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Broadway star and Utahn Melva Niles Barborka dies at 86

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, March 16 2012 6:17 p.m. MDT

SOUTH JORDAN, Utah — Broadway leading lady and Valley Music Hall star Melva Niles Barborka died on March 12.

The South Jordan resident was 86 and died of chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, a neurological disease.

In 1948, Niles Barborka created the role of Solis in the Broadway premiere of “Magdalena,” composed by one of Brazil’s most famous composers, Heitor Villa-Lobos. She also starred in the Broadway production of “Song of Norway.”

At the popular musical theater production company Valley Music Hall in Bountiful, Utah, Niles Barborka performed opposite Robert Peterson in “Kiss Me, Kate,” James Shigeta in “The King and I” and Art Lund in “I Do, I Do.”

Niles Barborka also starred in the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera productions of “Magdalena” and “Song of Norway.” Edwin Lester, the company’s longtime producer and founder, said she had “the most beautiful soprano voice I have ever heard.” In Los Angeles, she also performed opposite Mitzi Gaynor and Walter Slezak in 1949’s “The Great Waltz.”

With Peterson, Niles Barborka recorded a collection of LDS hymns, “Things Lovely,” with the CBS Radio Orchestra. Two other recordings were “Bring Us Together,” a 1968 concert tour with Peterson, and “The Song of Norway” from the 1949 Rail Road Hour production, opposite Gordon MacRae.

During the national tour of “Song of Norway,” she met Clifford Joseph Barborka Jr., whom she married in June 1949. The couple’s conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is recorded in “No More Strangers, Volume I” by Hartman Rector Jr.

With her husband, Niles Barborka made many public appearances to speak about the LDS Church following her retirement from the stage.

Niles Barborka is survived by two sons, Utah residents Cliff Joseph Barborka III and Vincent Barborka.

According to her obituary, “Melva Niles Barborka had a magical way of connecting with people. Whether it was a waitress at a roadside cafe, a child in need or a leader of her beloved church, she had the ability to make everyone she met feel like they were the most important person in the world.”

Funeral services will be conducted on Monday, March 19, at noon in the South Jordan Stake Center at 10400 S. 2450 West in South Jordan. A viewing will be held in the same building on Sunday, March 18, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and prior to Monday’s services from 9:30 to 11:45 a.m. Interment will be at Veteran’s Memorial Cemetery.

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