Robert M. Cooper, Director and Producer of Broadway’s Bubbling Brown Sugar, Dies at 86

Obituaries   Robert M. Cooper, Director and Producer of Broadway’s Bubbling Brown Sugar, Dies at 86
 
The Harlem-set musical revue was nominated for the Best Musical Tony Award in 1976.
Robert M. Cooper
Robert M. Cooper

Robert M. Cooper, who directed and produced the 1976 Tony-nominated musical Bubbling Brown Sugar, has died at the age of 86. He passed away July 14 at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.

Bubbling Brown Sugar Playbill - Jan 1977
Bubbling Brown Sugar Playbill - Jan 1977

Mr. Cooper partnered with James Lloyd Grant, Richard Bell, and Ashton Springer to present Bubbling Brown Sugar, a Harlem nightclub-set musical revue written by Loften Mitchell. Following a 12-performance run at New York’s Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, the musical embarked on a ten-month national tour before opening at Broadway’s ANTA Playhouse (now the August Wilson Theatre) in March 1976.

The show ran for nearly 800 performances; in addition to Best Musical, the show received Tony nominations for Vivian Reed’s star performance and Billy Wilson’s choreography. The show later went on to play London, where it received an Olivier Award nomination for Best New Musical.

Prior to his Broadway success, Mr. Cooper, born May 10, 1932, in Detroit, studied at the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago (now at DePaul University). He went on to help form a touring company that presented plays to children in Florida, as well as the Fort Lauderdale-based Alley Theater.

His additional theatrical credits included directing and co-producing the Off-Broadway musical On Toby Time and co-producing Mahalia at Henry Street Playhouse. In his later years, Mr. Cooper had been writing a ‘40s-set musical, Jumpin’ Jive, which has yet to be produced.

His granddaughter, Abbie Reese, recalls him writing of his artistic pursuits: “Some get a calling to the ministry, others to medicine, still others to the arts. While the first two are honored and respected and never in want of work, we oddballs who neither preach nor heal take on every sort of hateful, so-called ‘honest’ job that would afford us to answer our calling, whether or not it paid us a dime… Once we answer that important call, once we get to do what we were meant to do and got paid to do it, there’s no going back! We have reached and realized our bliss. Oh, to do what you were born to do and to earn a living doing it—it is a blessing.”

Mr. Cooper is survived by four children (Leslie Reese, Kimberly Reese, David Cooper, and Robert Cooper), ten grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and his long-term partner, Elizabeth Pimentel. He was previously married to Lois Wahl.

The estate asks that those who would like to share memories of Mr. Cooper or Bubbling Brown Sugar send them to estate.robertmillercooper@gmail.com.

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