By Bill Hirschman
Peter Librach, the actor-director-producer-theatrical agent who worked at almost every South Florida theater and was remembered as the epitome of a nurturing colleague, died Wednesday afternoon at the age 64 after battling cancer.
Equally comfortable with comedy, drama and musicals, Librach connected especially with Jewish characters whether it was one of the broadly feuding ex-vaudevillians in The Sunshine Boys for Broward Stage Door or one of his last successes as the complex tradition-bound father in My Name Is Asher Lev at West Boca Theater Company.
Over the years audiences heard the bearded baritone as he starred as Tevye, Don Quixote, Fagin and Mr. Mushnik, but he was frequently seen in supporting roles as well as performing on television, in Broadway benefits and off-Broadway roles.
A virtual graveside service has been set for 9:30 a.m. Sunday on Zoom at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/6952759613pwd=1719. A memorial service with Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Cantor Doug Cotler has been set for Feb. 3, at 7 p.m. Eastern. Join Zoom https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81682903043… Meeting ID: 816 8290 3043Passcode: zbgfv3qhe8
As his condition deteriorated over the past few days, his Facebook page was overrun with support from artists he had worked with and encouraged.
Typical were the comments from actor Troy Stanley, who carpooled with him to several shows because they lived near each other. “He loved his wife, loved his friends, loved seeing good theater and loved it even more when he performed in it. He had a kind word for most everyone and saw the good in everyone, too. He loved the community that theater creates and his passing will leave a huge hole in it.”
“…We often shared lunches and breaks, sometimes being the only two actors of any age in the cast and bonding as we watched the younger ones cavort and frolic,” Stanley wrote. “We discussed the world in general and theater in particular. He was a man of conviction and principles and I admired him for his belief that theater was for all: young and old, male and female, gay and straight.”
Librach co-founded New Vista Theatre Company in southwest Palm Beach County with actor-artistic director Avi Hoffman. Their company, which both men invested their own money in, was an offshoot of the National Center for Jewish Cultural Arts, which Librach served as associate executive director “to promote and present Jewish cultural events.”
The theater opened in December 2006 with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and lasted three seasons. The company gave Broadway star Bruce Adler his last major role in a different production of The Sunshine Boys with Hoffman. Critical reviews of the shows often were mixed, but ticket buying audiences were enthusiastically supportive. The recession and the ensuing lack of separate donor support shuttered the company.
“Everyone knows he was one of the most loving and non-judgmental people you’ve ever met,” Hoffman said.” He was the epitome of a mensch.”
Although he worked mostly as a professional, he was an artistic consultant, performer and director at Pembroke Pines Theater of the Performing Arts community theater.
Among credits in new and developing work, he was part of the quartet of middle-aged friends in the first full production of Dan Clancy’s Middletown in 2016, as well as the 2019 world premiere musical Boca Bound at the Wick Theatre, which had an original cast recording last year.
Librach also was an unabashed liberal, actively supporting progressive political candidates and fighting against bigotry.
One example came from actor Larry Buzzeo, whose other profession is a hair stylist. He wrote to Librach that besides appreciating each other’s theater work over the years, Librach became “one of my first eager clients even though I was fresh out of school. Why? ‘To support a friend.’ ”
Buzzeo wrote, “It was during our time we spent talking as I cut or colored your hair to prepare you for a production at times that I really got to know you. I got to know your history, your intellect, your passion, your loves and the fact that you absolutely would not tolerate hate, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and the fact that you and Wendi joined me to rally against this hate and put action to your words.”
Librach was born in New Rochelle outside New York City, and studied theater at New York University and Syracuse University.
He began his acting career in New York in the 1970’s and 80’s, including appearing in a national tour of Godspell as well as performing many other roles in stock, regional, and Off-Broadway theater.
In 1980 he founded Skyline Casting in New York and spent the next three years casting theatrical, film and television projects. He then switched to working for New York talent agencies including Don Buchwald and Associates, and the Oppenheim-Christie Agency.
In 1993, he moved to Coral Springs. He earned a degree in Radiologic Technology and spent the next 13 years working as an X-ray technologist through a company serving several local hospitals. He reaffirmed his commitment to Judaism working as a lay-cantor at the Coral Springs Jewish Center.
He also rediscovered his acting roots, appearing in numerous regional productions where he reconnected with Hoffman, an acquaintance from New York.
Around 2001, the two men created the National Center, among whose purposes was to represent as agents for numerous Jewish performing talents, at one time amassing 90 clients from Tovah Feldshuh to klezmer bands – plus booking Hoffman and many others around the country.
One of the partners’ first successes came in the first minutes of their collaboration when Hoffman suggested a PBS station might film Hoffman’s revue Too Jewish? Librach made quick phone calls to the three regional PBS stations, elicited interest from all of them and negotiated a deal for the program to be filmed and broadcast for the local audience over WXEL. Over time, he managed to have the program seen nationally over 50 PBS stations, often repeatedly during pledge week.
He married Wendi Rausch, an actress and educator, on July 17, 2005, and friends uniformly recalled the closeness of their partnership as a key element of his life.
In December, he wrote on Facebook, “In my life I have been both the sick spouse and the well spouse at different times and, believe me, I would rather be the sick spouse any day. Wendi has been unbelievably supportive and there for me throughout this entire ordeal. Whether it’s driving me to doctor’s appointments, doing both our shares in keeping up our home or simply being a loving helpmate and shoulder to cry on she has been there at a time in her life when various stresses she is going through would drive a lesser person to a nervous breakdown.”
Although he acted through February as the father in the Broadway Palm production of Beauty and the Beast, he publicly revealed later in the year that he was having problems connected to his abdomen last fall and lost a great deal of weight by Thanksgiving.
He died about 2 p.m. with Wendi at his side.
Survivors include a sister, Katie; daughters, Annie and Julie, and granddaughters Ava and Riley.
Information about services or memorials will be posted later. A Facebook fundraiser account has been set up for the family at https://tinyurl.com/y5uvaoxw .