MCC Theater founder and artistic director Robert LuPone dies at 76
BrooadwayWorld is saddened to announce the passing of artist and founding co-artistic director of MCC, Bob LuPone. LuPone passed away this morning after a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
MCC Statement: “The MCC Theater community mourns the loss of our much-loved and uniquely inspiring partner, colleague and friend, Bob LuPone, who lived fearlessly and with great curiosity, good humor, boundless passion for connection and a whole lot of heart. He will be deeply and always missed.
Bob LuPone was born on July 29, 1946, in Brooklyn, New York, to Angela Louise (known as Pat), a homemaker, and Orlando Joseph LuPone, a school principal.
Bob has dedicated his life to the arts, from his influential career as a dancer and actor on stage and screen, to his work as an arts educator and founding co-artistic director of MCC Theatre.
His passion for the arts began at an early age. In sixth grade at his elementary school in North Port, Long Island, he saw his younger sister Patti LuPone dancing at a PTA dance concert in a colorful hula skirt. After telling his mother how badly he wanted to wear the skirt, she told him that if that was what he wanted he should enroll in a dance class, which he did the year next. He began by taking tap lessons after school before enrolling at the Martha Graham Studio, where he studied with Antony Tudor, José Limon and Graham herself, from age 15 to 18.
In high school, in addition to dancing and participating in the school’s drama program, he also excelled at the ninth rank in oboe in New York State. “The problem of my whole life”, he once said, “was to know what I wanted to do.”
After graduating, he enrolled at Adelphi University where he stayed for two semesters. At the suggestion of a friend, he went to audition for Juilliard. He was accepted – without telling anyone that he had improvised his audition until after the fact. He transferred to Juilliard and earned a BFA in dance in 1968.
His first professional work was in 1966, on the set of Westbury Music Fair’s production of The Pajama Game with Liza Minnelli. He made his Broadway debut in 1968 in Noel Coward’s production of Sweet Potato, and later appeared in Minnie’s Boys, The Rothschilds and The Magic Show.
In 1975, he received a call from his agent saying that Michael Bennett was looking to audition the Triple Threats for a new musical. Bob was first cast as Al in A Chorus Line, but after another actor left the production Bob went to Bennett and said “I can do this. I can play Zach”. Bennett auditioned for him that day during a lunch break, and by afternoon Bob was in rehearsal for the role that would lead to a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. A Chorus Line opened at the Public Theater, before quickly moving to Broadway. The production was nominated for 12 Tony Awards at the 1976 ceremony.
After more than a decade booking musicals as a dancer and performing through various dance injuries – one of which left him paralyzed for 11 days – he joined The Actors Studio to hone his skills. as a legitimate actor. His goal was to participate in “substantial problem-oriented work.” Never really connecting with the studio ethos, he left after arguing with a member who said, “Well, if you don’t like it, go make your own theater.” In fact, that’s what he did. A few years later, Bob was teaching an acting class at New York University where one of his students was Bernie Telsey. Together they would form the Manhattan Class Company, known today as the MCC Theater.
Bob passionately led the MCC as part of a unique artistic leadership trio with Bernie Telsey and Will Cantler for nearly 40 years, transforming it from the ground up into the influential non-profit theater company Off-Broadway what it is today encouraging students and artists and producing works such as Frozen, Hand to God, School Girls; or the African Mean Girls Play and Pulitzer W Prize; t.
In the company’s early days, Bob led groups of actors, directors, and playwrights on weekend retreats on Long Island to read early drafts of new plays, while his mother Pat cooked for the group. MCC quickly moved from conducting development work to producing One Acts parties and eventually plays at various leased spaces around the city, such as the Nat Horne Theater/Theatre Row, 28th Street Theater and Lucille Lortel Theatre, where MCC was in residence. for more than a decade while preparing to fulfill a lifelong dream of building his own home.
“Whenever we were considering a play, Bob would always ask us if it had a ‘third act,'” said MCC co-artistic director Will Cantler. “Would we leave the theater anxious to go to the bar or the restaurant and spend the rest of the night ruminating on what we had seen? This perspective has driven all the decisions we have made.
In January 2019, MCC opened the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space at 52nd Street and 10th Avenue, fulfilling the goal of bringing the full range of MCC community and programming – MCC students Youth Company to artists developing, rehearsing and presenting new work to audiences eager to engage in the unique dialogue sparked by a theatrical experience – all under one roof. At the time, Bob said, “I am filled with a sense of happiness about where MCC is, what it has achieved and what it now has in terms of a home.”
“Bob had a fierce opinion about plays,” said co-artistic director Bernie Telsey, “and just as fiercely unconventional about his note sessions. If Will or I sometimes paused on how or when to give one note, Bob always trusted that direct charge with passion and candor would win the day, and we learned how often he was right If we argued often and loudly in our early days, we could never give up and what we were building. The unruly passion of those days matured into a confidence to speak and listen that we hope pervades the entire culture of MCC today.”
While serving as Co-Artistic Director of MCC Theatre, Bob continued to perform, primarily on stage, but also on television. Some notable acting credits include the Broadway productions of A View from the Bridge, True West and A Thousand Clowns, and the Chicago premiere of Sam Shepard’s The Tooth of Crime for which he won a Joseph Jefferson Award. Some TV credits include “The Sopranos”, “Sex & the City”, “All My Children” (for which he received a Daytime Emmy nomination) and “Guiding Light”.
Bob returned to his role as an educator, supporting the artistic development of a new generation of actors, when he began serving as Director of the MFA Theater Program at The New School for Drama from 2005 to 2011. He was also Chairman of the Board of ART/New York.
In a 2019 interview for the Primary Stages Off-Broadway Oral History Project, Bob spoke passionately about life in the theater: “There is no better life. Despite the cost, there is no better life than a life in the theater in New York, with the community, with the ups and downs, with the fullness of life and the creativity that you experience. Both positive and negative, with the joys and sorrows of inspiration. This is the reason for doing all this. And it’s a good life…it’s a good life.”
Bob LuPone is survived by his wife Virginia, his son Orlando, his sister Patti LuPone, his brother William and a loving community of extended family, friends and artists of a life well lived.
Photo credit: Walter McBride