Tony-Nominated Broadway Writer and Director Mark Bramble Dies at 68

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Mark Bramble

After getting his start with legendary producer David Merrick, Bramble wrote the book for the musical 'Barnum' and adapted the blockbuster stage version of '42nd Street,' which he later directed.

Mark Bramble, a theater director, writer and producer who was a key part of the creative team of two hit Broadway musicals of the early 1980s, Barnum and 42nd Street, died Wednesday. He was 68.

Bramble died at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore following complications related to cardiovascular hypertension, his longtime business manager and friend Richard Koenigsberg confirmed.

He got his start in the theater biz in 1971, working as an apprentice in the New York offices of storied producer David Merrick, one of the most prolific Broadway impresarios of the time, known for his unorthodox publicity stunts. 

Bramble got his first taste of success as a writer for the stage in 1980, penning the book for the splashy circus musical Barnum, which featured songs by Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart. The show starred Jim Dale as P.T. Barnum and Glenn Close as his wife Chairy in its Broadway premiere, which ran for 854 performances.

Bramble and Stewart adapted Bradford Ropes' novel and the 1933 movie musical of the same name into the popular stage success 42nd Street, which became Merrick's last big hit. The "song and dance fable of Broadway," known for its show-stopping tap numbers, starred Jerry Orbach and ran more than eight years in its 1980 premiere, directed and choreographed by Gower Champion, who died on opening night.

Bramble went on to direct the show's 2001 Broadway revival, as well as productions in London, Sydney, Shanghai, Tokyo, Amsterdam and Vienna.

He was nominated for three Tony Awards — for best book of a musical for Barnum (1980) and 42nd Street (1981), and for best direction of a musical for 42nd Street (2001). He lost out on the latter to Susan Stroman for The Producers, but his production did win Tonys for best musical revival and for lead actress Christine Ebersole.

Bramble's other work as a writer for Broadway included updating the book for the flop 1984 revival of the musical The Three Musketeers, with a score by Rudolph Friml. With frequent collaborator Stewart, he co-authored the book for the 1978 Jerry Herman show The Grand Tour; for Pieces of Eight, a 1985 musical adaptation of Treasure Island, with songs by Jule Styne, that folded during its out-of-town tryout; and for the well-received 1980 off-Broadway opera Elizabeth & Essex.

Bramble is survived by two brothers and their wives, and numerous nieces and nephews. Funeral arrangements and a celebration of his life will be announced at a later date. Donations in his memory can be made through The Actors Fund to go to The Lillian Booth Actors Home.