Broadway star Bruce Adler had strong local ties


Bruce Adler, the son of a prominent Yiddish theater family who became a success on Broadway, and who was scheduled to appear as Tevye locally in a segment of the show 90 Years of Muny Magic, lost his long battle with liver cancer in the morning hours of Friday, July 25, 2008, in Davie, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale.

Mr. Adler, who had been fighting liver cancer for several years, and whose illness forced him to cancel his St. Louis appearances this season at The Muny in Forest Park, was 63. He had lived in Davie as well as Manhattan.

The Tony Award-nominated Broadway star also had close ties to the Jewish community of St. Louis, having made major appearances locally for B’nai B’rith and Congregation B’nai El.

Mr. Adler was the featured entertainer at the B’nai B’rith St. Louis Guardian of the Menorah Award dinner honoring the late Marty Hendin, vice president of communications of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Mr. Adler was accompanied by pianist Ernie Hayes, who is also the St. Louis Cardinals official organist.

The event took place at the Ritz Carlton in Clayton on Nov. 22, 1998. Mr. Adler was also the guest artist at “An Evening With Bruce Adler” to welcome Rabbi Daniel Plotkin and his wife Rachel to St. Louis, when Rabbi Plotkin initially became the rabbi of Congregation B’nai El, which took place at the temple on July 11, 2004.

The event was sponsored for B’nai El, free of charge, by the Ben and Sarah Wool Cultural Enrichment Fund.

Michelle I. Gralnick, B’nai B’rith International Mid-America Regional Director, recalled, “On stage, Bruce was a phenomenal entertainer; in person, he was a warm and caring individual with a heart of gold.” Marci Rosenberg, then immediate past president of B’nai El Congregation at the time that Mr. Adler entertained there, said, “Bruce was a dear, close friend who loved and cherished coming to St. Louis, which he considered his second home.”

In a tribute to Mr. Adler in Playbill, the Broadway magazine serving theater since 1884, Robert Simonson roundly praised Mr. Adler describing him as “a canny, rubber-faced and physically-agile comic actor (who) made his Broadway debut playing the itinerant peddler Ali Hahim in the 1979 revival of Oklahoma! directed by William Hammerstein. The following decade brought Broadway appearances in the comedy Oh, Brother! and the 1987 revival of the 1920s play Broadway.”

Thompson said that Adler “found his greatest success in the early 1990s, netting Tony nominations for his work in Those Were the Days in 1990 and Crazy for You in 1992. The former, a revue, was a project close to his heart.”

He added that the show included songs and sketches from the days when Second Avenue was “a bustling showbiz thoroughfare known as the Yiddish Rialto, and his parents, Julius Adler and Henrietta Jacobson, were two of its stars. The revue include songs by such one-time Yiddish theater luminaries as Sholom Secunda and Joseph Ruminshinsky. Mr. Adler added some additional material to the show.”

Mr. Adler’s abilities drew praise from Richard F. Shepard in The New York Times, who wrote, “As for Mr. Adler, what is there that this anchor can’t do. He kazotskys, he soft-shoes, he fandangos, or something in reasonable facsimile. He makes the oldest jokes fresh and funny in his non-stop hoofer break-two-three-four vaudeville routine.”

Mr. Adler, who had been forced to cancel his appearances at The Muny as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and in 90 Years of Muny Magic had appeared on its stage for 12 consecutive seasons. According to Laura Peters Reilly of The Muny staff, Adler considered The Muny his “home away from home.”

Paul Blake, artistic director of The Muny, last week paid tribute to Mr. Adler for his work, which included 30 shows at The Muny. Lewis J. Stadlen replaced Mr. Adler as Tevye in The Muny’s season closer, Fiddler on the Roof.

In 2006 he played Fagan in Oliver!, and The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. His other Muny appearances included a previous performance of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof; Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast; Sitting Bull in Annie Get Your Gun; Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls; Bela Zangler in Crazy for You; Hucklebee in The Fantasticks, Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady; Hysterium in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; Moonface in Anything Goes and Ali Hakim in Oklahoma!, the same show in which he had his Broadway debut. Mr. Adler also contributed the singing voice of the narrator of the Disney animated film Aladdin.

Mr. Adler was born on Second Avenue in Manhattan on Nov. 27, 1944, and grew up as the son of Yiddish theater stars Julius Adler and Henrietta Jacobson.

He appeared in Yiddish show at ages 3 and 4, appearing in dance numbers on stage with his parents and once dancing with the famed Yiddish and general actress Molly Picon.

Mr. Adler served in the U.S. Army from 1966 to 1968. His first marrige, to Isabelle Farrell, ended in divorce.

Among his survivors are his wife, Amy London, whom he married in 2003; a son, Jake and two stepchildren.