just by doing it.”
Murray’s theatrical skill set extended to all aspects of performance and even to backstage work including running lights and stage management.
His clear baritone singing and no-holds-barred dancing — at times, memorably, while wearing roller skates or towering stiletto heels — garnered him lead roles in local musicals including “Honk,” “Chicago,” “The Rocky Horror Show,” “Into the Woods,” “Side by Side by Sondheim,” and “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.”
He was also a capable musician, serving as percussionist for the singing trio, The Curvettes — a group that included his equally talented wife, Stephanie Murray, who co-starred with Murray in all but a handful of the shows he appeared in on Vashon.
Marshall also appeared in Vashon productions of the plays “Becky’s New Car,” “33 Variations,” “Arsenic & Old Lace,” and “Born Yesterday.” All were produced by Drama Dock, a local community theater company.
His last performance came in October, in Vashon’s Repertory Theatre’s radio play presentation of “War of the Worlds.”
The director of that show, Charlotte Tiencken, said that Marshall’s death was a great loss to the Vashon’s theatre and music communities and the wider community in general.
“He was a special soul who was caring, generous, and loving,” Tiencken said. “I don’t know a single person who didn’t love him.”
Marshall was born on Nov. 22, 1979, in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to Dennis Ray Murray, who had a military career in the U.S. Army, and Theresa Joanne Murray, an educator. He was the youngest of the couple’s two children.
The family moved from Arizona to Portland, Oregon, when Marshall was in first grade. There, he grew up with his older sister, Maureen.
Marshall first fell in love with the theatre as a child, when he saw “Man of La Mancha” with his mother at the Civic Theatre in downtown Portland.
He performed in his school’s marching band and was cast in his first show when he was in high school. From there, the die was cast. One of his favorite performances in high school was as The Pharaoh in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat.”
He was a 2004 Portland State University Theatre graduate and performed in various productions at PSU, including as the Dentist in “Little Shop of Horrors”, Riff in “West Side Story”, and Biff in “Death of a Salesman”. He also was a member of the Oregon Symphony Leyden Singers.
In Portland, he also worked for numerous professional theatre companies, appearing in “Lend Me A Tenor” at Sylvia’s Class Act, “The Velveteen Rabbit” at Musical Theatre Company, “Talley and Son” at Profile Theatre Company, and “Grease” at Broadway Theatre Company.
It was in Portland that Marshall met his wife, Stephanie, who was 12 years his senior.
Recalling their courtship, Stephanie described how she had met her future husband when they were cast in the show “Tapestry” at Sylvia’s Class Act Dinner Theatre.
“The show ran for three months,” she said. “We went on our first official date on June 19, 2003. I fully expected this would be a summer fling – he was 23 and I was 35.”
She said that when she and Marshall started dating on a regular basis, her mother was alarmed because of their age difference.
“I assured her she was overreacting — I was just dating him, I wasn’t going to marry him,” Stephanie said. “We were married on July 29, 2006, on Vashon.”
The couple had visited the island often to see Stephanie’s sister, Jenni Terp, who is a resident. They moved to Vashon in 2007.
Here, the couple created a life centered around family, friends and creativity. They often entertained and hosted visitors — activities that Marshall loved.
“We always felt loved and accepted by our island community, and we were looking forward to spending the rest of our lives here,” Stephanie said.
On Vashon, she said, Marshall was able to play several of his dream roles, including Frank-N-Furter in “Rocky Horror” Gary in “Noises Off, and Billy in “Chicago.”
She said his taste ran firmly toward comic and lighter theatrical fare.
“He didn’t like doing heavy shows — he always wanted to make people laugh,” she said. “He loved happy endings.”
Throughout his time on Vashon, Murray also held day jobs that served the community in an impactful way. For ten years, he worked at Vashon Youth & Family Services, eventually becoming a manager there. For the past two years, he worked as operations coordinator for Vashon Park District.
For Parks Director Elaine Ott-Rocheford, Murray’s sudden and unexpected death meant the loss of a colleague, a co-performer in the singing group The Curvettes, and a dear friend.
“He will be remembered for his kindness and compassion, his sense of humor, his love of spontaneous fun, and his deep warmth and accessibility,” she said. “Marshall’s passing leaves a huge hole in many hearts, very much including my own.”
Marshall is survived by his wife, Stephanie, his mother and father, Dennis and Theresa Murray, his sister Maureen Murray, his niece Izabella Jarquin and nephew Lucas Jarquin.
A party celebrating Marshall’s life will take place when it is safe to gather again.
A GoFundMe campaign has been established to assist Stephanie Murray with the expenses of Marshall Murray’s hospitalization and death. To donate, visit tinyurl.com/y3zralnu.
In discussing Marshall’s death, his wife Stephanie spoke of the additional trauma and heartbreak she had experienced because she had not been able to be with him during the 14-day hospitalization that followed his injury.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, she was only allowed to visit only once — on Jan. 2, the day of Marshall’s death, and spend 10 minutes with her husband before he died.
Marshall did not die of COVID, but Stephanie strongly urged everyone to adhere to necessary COVID precautions, including masking, to end the pandemic and stem the tide of unnecessary extra grief and loss that she and others have experienced in not being able to comfort loved ones in their final days.