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Burry Fredrik, Broadway trailblazer, dies at 86

Tony Award-winning producer and noted director Burry Fredrik died at her home in Weston, Conn., on Tuesday, May 22. Cause of death was complications from a stroke she suffered more than two years ago.

Ms. Fredrik, who won a Tony Award for co-producing Tom Stoppard’s Travesties led an active theatrical career spanning over five decades. At a time when women rarely held such positions, Ms. Fredrik made her Broadway debut in 1950, stage managing The Relapse, which had transferred from the Brattle Theatre in Boston. As production stage manager, she would go on to such notable productions as the world premieres of Inherit the Wind, Jerry Herman’s first book musical Milk and Honey, and two collaborations between playwright William Inge and director Elia Kazan, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, and Loss of Roses, the latter starring a young Warren Beatty.

Ms. Fredrik received her first Tony nomination for co-producing the revival of G.B. Shaw’s Too True to be Good, starring Lillian Gish, Eileen Heckart, Cyril Ritchard, and Glynis Johns. Other landmark productions include the 1975 revival of The Royal Family, An Almost Perfect Person, and To Grandmother’s House We Go, which starred Kim Hunter and Eva Le Gallienne.

Off-Broadway, her productions included Exiles, Catholic School Girls, (which she also directed), and Sam Shepard’s Buried Child, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

As a director, Ms. Fredrik made her Broadway debut with the short-lived musical Wild and Wonderful. She would go on to garner praise as a director in prominent regional and “strawhat circuit” productions, with such shows as Talley’s Folly, To Grandmother’s House…, Mornings at Seven, ‘Night Mother, and Speed the Plow, all of which were performed at the Westport Country Playhouse, among other theaters.

In the ’80s, Ms. Fredrik joined the board of the Boston Post Road Stage Company, where she eventually became Associate Artistic Director, and later Artistic Director for its final season at the Westport Country Playhouse. There she was instrumental in bringing in new plays and playwrights, and directing seminal regional productions of such classics as Arms and the Man, Mistress of the Inn, as well as new plays Are You Sure and Okiboji, which starred Jan Miner and Patsy Englund.

Ms. Fredrik was also an active member of the Theatre Artists Workshop in Westport, serving on its executive board and directing several workshops and readings of new works. She would continue her professional career well into the 2000s, directing noted productions of new plays at the Lucille Lortel White Barn Theatre in Westport, Conn.

She served on the board of both the Westport Country Playhouse and Long Wharf Theatre. She established the Burry Fredrik Foundation, Inc., a charitable corporation, with a mission to aid in the growth and health of theatre companies, primarily in Fairfield County. Funding will support the development of new works, particularly young theatre companies. Some foundation funds will be awarded to college or university drama departments in the state of Connecticut, primarily to develop and educate new talent for the theatre, especially in the related areas of theatrical set, costume, and lighting design.

An avid collector of antiques and paintings, many of them from her family, Ms. Fredrik continued to practice art throughout her life. Her hand needle-pointed pillows — often detailed reproductions of theatrical posters from her shows — were considered instant, coveted collectors’ items.

As an animal lover, she also contributed substantially to animal rights and protection charities, both locally and nationally.

Born Erna Helene Gerber in 1925, in Staten Island, N.Y., to parents Fredrik K. Gerber and Erna Burry Gerber. Her professional name was an amalgam of both her father’s common and mother’s maiden names. She had one sister, Merlyn Gerber Gaumer, who preceded her in death.

She attended Staten Island Academy and Sarah Lawrence College and shortly thereafter got her first professional stage managing job at the Brattle Theatre in Boston.

She is survived by nephews Fredric K. Gaumer of Norwich, CT, John R. Gaumer, Jr. of Joshua Tree, CA, and nieces Gayle Gaumer Wilson of Edina, MN, Laurel Gaumer of Los Angeles, CA, and Jacquelyn G. Fraylick of San Leandro, CA.

In a typical display of her altruism, Ms. Fredrik donated her body to science at Yale University.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her name to the animal charity of your choosing, or contributions may be made to the Burry Fredrik Foundation, Inc., c/o Day & Levy, LLC, 1 Morningside Dr. N., Westport, CT 06880.

A memorial service is being planned for early summer in Westport, CT.

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