Tony Nominee Samuel E. Wright Dies at 74

Samuel E. Wright, a two-time Tony nominee also known for his voice work as Sebastian the Crab in the animated film The Little Mermaid, died May 24. He was 74.

The Broadway alum made his debut in 1971 in the ensemble of Jesus Christ Superstar. Next, he served as a replacement Valentine in the musical Two Gentlemen of Verona and then played Sam in the Sherman Brothers musical Over Here!, co-starring Anne Reinking, Marilu Henner, John Travola, Treat Williams, a Tony-winning Janie Sell, and more. Following this string of success, Mr. Wright scored his biggest role yet: as a replacement for the Leading Player in the original production of Pippin.

After a brief hiatus from the stage to work in TV, Mr. Wright returned to Broadway in 1983 to play William in The Tap Dance Kid and scored his first Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.

Samuel E. Wright
Samuel E. Wright Joan Marcus

It was shortly after this that The Little Mermaid co-directors selected Mr. Wright to voice Sebastian. His performance of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s Oscar-winning “Under the Sea” became a long-lasting fan favorite. He would continue to voice Sebastian in numerous spin-offs and sequels throughout the rest of his career. He also voiced Kron in the Disney animated film Dinosaur in 2000.

Around the time The Little Mermaid was released in 1989, Mr. Wright took to the stage again in Welcome to the Club, a musical by Cy Coleman. In the ‘90s, he appeared in Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston’s Mule Bone. His final role on Broadway was originating the role of Mufasa in The Lion King, for which he scored his second Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.

Mr. Wright was born in Camden, South Carolina on November 20, 1946. His death was announced on the Town of Montgomery New York Facebook page.

“Sam was an inspiration to us all and along with his family established the Hudson Valley Conservatory,” the post reads. “Sam and his family have impacted countless Hudson Valley youth, always inspiring them to reach higher and dig deeper to become the best version of themselves. On top of his passion for the arts and his love for his family, Sam was most known for walking into a room and simply providing pure joy to those he interacted with. He loved to entertain, he loved to make people smile and laugh and he loved to love.”

Mr. Wright is survived by his wife Amanda and their children, Keely, Dee, and Sam.