“Another day is dawning”…and this Tuesday morning is really tough. After appearing on Dean Richard’s WGN Sunday morning radio show with Lauren Villegas, (our “Grizabella” in CATS) I was transported away by the stunning beauty of her singing ‘Memory.” Across from Dean at his desk, I sat right next to Lauren as her voice lifted our hearts and those of listeners across the airwaves…thinking how extraordinary it is, how art so pure and simply excellent can do that. The drive back to Aurora was breezy, sailing along happy the interview felt so effortless, for Dean’s enthusiasm for the work we are doing and Lauren’s glowing performance.
When I get to the Paramount Theater lobby to meet a few friends at the matinee, I get the wind knocked out of me. Oh yeah, baby, a real sucker punch. Nearly knocked me off my feet. On my phone, after receiving a message on Facebook, I see in the newsfeed a post from Nick Patricca: Sheldon Patinkin has died. Our dear Sheldon. I could hear my gasp. It echoes. Images, emotions begin to spin as the crowd blurs. How much more can we take of this? Losing another who means so much to so many of us. Regret. Awful pain. As soon as I heard Sheldon was using a walker I said, “I have to go see him. See how he’s doing.” And now he’s gone. There are ranks and ranks of generations of pros and students indebted to him. God, the stories. How he went out of his way. One night leaving RAGTIME on Broadway at the then Ford’s Theatre, there was Sheldon at the Stage Door. “This is really good. You’re really good.” I loved that look in his eye when he talked like that. I’d seen it before when he had the folks at Second City call me. Sheldon had me hired to choreograph the musical sketches that that genius improv ensemble would spend weeks writing for the next revue. I loved this…working with Amy Sedaris, Steve Carell, and Stephen Colbert (just to drop a few names) back in the day. Thanks to Sheldon. He got me teaching a class with Estelle Spector and Bill Williams at Columbia College, and then there were the remarkable musical revues at The National Jewish Theatre with Susan Padveen and Jeff Ginsberg. “Puttin’ On The Ritz” was an Irving Berlin revue compiled and directed by Sheldon in 1993 that he asked me to choreograph for him. It was a huge hit! Arranged and music directed by Kingsley Day, starring Chris DeAngelis, Frank Farrell, Ann Kanengeiser, Linda Leonard, Seth Swoboda, and Nancy Voights, there were almost 50 numbers in that show. I’d say, “I’m running out of steps!” (Voights would howl at this dancing her feet off!) After we’d show him a number and get that wink…honestly, to get his approval was everything, meant everything! While working with Sheldon on our next revue which was for Frank Loessor, he says to me, “You write it.” I pause. Freeze. But he trusted me. The only thing I ever wrote, it starred Paul Amandes, Jeannie Croft, Mark Kaplan, Tammy Mader, Lisa Menninger, and Bernie Yvon. Yes, Bernie. And I name the casts of these shows because they were dream teams. Handpicked by Sheldon. Richard Christiansen wrote for “On A Slow Boat To China” a valentine of a rave review in The Trib. Sheldon was bringing out the best in all of us. The stuff we didn’t know we had. You will hear that about him over and over, time and time again. And now, feeling robbed of the opportunity to thank him, and hold him, hug him. It’s my own fault. But wherever he is, he knows all by now. Bear with me, dear friends. These highs and lows. This roller coaster. But ya know…I’m realizing there is so much goodness to celebrate in the face of all these losses to our Chicago theatre family these days. We are talking about and sharing so much joy and laughing so hard about so many stories and marveling at love and art and how much our lives have been touched by a single person. The reach of an individual’s specialness. One person’s influence changing so many people. That each couldn’t possibly have known how much they mean to us, they mean that much! But I’ll be damned, did it have to take this…did it have to cost us these last weeks to teach us this? Are we learning our lessons? Please, God, I hope so.
Love and thanks as ever,