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Roger Berlind, 90, dies; Broadway Impresario which has amassed 25 tons

Roger Berlind, who has produced or co-produced over 100 Broadway plays and musicals, including critical and box office hits like “The Book of Mormon,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “City of Angels” and covers of “Guys and Dolls” and “Kiss Me, Kate”, died on December 18 at his home in Manhattan. He was 90 years old.

His family said the cause was cardiopulmonary arrest.

Over a four-decade career in theater, Mr. Berlind has supported some of Broadway’s most original works and amassed an impressive 25 Tony Awards, one of the biggest titles on record. (Hal Prince, another Tony-winning prodigious producer, raked in 21.)

Mr. Berlind has been instrumental in bringing dynamic musicals to the stage, like the smashing 1992 cover of “Guys and Dolls” with Nathan Lane, as well as sophisticated literate dramas, like the original 1984 production of “The Real Thing,” Tom Stoppard’s dazzling exploration of the nature of love and honesty. “The Real Thing” swept through the Tonys, winning for Best Play and Best Director (Mike Nichols) and winning Top Acting Awards for Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close and Christine Baranski.

His route to Broadway was indirect. Able to play the piano by ear, he fancied himself a songwriter, but his dream of making a living this way fell flat and he went to work on Wall Street.

He was a partner in a brokerage firm when tragedy struck: his wife and three of his four children were killed in an airliner crash at Kennedy International Airport. Within days, he resigned from his company.

“The very idea of ​​starting a business and making money just didn’t make sense,” he told the New York Times in 1998. “There was no more economic motivation.”

After a spell in the wilderness, he found his way to Broadway, which helped him rebuild his life and establish a whole new career.

“What’s important about Roger is that he’s had an incredible turnaround,” Brook Berlind, his second wife, said in a telephone interview.

“Her life was completely changed by the accident,” she said. “There was Act I and Act II. I don’t think that many other people could have achieved such success after such a disaster.

Success on Broadway came slowly. Mr. Berlind’s first production, in 1976, was The Disastrous “Rex,” a Richard Rodgers musical (with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick) about Henry VIII, which Times theater critic Clive Barnes said “Almost everything is not right for him”.

In fact, Mr. Rodgers’ music ended Mr. Berlind’s career. His last show, of which he was one of many producers, was the grim Tony-winning 2019 cover of “Oklahoma!” From Rodgers and Hammerstein! (This show made Broadway history when actress Ali Stroker became the first person to use a wheelchair to earn a Tony.)

After “Rex”, Mr. Berlind co-produced six more shows before having his first success with the original 1980 production “Amadeus”, in which a mediocre composer burns with jealousy over the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The play, written by Peter Shaffer, directed by Peter Hall and starring Ian McKellen and Tim Curry, won several Tonys, including Best Play.

Two other hits soon followed: Sophisticated Ladies, a 1981 revue with music by Duke Ellington; and “Nine”, a 1982 musical based on Fellini’s film “8½” about a tortured director facing professional and romantic crises.

Along the way there were a lot of flops. Producing on Broadway is always risky, with no sure formula for success. It became even more difficult at the end of the 20th century, as people from the theater migrated to Hollywood, labor and advertising costs skyrocketed, and high ticket prices discouraged audiences. To launch shows, more and more producers had to pool their resources, and even then they were unlikely to recover their investments.

One of Mr. Berlind’s accomplishments was to stay in the game. Despite the challenges, he took risks in the shows because he believed in it and because he could afford to lose as often as he won. .

“I know it’s not worth the money economically,” he told The Times in 1998. “But I love the theater ..”

His hits include “Proof,” “Doubt,” “The History Boys,” the 2012 cover of “Death of a Salesman” with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the 2017 cover of “Hello, Dolly!” with Bette Midler.

Scott Rudin, who produced around 30 shows with Mr Berlind, said Mr Berlind was propelled by “tremendous courage and persistence”.

“He was not deterred by the obstacles that deterred others,” Rudin said in an email. “He had huge positivity, which is much, much rarer than you might think.

This became evident after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when Broadway fell in darkness for 48 hours, a sign of the economic uncertainty looming over the city.

At the time, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani urged theaters to reopen quickly, and they did. But half a dozen shows have closed, and one about to do so was “Kiss Me, Kate,” which Mr. Berlind had been deeply involved in and loved dearly. He was fascinated by Cole Porter’s music and everything in the show clicked. Winner of five Tonys, including Best Cover of a Musical, “Kate” had been running for almost two years and was not due to close until December 30, 2001.

