Syracuse Theater Pioneer Joseph Lotito Dies at 82

Joseph Lotito, one of the pioneers of Syracuse's community theater scene and Founder/Executive Director of Salt City Center for the Performing Arts, died of heart failure at the age of 82 on Sunday. 

Lotito's theatrical career began in 1963 with the launch of a theater program for urban youth. This program would merge four years later with an adult acting company to become Salt City Playhouse. The Playhouse grew into the sprawling Salt City Center for the Performing Arts, staging productions in the former Temple Adath Yeshurun space for over three decades from 1973 until 2004 under Lotito's direction. 

Known for producing works with diverse casts and creative teams, monumental in the 1960s, Litoto found success with productions such as "The Me Nobody Knows," at the center. Former colleague Bob Brown, a director at the Center who first worked with Lotito in 1974's "On the Town" and longtime Jesus in the company's productions of Jesus Christ Superstar, points out that Litito began "interracial casting long before anyone was thinking about doing it on Broadway."  Litoto directed most of the works, alongside his wife and musical director Pat Lotito.

In addition to directing, Lotito also appeared on-stage as Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" on several occasions, as Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman," and as Zorba in "Zorba the Greek" in addition to several other productions.

Says Brown, "He gave so many people a start in this business who've gone on to bigger and better things." 

One such former pupil is producer, director and performer Richard Jay-Alexander, whose career includes some of Broadway's most impressive credits, such as Five Guys Names Moe, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Song and Dance, Oliver! Amadeus and Zoot Suit.  In addition to collaborating with the likes of Bernadette Peters and Bette Midler, Jay-Alexander recently worked with Barbra Streisand on her Village Vanguard performance. "He was a true player," says Jay-Alexander to "He was a strolling troubadour...A lot of people grew up at Salt City Playhouse." Lotito directed Jay-Alexander as Carlos in "The Me Nobody Knows" in 1970-1971 and as Bernardo in "West Side Story" in the mid-1970s.

In 2003, Lotito's and his wife received the Syracuse Area Live Theater Lifetime Achievement Award, in honor of their contributions to community theater.

In addition to his wife, Pat, Lotito is survived by two children and two grandchildren.

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