Catch up on the hottest news items of the of the year with the Observer’s Digital Year in Review.
Roberta MacDonald Turoff, a bright, brassy and talented fixture in the Sarasota theater community since 1968, died from cancer earlier today.
Along with her husband, Robert Turoff, the two founded and ran the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre from 1971 until its closing in fall 2012. But whether it was at the Golden Apple or Broadway, Turoff was a consummate entertainer and would perform where and whenever she got the chance.
Raised in New York City, Turoff attended the prestigious High School of Performing Arts where she graduated in 1951 along with such talented fellow alumni as Dom DeLuise, Danny Melnick and Suzanne Pleshette.
After graduating from high school, Turoff auditioned and earned her first Broadway role in the original production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific" as a replacement performer for the role of Ensign Sue Yaeger. She would go on to star in other Broadway productions, "Cyrano de Bergerac" in 1953, and "Sherry!" in 1967.
Turoff also spent time as a performer on "The Today Show" when Hugh Downs hosted it and the writer was none other than Barbara Walters. After leaving "The Today Show" after six months, Turoff toured night clubs in the Catskills, upstate New York and Chicago. She met her future husband in Rochester, N.Y. They married in 1961.
The theatrical couple moved to Florida and purchase a house on St. Armands over the phone with their young son, Ben (who is now the manager of the Glenridge Performing Arts Center), in 1968. The rest is Sarasota theater history.
Robert and Roberta Turoff became centers of the theatrical community by performing, producing and supporting shows and their fellow theater actors and artists. Roberta was involved in almost every major theater house in town. From her own Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, the Players Theatre and the Asolo Repertory Theatre, the actress and entertainer extraordinaire lent her time and talents to Sarasota's theater community.
Not only just a performer, Turoff was an ardent supporter of HIV/AIDS awareness and treatment. She was a passionate advocate from the beginning of Sarasota's Community AIDS Network by participating and leading fundraisers.
Below longtime friends and collaborators remember Turoff for the massive and theatrical impact she left on the Sarasota community:
Jeffrey Kin (artistic director of the Players Theare): "She was the epitome of a trooper. She gave everything she had, and theater was her life. She was always kind and always gracious. She always had something funny or sarcastic to say. The phrase, 'They don’t make them like that anymore,' is absolutely true. She and Bob were both a dynamic duo for so many years. They’ve touched so many peoples lives. In the theater, you never stop learning. I have a feeling that hundreds of thousands of people have been touched in way by her kindnest, generosity and talent.
Garry Bruel (longtime stage manager and friend): "We met in 1990 at the Asolo Theater and started working at the Golden Apple in 1992. We’d go back and forth to do theaters and shows. We did 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Mame' together. She was the leading lady of this community. She cared about a lot of people. She’d help us out any way she could through food, money and support. I've been here in Sarasota since 1985 and there was no one like her."
Catharine Randazzo (associate artist, Florida Studio Theatre): "I met her in 1992, and I had a great fortune of working as an actor with Roberta and Bob Turoff on a production of 'The Sound of Music' in Singapore. It was great. One of my favorite memories I have is when I sat next to Roberta on the plane learning all about her life. It was the first time I realized what an amazing artist and actress she is. She and her entire family will always be dear to me. They created a place for actors, and it was a home for them, and people who needed work could always rely on them."