A canny, rubber-faced and physically agile comic actor, Mr. Adler made his Broadway debut playing the itinerant peddler Ali Hakim in the 1979 revival of Oklahoma! directed by William Hammerstein. The following decade brought Broadway appearances in the short-lived original comedy Oh, Brother! and the equally brief 1987 revival of the 1920s play Broadway.
He found his greatest success in the early 1990s, netting Tony nominations for his work in Those Were the Days (1990) and Crazy for You (1992). The former, a revue, was a project close to his heart: a collection of songs and sketches from the days when Second Avenue was a bustling showbiz thoroughfare known at the Yiddish Rialto, and his parents were two of its stars. The revue included songs by such one-time Yiddish theatre luminaries as Sholom Secunda and Joseph Rumshinsky. Mr. Adler himself provided "additional material."
"As for Mr. Adler, what is there that this anchor man can't do?" wrote Richard F. Shepard in The New York Times. "He kazotskys, he soft-shoes, he fandangos, or something in reasonable facsimile. He makes the oldest jokes fresh and funny in his nonstop hoofer break-two-three-four vaudeville routine, 'Hootsatsa.' He plays the bemused restaurant customer who can't find anything to eat in a Sholom Aleichem skit. Yiddish, English, whatever, he sets a funny pace."
Crazy for You was also a throwback, in a way. The old-fashioned musical was composed of extant songs by George and Ira Gershwin, linked together by a new book by playwright Ken Ludwig. The show was a smash. Mr. Adler played a Ziegfeld-like impresario named Bela Zangler, and many critics cited as a highlight "What Causes That?," an obscure Gershwin comic number that the actor performed with precise comic timing with co-star Harry Groener. New York Times critic Frank Rich called him a "fine, acerbic clown." He spent four years with the production and later re-created his performance at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Mr. Adler was the son of actors Julius Adler and Henrietta Jacobsen. His maternal grandparents, Joseph and Bessie Jacobson, were also actors, as were two uncles. Like many Yiddish celebrities of the day, his parents were treated like royalty along Second Avenue. As a child, he dined often with his parents at the Café Royal, a mecca for Yiddish talent of the day, and tromped up and down the stairs to the second-floor clubhouse at the Hebrew Actors Union building on E. 7th Street, where his father played cards and gossiped for many hours. "It was a home away from home for us," recalled Mr. Burstyn. He began performing at the age of three, and danced and sang on stage with Molly Picon when he was a barely a teenager. Mr. Adler also performed extensively in regional theatre. He played in Cole Porter's Red, Hot and Blue at the Paper Mill Playhouse in 2001 and St. Louis' summer theatre, the Muny, in Anything Goes, in 1999. Other roles include Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof, Fagin in Oliver!, Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, Bill Snibson in Me and My Girl, Hysterium in A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast, and famed lyricist Sammy Cahn in Come Fly With Me. He toured in his own one-man evening Song and Dance Man, which celebrated all of his performing heroes.