Theater critic and producer Stuart Duncan dies at 93

Stuart Duncan, a theater critic and well known P-Rade marshall at Princeton University’s annual alumni reunions, died peacefully at his home on April 30. He was 93.

Born in 1927 in New York City, he began his schooling at St. Bernards and Trinity. At age 14 he moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut and finished his preparatory education at the Wooster School in Danbury. As so  many did during that time, he deferred his admittance to Princeton University to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II returning to his education in 1946.

When he graduated in 1950, he had already embarked on three associations that would last him his lifetime. He had begun ushering at Trinity Episcopal Church in Princeton, a relationship that would endure for 70 years. He had also developed a bond with his university that led to decades of happy service as a marshall at the P-Rade, culminating in his years as grand marshall. He commissioned the Frank T. Gorman ceremonial mace in 1979 to honor his good friend’s prior service. He was the first to carry the mace in 1980 and it has been carried  in the P-Rade by every grand marshall since. He was honored in 2012 with an induction into the Society of the Claw, a membership given to those who have contributed to the university in a significant way.

As a senior at the university while pursuing his passion for the theater in a student production at Miss Fine’s School, he met his future bride, Nellie May Oliphant. They were married in 1951, a union that would last for 65 years until “Petie’s” passing in 2016. By 1954, the couple had returned to the area for the birth of the first of four children and Stuart’s expected career in the family business. For four generations, beginning in 1839, the Duncan family had owned the U.S. distribution rights to the Worchestershire sauce Lea & Perrins. Sales and marketing was a perfect fit for Stuart’s outgoing personality and he rose quickly to vice president of sales.

But his interest and passion for the theater had never waned and by the late 60s, Stuart was ready to create something for himself. Partnering with Edgar Lansbury (brother to Angela), the duo found immediate success producing off-Broadway revivals of “Waiting for Godot”, followed in 1971 by an award-winning revival of “Long Day’s Journey into Night”, starring Robert Ryan and two young, at that time unknowns, Stacey Keach and James Naughton.

Throughout 1970, the duo were also developing an unusual project – a master’s thesis by a Carnegie Mellon student based on the Gospel according to St. Matthew. They brought in a recent Carnegie Mellon graduate, Stephen Schwartz,  to write the music and lyrics (leading to Schwartz’s first Grammy) and in May of 1971, the rock-gospel hit “Godspell” opened in New York City. Producing the subsequent road shows around the world kept Stuart busy for several years .

Stuart never lost his commitment to the importance of community theater and spent his later years as a theater critic for the Princeton Packet and U.S. 1. Winning countless awards from The New Jersey Press Association for his reviews, his two-decade career as a theater critic was lauded in 2015 when he received a Perry Award from the New Jersey Association of Community Theaters for his outstanding contributions.

He had an ebullience for life, a quick wit, a sharp, inquiring mind and a delightful spirit. He will be missed by many. Burial at All Saints’ Church in Princeton will be private and a memorial service will be held at Trinity Church in Princeton in the future.