But due to a sharp drop in ticket sales, production was going to shut down early. A closing date of September 23 has been announced.

Just before the curtain rose on what was supposed to have been the final performance, Mr. Berlind, a modest man who bore little witness to typical theatrical staging, took the stage. He held the fence notice in his hand and tore it up.

“The show will continue,” he told an already moved audience.

The cast and crew had agreed to give up 25% of their salary and give an additional 25% to purchase tickets for the show for the rescuers. The move allowed “Kate” to continue operating until its scheduled closure on December 30.

“It was my moment Merrick,” Mr Berlind later told The Guardian of London, referring to David Merrick, one of the famous Broadway showmen.

The Guardian went on to praise the exuberant London production of Mr Berlind’s’ Kate ‘, which opened in October, as’ a symbol of indomitability and grace under community pressure, in fact. ‘a city that has been in shock since September 11.

Roger Stuart Berlind was born on June 27, 1930 in Brooklyn to Peter Berlind, a hospital administrator, and Mae (Miller) Berlind, an amateur painter who taught painting while raising her four sons.

The family moved to Woodmere on Long Island when Roger was 3 years old. He attended Woodmere Academy and went to Princeton, where he majored in English.

His life on campus revolved around the theater. He joined the Triangle Club, which features comedies written by students, and Theater Intime, a theatrical organization run by students. Years later, in 1998, he donated $ 3.5 million to build the 350-seat Roger S. Berlind Theater as part of the McCarter Theater expansion in Princeton.

After graduating in 1952, he joined the military and served in the Counterintelligence Corps in Germany. At one point, he was on a troop ship with Buck Henry, the actor and comedy writer who passed away that year, and the two shows regularly created for the soldiers.

When Mr. Berlind returned to New York in 1954, he was determined to become a songwriter.

“He loved the big band music of the 1940s, he could play almost any song from the American songbook and he had a great memory for lyrics,” his son William said in a phone interview. Her own tunes were simple and nostalgic, as evidenced by their titles, “Lemon Drop Girlfriend” and “Isn’t It a Rainbow Day?” among them. But Tin Pan Alley was not interested and, in need of a job, Mr Berlind was directed by friends to Wall Street.

“I had never taken an economics course in college,” he told Playbill in 2005, “and I had 26 or 28 interviews before anyone hired me.”

He worked for four years in an investment house, then in 1960 co-founded a brokerage firm, Carter, Berlind, Potoma & Weill, which went through several iterations until its acquisition by American Express in 1981. Its partners in Along the way included Sanford I. Weill, who became Chairman and CEO of Citigroup, and Arthur Levitt Jr., future Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

It was an exhilarating time for Mr. Berlind. But on June 24, 1975, his world stopped.

He had gone to the airport that day to meet his wife, Helen Polk (Clark) Berlind, and three of their children – Helen, 12; Peter, 9 years old; and Clark, 6 – returning to New York City from New Orleans after visiting Helen Berlind’s mother in Mississippi.

As it approached Kennedy in a severe storm, the Boeing 727, Eastern Air Lines Flight 66, was swept by windshear and crashed, killing 113 of the 124 people on board, including including Mr. Berlind’s family.

Their son William, 2, was home in Manhattan with his nurse at the time. Growing up, he had unresolved issues about what had happened.

“Roger was so damaged by the accident that he did not spend as much time with William on this subject as he could have,” said Ms Berlind, who married Mr Berlind in 1979.

Eventually, a psychiatrist told Mr. Berlind that he had to answer William’s questions, even if he asked the same thing over and over. Eventually, it turned out to be therapeutic for both father and son.

“He was there and strong for me,” said William Berlind, former reporter for the New York Observer and writer for the New York Times Magazine, who followed his father to Broadway and collaborated with him on several shows.

“He was marked by tragedy,” he added, “but it did not consume him and he persevered.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Berlind is survived by two granddaughters and a brother, Alan.

Over time, friends put Mr. Berlind in touch with people in the theater, and he quickly immersed himself in the whole process of putting on a show. He had a reputation for being generally more concerned than many producers about not interfering with the creative process.

But Mr Berlind has always insisted that the work he has supported has merit. While he kept a cool eye on the results, he could be wowed by the sheer art.

“He had been a tough and successful businessman, but in his theater life he was passionate about talent, and that’s what he invested in,” Rocco Landesman, who produced “Guys and Dolls” , “Kiss Me, Kate” and “Proof” with him, said in an email.

“He loved his flops almost as much as his hits,” Landesman added. “And every time one of his shows closed, Roger was ‘available’ again.”

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