Peter Neufeld, Broadway Producer and General Manager, Dies at 78

Obituaries   Peter Neufeld, Broadway Producer and General Manager, Dies at 78
 
Peter Neufeld, a prolific producer and general manager on Broadway with nearly three decades of credits, died Jan. 27 at The Lillian Booth Actors Home of The Actors Fund in Englewood, NJ. His death, after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, was confirmed by a friend and health proxy, William Parry. He was 78.

Born in Brooklyn on Dec. 12, 1936, Mr. Neufeld began his career on Broadway in 1967 as a company manager of the Broadway show Ilya Darling. Subsequent shows as company manager including Something Different, I Never Sang For my Father and Billy.

In 1971, in partnership with R. Tyler Gatchell, Jr., he founded the long-running general management and producing company, Gatchell & Neufeld, Ltd. Their first hit as general managers was the backward-looking, nostalgic 1971 revival of No, No, Nanette, starring Ruby Keeler, which ran two years on Broadway. An even bigger smash, in which they were both general managers and associate producers, followed in the form of the rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar.

The latter credit led to a long-time relationship with the composer and producer, Andrew Lloyd Webber. In addition to general management of many Lloyd Webber shows, they were executive producers of the original productions of Evita, Starlight Express, Song and Dance and Cats.

Gatchell & Neufeld were general managers on some of the most sizable hits of their time, including Annie, Sweeney Todd, Talley’s Folly, Hurlyburly, Lettice and Lovage and Crazy for You, as well as notable misfires including Chess, Spoils of War, Le Bete, Goodbye Fidel and Smile.

Off-Broadway, Mr. Neufeld and Mr. Gatchell had one big success, as two of the producers of the Kander and Ebb revue And the World Goes Round, which ran for a year beginning in 1991 and launched the careers of director Scott Ellis and director-choreographer Susan Stroman. The team’s final Broadway credit was A Christmas Carol in 1993. That same year Mr. Neufeld’s partner, R. Tyler Gatchell, Jr., died of a heart attack while heading out to Kennedy Airport for a vacation in Paris.

“It changed my life,” Neufeld told Playbill in 2004. “Part of the change was voluntary and part pragmatic. I had been working on a lot of shows that got bad reviews and closed, and Tyler had been working on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shows, which got good reviews and ran, and I wasn’t sure I would be getting a lot of work. But it was also work I didn’t want to do any longer. I was feeling burned out.”

He found a new calling in 1995, when, following six months of volunteering, he joined the professional staff of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. “A friend had become infected with the HIV. virus,” he explained. “Because of his illness, I decided to go to work in the AIDS community.”

Neufeld’s first task for BC/EFA was to prepare a database of thousands of celebrities that the organization could call on for help. “Then I evolved probably the most extensive list, more than 2,300 names, of people in the arts who have died of AIDS: TV cameramen, fashion photographers, actors, chorus kids—everybody,” he told Playbill.

In 2005, Mr. Neufeld was awarded a Tony Award for Excellence in Theatre.

Raised in Brooklyn and an alumnus of Erasmus Hall High School, he was six when his mother took him to see the original production of Oklahoma! “I thought I was going to a movie, and I thought that when the curtain went up I would see a movie screen,” he recalled. “I nearly jumped out of my seat when I saw live actors on a stage. But even before I saw the performers, the overture—the violins, the strings, the brass, the melody—grabbed me. I identified with and fell in love with the theatre that day.”

As a teenager, he worked in summer stock on Long Island. He majored in theatre at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, and then he returned to New York. His very first theatre job in was arranged through family friends, Arthur and Barbara Gelb, who got him an interview with Ted Mann at Circle in the Square in Greenwich Village. He was given a job closing up the theatre at night. At 27 he was hired as assistant manager of the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center.

He met his future partner, Gatchell, while working for the Broadway producers Eugene Wolsk and Emanuel Azenberg. “When Tyler and I first met, we didn’t like each other at all,” Neufeld recalled. “The feeling was very mutual. But a friend said that we’d be perfect as a partnership, so we got together. And it shocked both of us. We didn’t approve of each other until we got to know each other.”

Mr. Neufeld was philosophical about his profession and where its true benefits lie. “I’ve discovered over the years that a show being a hit doesn’t mean it’s your happiest time,” he said. “It’s the people you’re working with, the relationships you have, that matter. That’s where the pleasure and satisfaction come from. Very few people I know have become happy because they’ve had a hit. When I worked on Chorus Line, the whole company expected that success would answer all the problems in life. But all a contract gives you is salary and billing. The rest of life, you have to take care of yourself.”

Mr. Neufeld is survived by three nephews and their families. Contributions in Peter’s name may be made to The College of William and Mary, The Actors Fund, and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

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