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Stephen R. Hayes, a professional actor and director whose career spanned more than 40 years, dies

Stephen R. Hayes, a professional actor and director whose career spanned more than 40 years, dies
Stephen R. Hayes, who attended Dulaney and Towson State, directed 32 main-stage productions at Riverside Center Dinner Theater and Conference Facility in Fredericksburg, Va., and performed in 46 of them. (Courtesy photo)

Stephen R. Hayes, a professional actor and director whose career spanned more than 40 years, died June 16 of complications of Marfan syndrome at his Cockeysville home.

The former Fredericksburg, Va., and Alexandria, Va., resident was 59.

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“Stephen touched thousands of people during his career as a director,” said Frank D. Bennett, of Stafford, Va., who had worked with Mr. Hayes since the 1970s as a stage manager, a set designer, a lighting designer and even as an actor.

“He was a very gracious man who put me in a couple of shows. I’m going to really miss him,” Mr. Bennett said.

James E. Lawson of Fredericksburg, another actor, worked with Mr. Hayes for more than 37 years.

“Steve was extremely outgoing, friendly and personable without being flamboyant,” Mr. Lawson said. “He was very loyal to his performers and was always getting them other jobs and opportunities.”

Stephen Russell Hayes was the son of Gerald F. Hayes, an Emory Air Freight Co. manager, and his wife, Cecelia M. Hayes, an office worker.

Mr. Hayes was born in New Brunswick, N.J., and when he was a child moved with his family to the Lutherville-Timonium area.

During his childhood, Mr. Hayes was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissue.

“Stephen’s height was a typical characteristic of Marfan syndrome, as was his heart condition,” his sister-in-law, Sheila Hayes of Elkridge, wrote in a biographical profile of Mr. Hayes. “He had several operations because of Marfan syndrome and related conditions, including two open-heart surgeries for valve replacements.”

Despite some limitations as a result of his health, Mr. Hayes decided to pursue a career in the theater while a student at Dulaney High School, where he was cast in several productions and became enamored of musicals.

After graduating in 1977 from Dulaney, he attended what was then Towson State, where he studied English, theater and anthropology.

Mr. Hayes then worked as a theater usher, waiter, choreographer and stage director, and during the 1980s performed as a singing gorilla who made house calls, and he even delivered singing telegrams.

He then started performing locally in plays and musicals at Essex Community College’s Cockpit in the Court, Spotlighters Theatre, Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, Kings Dominion, West End Dinner Theatre in Woodbridge, Va., and Lazy Susan Dinner Theatre in Lorton, Va.

Mr. Hayes also appeared in a national touring company of “Meet Me in St. Louis” and taught musical theater classes at a private school, in camps and in theaters and dance studios, where he passed along his joy and devotion to the performing arts.

The majority of his professional career was spent at Riverside Center Dinner Theater and Conference Facility in Fredericksburg, where he directed 32 of its 50 main-stage productions and performed in 46 of them, beginning in 1998.

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Some of his favorite roles included Harry McAfee from “Bye Bye Birdie,” Uncle Max Detweiler from “The Sound of Music,” Fagin from “Oliver!” and Captain Hook from “Peter Pan.” One of his all-time favorite musicals was “King of Hearts,” the 1978 play by Joseph Stein, Jacob Brackman and Peter Link.

“He had a rare quality that many directors don’t have and that was performing in their own productions, but Steve didn’t mind doing that,” Mr. Lawson said.

“When he gave a role to an actor, he saw something in them and then would let them soar. He was very focused and knew what he wanted out of a performer,” he said. “But he made it very clear if he didn’t see eye-to-eye on an actor’s interpretation of a character and would work with them and help them open up and then he’d let them go.”

Said Mr. Bennett: “He’d help folks out with their roles and helped cut though them. And he’d work with them until he got the results he was looking for.

“He’d build their confidence until they got to the point where they said, ‘Yes, I can do this.’ He’d put you through challenges but he helped you get to the end of what he wanted. It was all about solving problems and helping people.”

Mr. Lawson praised his friend’s appreciation of musical theater.

“Steve had an extensive knowledge of the musical theater and he could name any Broadway musical, knew its cast members, its numbers, and even the show that had a very limited run and closed and why it closed,” Mr. Lawson said.

“He could just pull this stuff right out of his hat. He was a very interesting man to be around.”

Said Mr. Bennett: “Whenever Steve took a role, he made it his own, and made it into a larger-than-life character. He knew how to emulate a role and made art out of it. He was so enjoyable to watch.”

Mr. Hayes was acutely aware that because of his health his life would not be lengthy, but he faced that knowledge with grace and dignity, and didn’t let his health hold him back from doing what he wanted to be his life’s work.

On his Facebook page, he listed his favorite quote as: “I’m FAR older than I EVER intended to be.”

He retired in 2010.

“Stephen’s legacy is not about the shows he directed or performed in ---- it is how he lifted others and gave them the confidence to pursue and achieve their dreams,” his sister-in-law wrote.

Plans for a celebration of Mr. Hayes’ life, to be held in July, are incomplete.

In addition to his sister-in-law, he is survived by his mother of Towson; a brother, Christopher M. Hayes of Elkridge; two sisters, Patricia A. Redding of Monkton and Eileen M. Zink of Fairport, N.Y.; and many nieces and nephews.

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