The other day, I posted a story about Stephen Sondheim’s letter to the Westport Country Playhouse.
The man who became one of America’s most celebrated Broadway composers had not yet started his career; in fact, he was still a student at Williams College. He asked for a few days’ delay before beginning a position that helped inspire him to stardom: summer apprentice.
Sondheim’s letters became legendary. After his death, an entire Instagram account was created about them.
More than half a century after his Playhouse note, Sondheim again wrote about Westport.
In 2003, Staples Players staged “Merrily We Roll Along.” An audience member loved it so much, he suggested that Sondheim himself see it.
He replied quickly and graciously:
That would normally be the end of that.
But — Players being so far beyond an ordinary high school troupe — there’s more to the story.
Had Sondheim seen the show, it would have been his first encounter with Justin Paul. The then-senior played composer Franklin Shepard in the production.
Paul and his composing partner Benj Pasek have gone on to great fame, with projects like “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman.”
Their success is due in part to Sondheim’s mentorship, and support of their work.
But that’s not all.
If Sondheim had seen Staples’ “Merrily” — and gone backstage — he would have met Gina Rattan. A junior in 2003, she served as assistant director to David Roth and Kerry Long.
Gina is now Marianne Elliott’s associate director of “Company.” That Sondheim show is currently running on Broadway.
Now — in 2021 — Roth and Long say, “Alas, Mr. Sondheim didn’t make it to the production. But we are grateful for this letter, and love the connections with this show. The theater world really is a small one.”
Perhaps an idea for the next Pasek and Paul musical?
ENCORE! Click here for a link to some video clips of Players’ “Merrily We Roll Along” production, courtesy of Jim Honeycutt.