A few years ago, I went to see a friend in a play at the Signature Theater in Manhattan. The elevator was empty when I entered. A few seconds later, Stephen Sondheim got in his turn and almost stood side by side with me.
I froze. I couldn’t speak.
After getting out of the elevator, we both approached the young woman at the box office. He was in front of me.
“Reservation, Sondheim,” I heard him say.
The woman gave him his ticket and he left.
It was my turn.
– Simple mortal, I say.
“Aren’t we all? she answered.
– Ellen Ratner
I was in first grade at Marist College in the fall of 1983 when I returned to my dorm to find a message scribbled on the little whiteboard hanging on my door: “Stephen Sondheim called. Remind him at … “
Thinking it was one of my house theater-loving friends making a joke, I called back from the payphone at the end of the floor, only to find out that it was actually the Stephen Sondheim’s office number.
His assistant answered and asked me when it would be convenient for him to call me back. I was so stunned that I didn’t ask why he was calling or how he got the pay phone number. (It turned out he tried my home in the Bronx first, and my mom gave him the pay phone number. “Has a Stephen Sondheim contacted you?” she asked when I called later.)
I explained to Mr Sondheim’s assistant that I was at university and could only be reached at a communal phone booth, but that I could be there at any time the following evening.
The following night, the phone rang at the appointed time. I answered on the first ring. It wasn’t Mr. Sondheim. The caller was Gerald Chapman, his creative partner in the Young Playwrights Festival, a teenage competition the two had recently launched.
Mr. Chapman called me to tell me that a one-act play I wrote in high school had been selected as a semi-finalist. (I forgot I submitted it.)
So I never got a chance to speak with the theater legend, but in my mind I can still see the message on that erasable board: “Stephen Sondheim called. Remind him at … “
– Jean Roche
History of the east side
One Sunday night in the early 1980s, I stopped by my office on Park Avenue and 48th Street. As I was crossing Park Avenue to a parking lot in my small two-seater car, a car turned on a red light and made me jump into T.
My car crashed and I was pretty shaken up. The police came to the scene. The other driver told officers that I had turned on the light.
There were three people in a nearby corner who had seen it all. Without hesitation, we approached the officers. He told them what he had witnessed and confirmed my story: the other driver had turned on a red light before hitting me.
Still shaken, I approached the man and thanked him. He was reserved, humble and open. I asked for his name and phone number in case my insurance company needed to contact him. It was only when he told me his name that I learned that this witness was Stephen Sondheim. Extraordinary!
The insurance company later said the other driver’s claim was closed due to the witness’s account. I called Mr. Sondheim to thank him again for stepping forward.
He asked me how I was feeling.
– Barry A. Bryer
First name, please
Many years ago my husband and I decided on the spur of the moment to attend a show on Broadway. We called and booked tickets.
When we got to the box office, my husband walked in, and I pulled over and stood next to a young man.
The person in front of my husband was Stephen Sondheim.
The woman at the box office asked Mr. Sondheim for his first name.
“I hope she doesn’t ask him to spell it,” I said softly.
The young man next to me burst out laughing.
– Marcia Altman
I was waiting for a crosstown bus on East 49th Street near Second Avenue the day before Thanksgiving to go see a “Company” morning.
Stephen Sondheim’s townhouse is across the street, and I noticed the blinds on the second story window were open. I don’t know why, but I felt moved to see better.
I crossed the street and was on the sidewalk just below that window when I saw Mr. Sondheim suddenly swing in a chair and wave at him.
Out of reflex, I waved back to him.
I realized later that he had probably been trying to get the attention of the driver of the Lincoln Town Car who had just stopped. It all happened so fast. I had walked past his house several times over the 30 years I had lived in the neighborhood, and nothing like this had ever happened before.
I returned to the bus stop. The driver locked the car and drove up the block. And Mr. Sondheim is missing in his house.
Illustrations by Agnès Lee