Camille Saviola, an actress and singer who made an impression in the musical “Nine” on Broadway, in assorted cabaret spoofs and on television in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and other series, died on Oct. 28 in a hospital in North Bergen, N.J. She was 71. Alyssa Romeo, a great-niece, said the cause was heart failure.
Ms. Saviola frequently drew comparisons to Ethel Merman for her big voice, which she liked to use to comic effect. One character she played in more than one cabaret show received the Ten Commandments of Soul from James Brown, earning her something of a nickname: “the Italian Godmother of Soul.”
Onstage, she was best known for originating the role of Mama Maddelena, a spa manager, in the original production of “Nine,” the Arthur Kopit-Maury Yeston musical about a film director having a midlife crisis, which opened on Broadway in May 1982 and ran for almost two years. She was featured in a comic number, “The Germans at the Spa.”
But she wasn’t limited to comedy. In 2005, for instance, she starred in a production of “Mother Courage and Her Children,” Bertolt Brecht’s famed antiwar play, in Pasadena, Calif.
As Mother Courage, Camille Saviola is wily, indomitable and eminently practical,” Daryl H. Miller wrote in reviewing that performance in The Los Angeles Times.
She endeared herself to a different group of fans when she was cast in “Deep Space Nine” as Kai Opaka, a spiritual leader on the planet Bajor. Though she appeared in only four episodes, from 1993 to 1996, Ms. Saviola was well known to followers of the franchise, many of whom posted about her death on social media.
In a 1995 interview with a “Deep Space Nine” fan magazine that is quoted on the website Memory Alpha, Ms. Saviola talked about how she got the part.
“I went in — every character actress was there — and did a little reading, the real thing,” she said, referring not to a script reading but to a tarot card reading. “My grandmother read cards and tea leaves down in Greenwich Village — she never charged people money — and I have a little bit of that gift.”
Camille Saviola was born on July 16, 1950, in the Bronx to Michael and Mary (D’Esopo) Saviola. The performing bug bit early.
“I wanted to be Elvis Presley, and at 6 I was already lip-syncing to his records and putting on magic shows,” she told The New York Times in 1985. “By the time I was 7, I knew a thousand jokes. Around puberty, I discovered Judy Garland.”
She graduated from the High School of Music and Art in New York and, her great-niece said, studied voice for a time at City College, but she left to work Off Off Broadway and in summer stock. She also sang with an all-female rock group for a time.
In 1980 she was in the original Off Off Broadway cast of “Starmites,” a science fiction musical, billed only as Camille and belting out a number called “Hard to Be Diva.” (The show made Broadway briefly in 1989, though without her.) She was also in a touring production of the rock opera “Tommy,” playing the characters the Mother and the Acid Queen.
In March 1985, at the Ballroom Theater in Manhattan, she was the central figure in a cabaret musical called “Hollywood Opera” that parodied eight classic films.
“At the center of this nonsense stands the commandingly funny singer-actress Camille Saviola, who delivers two showstopping bits,” Stephen Holden wrote in a review in The New York Times. “The first is a heaving caricature of Anna Magnani retelling the story of ‘The Rose Tattoo’ in a pattery tarantella called ‘Della Rose’s Turn.’ Later, with Perry Arthur taking the Paul Henreid role, Miss Saviola, impersonating Bette Davis with Groucho Marx eyebrows, demolishes once and for all our fond memories of the two-cigarettes-in-the-dark love scene from ‘Now Voyager.’”
Later that year she incorporated some of those bits into her own cabaret show, “Secrets of the Lava Lamp,” which found her alternately singing and telling stories.
Ms. Saviola had small parts in two Woody Allen movies, “Broadway Danny Rose” (1984) and “The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985), the first of her more than 40 film and television roles. She had recurring roles on the 1990s TV series “The Heights” and “Civil Wars” and, more recently, on “First Monday,” “Judging Amy” and “Entourage.” In 2018 and 2019 she had a recurring role on the TV Land series “Younger.”
Ms. Saviola, who at her death lived in West New York, N.J., is survived by a sister, Mary Ann Horman.