Gardner made her stage debut as Luisa in the original cast of The Fantasticks in 1960. Additional off-Broadway credits include The Cradle Will Rock (1964), To Be Young, Gifted, and Black (1969), Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (1972), Steel Magnolias (1987), and The Foreigner (2004).
Gardner made her Broadway debut in the short-lived A Family Affair in 1962. She was featured in a brief 1963 revival of Pal Joey and replaced Susan Watson soon after the opening of Ben Franklin in Paris in 1964, after which her Broadway career stalled, finding her serving merely as a standby or understudy in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1965), The Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1969), and Morning's at Seven (2002). She had a featured role in The Wedding Singer in 2006.
Gardner's regional theatre credits include Show Boat and The Impossible Years at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania (1983), Lucky in the Rain at the Goodspeed Opera House (1997), and Eleanor: A Love Story at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. (1999). She appeared in the national tours of Kiss of the Spider Woman (1994) and her one-woman show Try to Remember: A Look Back at Off-Broadway (2002).
She was a faculty member for the sixth annual Cabaret Conference at Yale University in 2008.
- Rita Gardner at the Internet Broadway Database
- Rita Gardner at the Internet Movie Database
- Lortel Archives listing