Rita Gardner, an Original ‘Fantasticks’ Star, Is Dead at 87

The show ran for 42 years, closing in 2002 after more than 17,000 performances, and then reopened in 2006 and ran until 2017. Ms. Gardner stayed only until the end of 1960. (Jerry Orbach, who was also in the original cast, left at about the same time.) But she was with the show long enough to record the original cast album.

In a 2001 interview with The Bradenton Herald of Florida, Ms. Gardner recalled that, about 10 years earlier, she had attended a production of “The Fantasticks” for the first time as an audience member.

“I didn’t know I had been in something so good,” she said.

She was in Bradenton performing a revue she had assembled called “Try to Remember: A Look at Off Broadway,” in which she sang songs from “The Fantasticks” and other shows and told stories. A few months earlier she had staged the show at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, the same theater where she had originated the “Fantasticks” role 40 years earlier. There, her performance started at 10 p.m. — because “The Fantasticks” was still running in the theater’s main evening slot.

Rita Schier was born on Oct. 23, 1934, in Brooklyn to Nathan and Tillie (Hack) Schier. She studied opera and dance and sang in a close-harmony group called the Honeybees; in the late 1950s she appeared in a revue called “Nightcap,” which featured songs by the then unknown Jerry Herman. In 1957 she married the playwright Herb Gardner, who would become known for “A Thousand Clowns.” Their marriage ended in divorce, as did her marriage to Peter Cereghetti. At her death she was married to Robert Sevra, who is her only immediate survivor.

Ms. Gardner left “The Fantasticks” to appear in a movie called “One Plus One” (1961), and she had small parts in other movies over the years. She also appeared on television, including in several episodes of “Law & Order,” the show that helped make Mr. Orbach an instantly recognizable star. She appeared on Broadway in “A Family Affair” (1962) as well as in the 1963 revival of “Pal Joey,” among other shows.

She performed frequently on the cabaret circuit, where she employed not only her fine singing voice but also her droll sense of humor. In her show “Try to Remember,” she talked about life beyond Broadway’s bright lights.

“Off Broadway is not just a location, it’s a definition,” she said. “The Actors Equity definition is a theater that has less than 300 seats, but my definition growing up Off Broadway was a little different. It was a theater that had less than 300 seats, most of them broken.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/28/theater/rita-gardner-dead.html