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Robert LuPone, Original Zach in A Chorus Line and MCC Theater Co-founder, Dies at 76

LuPone earned a Tony nomination for his performance in the Michael Bennett musical, and went onto a second career as an esteemed off-Broadway producer.

Robert LuPone
(© David Gordon)

Robert LuPone, the original Zach of Broadway's A Chorus Line and a cofounder of off-Broadway's MCC Theater, died Saturday, August 27 at the age of 76, following a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

Born July 29, 1946, LuPone's interest in the arts began at an early age, after watching his younger sister, Patti, dance at a school function. He began taking tap lessons before enrolling in the Martha Graham Studio during his teenage years. While in high school, he also studied drama and played the oboe, ranking ninth-best in New York State.

His first professional job was in the ensemble of The Pajama Game, starring Liza Minnelli, at Westbury Music Fair. He made his Broadway debut in Noel Coward's Sweet Potato shortly after graduating from Juilliard with a BFA in Dance in 1968. In the years that followed, LuPone would appear in the Broadway ensembles of Minnie's Boys, The Rothschilds, and The Magic Show.

In 1975, LuPone was cast as Al in Michael Bennett's upcoming production of A Chorus Line, but he later won the role of Zach after another actor left the production. LuPone's performance as the director/choreographer would earn him a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical after the Public Theater production transferred to Broadway.

After more than a decade of performing in musicals, LuPone eventually stopped dancing and began to hone more of his skills as an actor. In 1986, he and one of his students at New York University, Bernie Telsey, cofounded the Manhattan Class Company, known today as MCC Theater.

LuPone led MCC with Telsey and Will Cantler until his passing; under their artistic leadership, the company produced world premieres like the Pulitzer Prize-winning Wit, Frozen, Hand to God, School Girls, reasons to be pretty, and nearly four decades-worth of other plays and musicals. Writers produced under LuPone's tutelage include Halley Feiffer, Jocelyn Bioh, Donja R. Love, Matthew Perry, Neil LaBute, Sharr White, Bryony Lavery, and Margaret Edson, among others. MCC began life as an itinerant company operating out of spaces like the Lucille Lortel Theatre and Theatre Row. It opened its own dedicated venue, the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space, in January 2019.

As an actor, LuPone also appeared on Broadway in Late Nite Comic, Zoya's Apartment, A View From the Bridge, True West, and A Thousand Clowns. He and MCC would earn Best Play Tony nominations as the original producers of Frozen, Reasons to Be Pretty, Wit, The Other Place, The Snow Geese, and Hand to God. On television, LuPone earned a Daytime Emmy nomination for All My Children and memorably played Samantha's neighbor Len on Sex and the City and Dr. Cusamano on The Sopranos.

LuPone is survived by his wife Virginia, their son Orlando, sister Patti, brother William, and their extended families.

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