Irene Bunis: Broadway’s Mother, Gone too Soon

The mood was somber at the Winter Garden Theatre on Monday afternoon, where more than 100 people gathered to pay their respects to Irene Bunis, veteran Broadway wardrobe supervisor, who died of cancer in July. During the hour-long memorial service, speakers recounted their memories of Bunis, often on the verge of tears when describing vivid encounters.

Bunis worked on Broadway for over 30 years, conducting wardrobe supervision for several productions such as the Tony Awards, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Annie Get Your Gun and for the last 15 years: Mamma Mia. 

“How many of you did Irene see naked?”Over half the people in the room raised their hands.

“After you work on Broadway for a while, you can’t help but notice that certain people weave themselves into the fabric of our industry,” said Pat White, president of the New York City Theatrical Wardrobe Union. “She trusted the organized chaos and was experienced enough not to worry. I loved her for that.”

Even after Irene was diagnosed with cancer, she continued to devote herself wholeheartedly to her work.

“She was our rock. Battling the disease always seemed secondary to doing the work she loved,” said Nina Lannon, Bunis’ coworker on Mamma Mia for over 10 years.

Coworkers, friends, and family alike spoke fondly of Irene, each person reminiscing on a different facet of her personality.

Robin Birnbaum, high school Spanish teacher of Michelle, Bunis’ daughter, shared an anecdote about Irene’s love for her daughter. Irene called the school the day before Michelle’s 18th birthday and asked if she could have the names of some of Michelle’s friends because she wanted to throw her a surprise party.

“I gave her the names and I spoke to her on the phone in-depth, and she was just so lovely.”

To conclude the service, Bunis’ son and daughter, Sam Gelda and Michelle Gelda spoke on their mother.

“I didn’t think someone could love so much and so many, but here I am, 23 years later, still meeting people my mother loved and who loved her back,” said Sam.

After the service, Bunis’ well-known gumbo recipe, which she would take two days to make for her “Gumbo Parties,” was served. Those who had attended the parties remarked, “It doesn’t taste the same,” while eating the gumbo.


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