Colorado Actor Remembered As 'Shining Light' On-stage And Off

Sep 18, 2018

The song “Somewhere That’s Green” from the musical “Little Shop of Horrors” is one of Fort Collins actor Jonathan Farwell’s favorites. It was a standard part of his wife, Deb Note-Farwell's, repertoire whenever she was invited to sing.

“And every time I heard it, I cried,” Jonathan said. “So that’s really what happens to me now. I don’t know if worse is the word or maybe better -- to feel what it feels like to miss her that much.”

If you met Deb, you couldn't forget her. The 64-year-old Fort Collins actor was a tiny, slip of a woman with a big voice and an even bigger personality. On Aug. 11, 2018, Deb died from ovarian cancer.

The loss has reverberated throughout the northern Colorado theater community, which is hosting a memorial for her as well as a tribute concert

“She was uncompromisingly upbeat about just about everything,” he said. “She could talk about grocery shopping and make it interesting and fun. (…) People loved her. She was a shining light in the world.”

That’s what first attracted Jonathan to her, but they almost didn’t meet. It’s a story straight off the stage. He, a seasoned and serious Broadway actor, and she a quirky singer. In 1994, the two were set to play opposite each other in the romantic drama “Shadowlands.”

Jonathan remembered the phone conversation with the show’s British director where he first learned about his co-star, who was described as a “musical comedy queen.”

Deb Note-Farwell and Jonathan Farwell in the comedy 'Sylvia.'
Credit Courtesy of Bas Bleu Theatre

“And I said, ‘Musical comedy queen? Surely you jest. It’s a serious play. It’s a romantic play but a serious play. It’s a play about life and death! You’re going to make me do it with a musical comedy queen? This is ridiculous!’” Jonathan said. “I didn’t really say all that, of course, but it was running through my mind. And I was considering turning down the job, and he said, ‘Oh come on, you’ll like her.’”

At the cast’s first read-through it was clear how accurate that prediction would come to be.

“By the time we finished reading the play once, we knew something was up,” Jonathan said.

A year later, they reprised the roles and at the end of the performance, treated the Sunday matinee audience to a surprise wedding. When the couple moved to Fort Collins, their first production at Fort Collins’ Bas Bleu Theatre was “Shadowlands.” Once again, during a Sunday matinee, they renewed their vows.

The couple’s longtime friend, Bas Bleu Theatre founder and artistic director Wendy Ishii officiated the ceremony.

Over the years, she watched Deb tackle a range of roles both at Bas Bleu and throughout Colorado -- from opera diva Maria Callas in “Master Class” to the spunky matriarch Ethel Thayer in “On Golden Pond.”

Deb Note-Farwell starred as opera diva Maria Callas in Pop Up Theatre's production of 'Master Class.'
Credit Courtesy of Pop Up Theatre

“It was fun during all of Deb’s years here to watch her transition from being mostly a musical comedy actress to, really, an actress with a lot of depth,” Ishii said. “And to find her delight and willingness and bravery and courage to go into some places in these dramatic roles where I gather she maybe hadn’t been asked to go before.”

That included going behind the scenes. In 2015 Deb directed the end-of-life drama “The Outgoing Tide.” For Ishii, it was fun to see her friend challenge not only herself -- but also her husband, who starred in the show.

“And the performance she got from him,” Ishii said. “Her direction was sublime.”

Over the years, she started teaching and was a vocal supporter of theater in Northern Colorado.

“She was intrepid in her dedication when she was working on something, whether it was onstage, offstage,” Ishii said.

Jonathan Farwell and Deb Note-Farwell, met in 1994 in the production of 'Shadowlands.' A year later they were married after a Sunday matinee performance of the show.
Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC

It was the same way when on Jan. 1, 2017, Deb received her cancer diagnosis.

“The nursing staff had nothing but praise for her,” Jonathan said. “They said, ‘She smiles all the time. She seems so happy.’ And I said to them, ‘Because she knows what’s happening. She’s not unhappy about it. She’s not afraid.’”

Not even when Deb’s cancer returned this summer.

“(She had) no fears, no regrets,” he said. “By the time we got to that point, she said, ‘I’m ready to go. I’ve done everything I really wanted to do. There aren’t any roles left that I could still play that I’m really dying to play.’”

Watching her performances on that old VHS tape gives Jonathan some comfort, he said.

“She is such a presence in my life and so much a part of who I am now, that I comfort myself by knowing that she’s still here, because I’m still here,” he said. “So I guess we have to settle for that. Happily.”