Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Rita Gardner, Original Luisa in THE FANTASTICKS, Passes Away at 87

Rita Gardner, Original Luisa in THE FANTASTICKS, Passes Away at 87

Gardner made her stage debut Off-Broadway in Jerry Herman's musical review Nightcap before her breakout turn as Luisa in the original cast of The Fantasticks in 1960.

Rita Gardner, who starred as Luisa in the original Off-Broadway production of The Fantasticks, has passed away at the age of 87 from leukemia, according to friend and colleague Alex Rybeck.

Rita Gardner was a renowned singer, teacher, and actress of stage and screen with a long career spanning many years of exciting projects.

Gardner made her stage debut Off-Broadway in Jerry Herman's musical review Nightcap before her breakout turn as Luisa in the original cast of The Fantasticks in 1960.

Additional Off-Broadway credits include The Cradle Will Rock (1964), To Be Young, Gifted, and Black (1969), Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (1972), Steel Magnolias (1987), Wings (1993) and The Foreigner (2004).

Gardner made her Broadway debut in the short-lived musical (65 performances) A Family Affair in 1962 as Sally Nathan. She was featured in a brief 1963 revival of Pal Joey as Linda English and replaced Susan Watson soon after the opening of Ben Franklin in Paris in 1964. She held many roles on Broadway including understudying roles in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1965), The Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1969), and Morning's at Seven (2002) (understudy for Cora and Esther). She had a featured role as Rosie in The Wedding Singer in 2006, with three musical numbers including the song "Move that Thang".

Gardner's regional theatre credits include Show Boat and The Impossible Years at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania (1983), the musical Lucky in the Rain at the Goodspeed Opera House (1997), and Eleanor: A Love Story at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. (1999). She appeared in the national tour of Kiss of the Spider Woman (1994). She gave a critically acclaimed performance in Murderers at The Cincinnati Playhouse (2007).

In 2002 she appeared in her one-woman revue Try to Remember: A Look Back at Off-Broadway at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York City on Saturday evenings. The revue includes ballads from The Fantasticks. She performed the revue at the Metropolitan Room in New York City in 2011 and had to cancel the revival of the revue in 2020 due to Covid-19.

Gardner's television credits include appearances in Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (on season one episode 18) and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

She studied acting at HB Studio in New York City and later taught there as well. She has been a guest teacher in acting and singing at many colleges and universities.

Photo Credit: Walter McBride



Related Stories
Actress and Fame Singer Irene Cara Passes Away at 63 Photo
According to a post on her official Twitter account, Broadway and film actress Irene Cara, who played the role of Coco Hernandez in the movie FAME, has passed away at age 63 in her home in Florida. The cause of death has not yet been released.

Theatre Critic and Artist Michael Feingold Passes Away At Age 77 Photo
Esteemed theatre critic and artist, Michael Feingold has passed away. He was 77 years old.

New York Talent Manager Bill Treusch Has Passed Away Photo
Esteemed New York talent manager Bill Treusch died following a long illness on Tuesday, November 15th in New York City. Born March 16, 1942, Bill lived his life in New York City.  Bill was a beloved brother, uncle, manager, mentor, and friend wholeaves behind a wonderfully eclectic group of friends and colleagues. 

Barbara Warner Howard, Founding Member of New York Theatre Workshop, Passes Away Photo
BroadwayWorld is saddened to report that Barbara Leah Warner Howard died on November 9, 2022, peacefully at home while listening to Ella Fitzgerald, surrounded by family and friends. 


More Hot Stories For You


Actress and FAME Singer Irene Cara Passes Away at 63Actress and FAME Singer Irene Cara Passes Away at 63
November 26, 2022

According to a post on her official Twitter account, Broadway and film actress Irene Cara, who played the role of Coco Hernandez in the movie FAME, has passed away at age 63 in her home in Florida. The cause of death has not yet been released.

Tickets for BOB FOSSE'S DANCIN' On Broadway Go On Sale November 27Tickets for BOB FOSSE'S DANCIN' On Broadway Go On Sale November 27
November 25, 2022

Bob Fosse's DANCIN', the American show business legend's landmark musical tribute to the artform that defined his life, will return to Broadway 41 years after the original smash-hit production took its final bow. Bob Fosse's DANCIN' will begin previews at The Music Box Theatre on Thursday, March 2, 2023, with opening night set for Sunday, March 19, 2023.

Video: Hugh Jackman Returns to THE MUSIC MAN TodayVideo: Hugh Jackman Returns to THE MUSIC MAN Today
November 25, 2022

Watch a video of Hugh Jackman, as he returns to The Music Man at the Winter Garden Theatre!

Ben Platt and Noah Galvin Announce EngagementBen Platt and Noah Galvin Announce Engagement
November 25, 2022

Ben Platt and Noah Galvin have announced their engagement! Platt and Galvin became a couple after Platt stepped down as 'Evan Hansen' in Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway and Galvin took over the role. The pair shared the news of their engagement on Instagram.

Now Hiring: Costume Shop Assistant, Production Manager, and More - BroadwayWorld ClassifiedsNow Hiring: Costume Shop Assistant, Production Manager, and More - BroadwayWorld Classifieds
November 25, 2022

This Week's New Classified Listings on BroadwayWorld for 11/24/2022 include new jobs for those looking to work in the theatre industry.