Ron Bruncati had the herculean task of balancing the needs of actors with the demands of directors. He did it deftly for more than 25 years as the stage manager at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.
From 1974 to 2001, Bruncati was the man behind more than 50 main stage productions and made sure the curtain went up and came down every night without a hitch.
“He had the ability to keep all the balls in the air at once,” said Gary Gisselman, the Chanhassen’s founding artistic director, who hired Bruncati. “He could keep his finger on anything and cared about everything that was important.”
Bruncati was in a rehabilitation center in St. Louis Park when he died in his sleep on Aug. 17. He was 79.
He was born in 1934 in the New York City borough of Brooklyn and graduated from Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn College. After school, Bruncati started out in the television department of the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency, where he produced one of the first TV commercials for toilet paper. But he didn’t see himself in a 9-to-5 job and left shortly after when the theater bug came calling, said his wife of 45 years, Jan, of Minneapolis.
Always good with people, Bruncati networked his way into jobs as stage manager at the Equity Library Theater, the New York Shakespeare Festival, the 1964 remounting of “The Cradle Will Rock” and a North American and European tour with comedian/pianist Victor Borge. One of those relationships led to a job at the Guthrie Theater, where he worked with directors such as Sir Tyrone Guthrie, Michael Langham and Len Cariou from 1968 to 1974.
“He was very good at his job,” his wife said. “He had the gift of keeping things intact, not only the basics but keeping the human connection intact. He related well to people.”
At the Chanhassen, Bruncati managed shows such as “She Loves Me,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” He was also known for his big smiles and thick New York accent, which came across profoundly when he cued “da tunder and da rain” in a production of “Brigadoon.”
He injected humor when the situation called for it, such as one night when actor David Brinkley was late because he ran out of gas. Current artistic director Michael Brindisi recalled that Bruncati got on the P.A. and announced that Brinkley was going to be late because he was “out of gas.” Later he announced to the cast that “Brinkley’s got gas!”
Meticulous and detail oriented, Bruncati read aloud the Actor’s Equity union rules at the beginning of each production, down to the final period, said Steve Andersen, a former stage manager at Chanhassen who now runs ShowHouse Productions in Minneapolis. Bruncati was not afraid to raise his voice when necessary. But he also was a father figure to actors and was always able to win people to his side, Andersen said.
After leaving the Chanhassen, Bruncati taught computer courses for seniors at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and indulged in his lifelong passion for reading cookbooks like one would read a novel, and using his six-burner stove to cook up newfound recipes, his wife said.
He also enjoyed gardening, building and restoring wood furniture and traveling to Italy.
Besides his wife, Bruncati is survived by a daughter, Cara Mia Bruncati, of Watertown, Mass., a brother, Robert (Bobby) Bruncati, of California, and two grandchildren.
A memorial will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Sept. 28 on the main stage of the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, 501 W. 78th St., Chanhassen.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768 Twitter: @timstrib