Mandy Patinkin: ‘There won’t be another Stephen Sondheim’
One of the first times I met Stephen Sondheim was when I was auditioning for the role Sunday in the Park with George, his show about the life of painter Georges Seurat, opened on Broadway in 1984 and went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for drama. The first problem was that I was a nervous breakdown, a terrible auditioner. I just won a Tony Award for Evita, where I played Che, and I asked if you had to audition after winning Tony. Steve said: “Listen, Mandy: I auditioned everyone, except Angela [Lansbury]. ”
The next problem is Steve, who died last week, and James Lapine, who wrote the show’s book, wrote the music for all of the characters except me. To play the part of an artist, I took drawing classes and would sit in drawing sessions eight, nine, 10 hours a day, while all the other characters sang. It was quite a challenge, most unusual being day after day waiting for Steve to write the music for George. From time to time, every week or so, another piece comes out.
I learned from him, watched him develop the show, the manners of a true genius. They said, “What do you think? What are you going through? I would love to talk to you about that. Any thoughts after I wrote it? “He was always open and generous. It’s very obvious when he doesn’t like something but he can also be funny about it.
During rehearsal, he wrote a song called “Beautiful” for George and his mother to sing, and he said he’d love to talk to me, can he call me? We had this conversation that lasted for at least an hour and it was one of the most beautiful conversations I’ve ever had with another human being.
We’re talking about our mothers, and Steve’s life with his mother is well documented – she wrote him a letter before she went in for surgery, saying ” My only regret in life is giving birth to you.” This was devastating for him and a very painful experience. One of the amazing things about Steve is how he endured that pain and established, for the rest of his life, using piano, music, words as the battleground for his existence, to turn that darkness into light. That darkness, that trouble, ended up being an extraordinary gift for him.
And it’s been a lesson for my life, that the difficult moments in life are not tragedy, they are gifts. He changed my life, he defined my life, he gave me the words to say and to sing for the rest of my life.
I’m always stunned when people say, “Aren’t his music and lyrics complicated and difficult to sing?” Are not! It’s the clearest, simplest music to sing in the world because it’s so emotionally clear. You never have to struggle to learn words because they have such a deep meaning. When it’s written from the gut and honestly, honestly, and generously, those are the things you never have to review twice. You know them at “hello”.
Steve’s shows have had a great resurgence over the past 20 years – a Sweeney Todd, an elaborate Follies at the National Theater in London, sex change The company, currently on Broadway. I think they’re famous because, except for Lin-Manuel Miranda Hamilton, there was a drought in the musical theater after Steve finished the process Sunday, Go to the forest (1987) and Passion (1994). It’s like turning every Disney movie into a musical, turning The Beatles into a musical. I think the people were starving – they had no food for their souls.
But then the British began to embrace Sondheim in ways that America did not, with passion and enthusiasm, and they gave him the respect I certainly felt he deserved. They have awakened America to a greater appreciation for Stephen Sondheim! In the US, his shows sometimes don’t make a lot of money, sometimes they get mixed receptions, but Steve is undaunted. He shows and celebrates his dedication to the craft, and I think people need that nourishment.
Long before his death, theatergoers in America woke up to his immeasurable gifts. And I assure you, his work will be done more often and in different ways than we have ever seen in our lifetime, and it will continue to grow and last forever. , for generations to come.
There won’t be another Steve Sondheim. There’s only one Shakespeare and one Sondheim and we’re lucky we have them forever. The fact that I have to work and be friends and be in the room with one of those people? I can’t get over it.
As told Josh Spero