NEW YORK • Liliane Montevecchi was 50 when she was cast in Nine, a 1982 Broadway musical drama about a film director's mid-life crisis, based on the Federico Fellini film 81/2 (1963).
The role of the movie producer had been written for a man, but the character was reworked so Montevecchi, who did not fit anywhere else in the show, could be cast.
In Folies Bergere, her big number, she revelled in the joys of the good old days of show business, stopped to chat flirtatiously with audience members and ended up gloriously wrapped in a black feather boa.
The review in The New York Times described her as "a knockout".
Last Friday, Montevecchi, who received a Tony for best featured actress in a musical for that role, died at her home in Manhattan. The cause was colon cancer. Born in France, the actress, singer and dancer was 85.
Nine was neither Montevecchi's first Broadway show, although the earlier ones had been revues (La Plume De Ma Tante in 1958, Folies Bergere in 1964), nor her last.
She earned another Tony nomination, for a 1989 musical adaptation of Grand Hotel, in which she was the high-strung ballerina, nostalgic for her glory days, played by Greta Garbo in the 1932 film.
Later, when she worked in cabaret, Stephen Holden of The Times called her "an imperial presence".
Montevecchi, who was born on Oct 13, 1932 in Paris, began taking ballet lessons when she was nine and appeared on stage soon after.
At 18, she was in Roland Petit's company Les Ballets de Paris, where she became a prima ballerina.
After she made her film debut with a small role in Femmes De Paris (1953), Hollywood called.
MGM signed her to a seven-year contract, but American movies largely wasted her.
Over the next three years, she appeared in an odd assortment of small roles in seven films, including the war drama The Young Lions (1958) with Marlon Brando, in which she played a French escort with strong views about Nazis; the Jerry Lewis comedy The Sad Sack (1957), as a saucy, skimpily clad club performer in Morocco; and the Elvis Presley musical drama King Creole (1958), as a club performer in New Orleans.
After a few television roles in series like 77 Sunset Strip and Playhouse 90, she returned to dancing, her first love, joining the Folies Bergere in Las Vegas in 1964. She worked with that troupe and the Paris company for nine years.
In 1982, basking in her new Broadway acclaim, she began her cabaret career.
Montevecchi, who was said never to have married, is survived by her long-time companion, Claudio Borin, who lives in Italy.
"I'm set in my ways and I've lived all my life alone," she said in a 1982 interview. "I don't trust people a lot."
But she did not want others to lose faith with her professionalism.
In 2016, Montevecchi told the Woman Around Town website: "After all these years, it's not okay to just do a show. Because you know more, you want to give more."