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Mandy Patinkin, Barbra Streisand, and More Pay Tribute to Stephen Sondheim

Photo: The Washington Post/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The theater world mourned the loss of a giant after legendary lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim died at age 91 on Friday, November 26. Sondheim was known for his transformative and enduring impact on the American musical, working on beloved productions like Into the Woods, West Side Story, and Sweeney Todd, among many others. His sudden death reportedly came a day after he celebrated Thanksgiving with friends in Roxbury, Connecticut. The scope of Sondheim’s vast influence was evident as friends, fans, and famous collaborators alike took to social media to react to the news of his passing. From Broadway stars to fellow composers, people shared messages honoring Sondheim’s legacy and reflecting on their memories of him. On Tuesday, Broadway actor Mandy Patinkin, who originated the role of George (and the role of George) in Sondheim’s landmark Sunday in the Park with George, gave an interview to The New Statesman remembering his working relationship with the playwright. He recalls the first time Sondheim played “Finishing the Hat,” on a piano in a bar across the street from Playwrights Horizons:

“He walked in, with a dry shirt on, and played for the first time for us ‘Finishing the Hat’. When he finished playing, he was sopping wet, like he’d walked into the ocean – he was sweating so profusely. He thought he wasn’t good enough. We were all consumed in tears, as I am just retelling it to you, and he said, ‘Is it OK?’ We said, ‘Yes Steve, it’s OK.’ He gave it to me on that onion-skin type paper, and I pasted it into the back of the sketchpad. I sang it that night. When the song was finished, I realised I never looked at the words, which has never happened to me before or since.” That night the director Mike Nichols was in the audience. He came down to Patinkin after the performance, and embraced him. “It was all about ‘Finishing the Hat’.”

“Did he plan to have those moments?” Patinkin asked. “I think he did not. They were intuitive. I think what he worked on, and used his craft to the nth degree for, were the musical constructions and the construction of the rhyme, with the rhyming dictionaries and the play with words. I think he was like the bird in the nest that just has its mouth open until mamma puts the last worm in it.”

Patinkin asks himself, “’I got to be in the room with Shakespeare. Who gets that? How come I got to have that even for a minute?,’” and, “’was he able to hear our thanks? Was he able to feel our love for him? Could he let it in, or was the wound too great? I’ll never know. I hope so.’”

Sharing the interview, Patinkin tweeted more words on the passing of Sondheim. Read his, and others’ tweets below:

Mandy Patinkin and More Pay Tribute to Stephen Sondheim