Hundreds of Broadway’s best performers gathered in New York’s Duffy Square on Sunday to honor the uncanny talent of Stephen Sondheim, who died Friday at the age of 91.
“No speech today, just some words from Steve, book two, page 430,” announced Lin-Manuel Miranda as she walked over to the microphone shortly after 12 p.m. while holding a copy of Look, I made a hat, Sondheim’s second lyric anthology, which includes works from 1981-2011. Miranda choked when he read and in the performance that followed – of “Sunday” from Sunday in the park with George – there were tears rolling down the cheeks of many of the biggest stars, insiders and performers of the Great White Way.
The show is short-lived as many of those in attendance will get to take to the stage performing the artists, and there will certainly be many memorials, concerts and memorials throughout the days, weeks and months. next. But Sunday’s outing was necessary, said actor, performer and producer of the event Erich Bergen, who had planned it just 24 hours in advance. On Saturday, while waiting for the train to Westport, Connecticut to visit his mother, Bergen, like countless others this weekend, listened to Sondheim. “It’s the actor’s album Sunday in the park with George,” Bergen, a self-described “Sondheim fan,” credits his time at Stagedoor Manor and the camp’s Michael Larsen for introducing him to the legendary Sondheim theatre. “Sondheim is our Shakespeare and we quote him just like English teachers quote Shakespeare.”
Sondheim is also a force to be reckoned with in the community, interacting with vets and newbies. “He’s seen everything and if you write, he’ll write back. If you want to make notes about your work, he will advise you and tell the truth. This is a man who has dedicated his life to the musical scene, not only creating it but also teaching it. You just feel as if he’s going to live forever,” continued Bergen, whose only personal relationship with Sondheim is starring in a Los Angeles film. A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. “His connection to the community is such a vibrant, positive heartbeat and although we all know he is 91 years old and won’t live forever, there is something about Friday that we not ready”.
So by the time his train arrived at the station in Connecticut, Bergen contacted Dan Gross, executive director of citywide events for New York, someone he knew while helping shepherds. sheep. We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert with Clive Davis and Live Nation. Although he hoped the event could take place in Central Park, planning and licensing the venue proved too challenging for another contact, Gabrielle Fialkoff at the City Parks and Recreation Department New York City, suggested Times Square.
She helped make contact with officials at Times Square Alliance, who immediately approved the request, and “three calls later, we were on our way,” noted Bergen. He added that another call was sent to prominent Broadway journalist and New York insider Rick Miramontez, who opened up his Rolodex to spread the word. “Within six minutes, calls started coming in from the producers and the Broadway public.”
He later referred to as “his superpower and accomplices,” Michael J. Moritz, who agreed to take the role of commander. The two have worked together on a number of concerts, events and projects up to the end of Bergen, who is best known for his stage work (like Waitress) and on small screens (like Dear Secretary,) suddenly found himself with a surprising new business producing virtual (and eventually live) events during the COVID-19 pandemic through his 6W Entertainment.
“Michael knew it when I called him and said, ‘Cancel your plans,’ he’s going to work from the face but it’s going to be worth it,” Bergen said of Moritz, who recently received a nomination. Grammy for Best Musical Album for Stephen Schwart’z Snapshot. “He put together the music of it and recorded a track. Then the snowball fell, we ordered equipment together, and I emailed and called from my mom’s living room in the next few hours. ”
Bergen believes Sondheim somehow tracked the process because it came together so seamlessly, especially the audio test. “Michael and I have done concerts before, and we did a five-hour sound test and when the show started, something didn’t work. That didn’t happen on Sunday, we pulled it all in and it just worked – microphone, setup, all microphones. ”
Bergen quickly raised his profile and turned to “an entire list of invaluable people who made this happen,” including co-presenters from the Broadway League, Times Square Alliance, and Playbill. And, of course, Sondheim, who left a legacy that made something like this not only a possibility but a necessity. “We all need a place to go,” he explains. “We needed a place together to mourn and celebrate together.”
Gathered on the iconic red steps in Duffy Square are Miranda, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Sara Bareilles, Raúl Esparza, Stephen Schwartz, Laura Benanti, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Josh Groban, Erich Bergen, Lonny Price, Jim Walton, Tom Kitt, Reeve Carney, Eva Noblezada, Marc Shaiman, Lauren Patten, Kathryn Gallagher, Abby Mueller, Judy Kuhn, Brandon Uranowitz, Adam Chanler-Berat, Tavi Gevinson, Erin Davie, Bryan Clark Tyrell and more.
“Every Broadway cast is represented in one way or another,” notes Bergen. “It is timeless and unbelievable. It is like a church. I am not a churchgoer but what I felt in that moment was almost like a religious experience I would ever feel. ”
So, what would Sondheim say if he could experience Sunday’s glorification? “He’ll probably cry like he’s known for, and then, maybe, he’ll ask us to work on some of the weak points a little better.”