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Susan Hight Denny, 84; actress left stage to raise family

Mrs. Denny played Sister Sarah Brown on Broadway and on tour in an early 1950s production of ‘‘Guys and Dolls.”

Family Photo

Mrs. Denny played Sister Sarah Brown on Broadway and on tour in an early 1950s production of ‘‘Guys and Dolls.”

WASHINGTON — Susan Hight Denny, an actress and singer in Broadway musicals of the early 1950s who gave up a stage career to become a homemaker, died Jan. 13 at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md. She was 84.

Her son, Christopher Denny, said she died of complications resulting from strokes and diabetes.

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Mrs. Denny — known then as Susan Hight — performed on Broadway as a nurse in ‘‘South Pacific’’ and a flapper in ‘‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’’ before earning a feature singing role in the 1952 musical revue ‘‘Two’s Company,’’ starring Bette Davis and choreographed by Jerome Robbins.

On March 2, 1953, she joined the original Broadway production of ‘‘Guys and Dolls,’’ the Frank Loesser musical about the improbable romance between a professional gambler and a lass who worked at an organization called the ‘‘Save a Soul Mission.’’

Mrs. Denny replaced Isabel Bigley in the role of Sister Sarah Brown on Broadway and then played the part on a national tour; she sang such staples as ‘‘If I Were a Bell.’’ When she performed in Washington, she drew the attention of Robert Denny, a Washington Times-Herald reporter who in 1954 persuaded her to leave show business and marry him.

She had no regrets about leaving the stage, said her son, Christopher.

‘‘The big dream of her life was to be a mom and have kids and raise a family,’’ he said.

To her role as a mother, Mrs. Denny brought the same energy she gave to her stage career. She was known in her neighborhood for her zeal in driving from grocery store to grocery store in a never-ending search for the best of all possible baby foods.

Mrs. Denny eventually went back to work outside the home. From 1983 to 1999, she was an adjunct professor at American University, where she taught voice, audition techniques, and performance on the live stage.

Susan Hight was born in Portland, Maine, and grew up in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. She graduated in 1948 from Colby College in Maine and in 1950 from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

Early in her career, she was a singer on a televised musical variety show hosted by Don Ameche and had lead roles in ‘‘Kiss Me Kate’’ and ‘‘Show Boat’’ at the Paper Mill Playhouse, a noted regional theater in Millburn, N.J.

The ‘‘Guys and Dolls’’ tour was Mrs. Denny’s last stage appearance before her marriage. Her husband, who became a public relations executive and leader of a 1990 campaign to limit taxation in Montgomery County, Md., died in 2000.

She leaves two sons, Christopher of New York City and Stephen of Watsonville, Calif.; a sister; and two grandchildren.

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