Rita Gardner is an actress/singer who wove her name into the history of musical theater in her stage debut, as "The Girl" (aka Louisa) in the original off-Broadway cast of The Fantasticks (1960). That production managed to break every longevity record for a musical, running over 40 years, and the original cast (which included Jerry Orbach) was lucky enough to have its work preserved on a recording that has been a perennial seller since 1960 on LP and compact disc. As a New York-based actress -- who was married to writer/director Herb Gardner -- Rita Gardner's main focus was theater, with occasional television work. By the start of 1962, Gardner had moved on to her Broadway debut in the role of Sally Nathan in A Family Affair, which closed after two months. Her subsequent Broadway credits included Ben Franklin in Paris. Her later credits were principally as a replacement or understudy, in shows such as On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever; The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, and Mornings at Seven, or in regional and off-Broadway productions. In 2006, she was part of the cast of The Wedding Singer. Gardner debuted a one-woman show in 2002 called Try to Remember: A Look Back at Off-Broadway, in which she presented a personal, anecdote-filled account of off-Broadway theater from the '50s to the 21st century. She was still able to present those songs from The Fantasticks, among many other shows, with much of the luster of her 1960-vintage performance.
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