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
Broadway Actor Quentin Oliver Lee Passes Away at 34 Photo
Broadway actor Quentin Oliver Lee, who most recently starred Off-Broadway in Heather Christian's Oratorio For Living Things, has passed away at age 34 from colon cancer. 

Company Manager Arthur Callahan Has Passed Away Photo
Arthur Callahan, Company Manager for the National Tour of Ain't Too Proud, the National Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, and the National Tour of Motown The Musical, has passed away. 

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.


More Hot Stories For You


Photos: First Look at Ashley Blanchet, Graham Rowat, Gavin Lee, and More in Paper Mill's THE SOUND OF MUSICPhotos: First Look at Ashley Blanchet, Graham Rowat, Gavin Lee, and More in Paper Mill's THE SOUND OF MUSIC
December 3, 2022

Paper Mill Playhouse (Mark S. Hoebee-Producing Artistic Director; Michael Stotts- Managing Director), recipient of the 2016 Regional Theatre Tony Award, has released production photos for The Sound of Music. 

KPOP Producers Issue Letter in Response to New York Times ReviewKPOP Producers Issue Letter in Response to New York Times Review
December 3, 2022

In response to Jesse Green's review of KPOP from the New York Times, the producers of KPOP have issued a response letter, requesting that Green 'issue an apology to the cast and creators of [KPOP] for the insensitive and, frankly, offensive review.'

Suzan-Lori Parks' PLAYS FOR THE PLAGUE YEAR to Return to The Public in April 2023Suzan-Lori Parks' PLAYS FOR THE PLAGUE YEAR to Return to The Public in April 2023
December 2, 2022

After a truncated run as a result of several COVID-19 cases in the company, Suzan-Lori Parks’ theatrical concert PLAYS FOR THE PLAGUE YEAR will be returning for an engagement in The Public Theater's Joe’s Pub in April 2023.

Broadway Actor Quentin Oliver Lee Passes Away at 34Broadway Actor Quentin Oliver Lee Passes Away at 34
December 2, 2022

Broadway actor Quentin Oliver Lee, who most recently starred Off-Broadway in Heather Christian's Oratorio For Living Things, has passed away at age 34 from colon cancer. 

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Faces New Legal TroublesTO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Faces New Legal Troubles
December 2, 2022

In 2019 the producers of the Broadway adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird sought to prevent small theaters around the country from staging an earlier dramatization of the novel. Now, the publisher of the earlier adaptation of the novel is seeking the stop the Broadway version of To Kill a Mockingbird from being staged at a variety of venues.