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obituary

Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures lasted only six months on Broadway in 1976, and there was no subsequent national tour. As I was an inveterate enthusiast of his work, I was most disappointed not to have been able to get to New York to see the show, and my research after it closed established that there was no video of the production available. It was three years later that, having still been unable to find a video of Pacific Overtures, I had the temerity to write to Stephen, and ask him if there was any way I could get a video of the show.

Stephen Sondheim has died at the age of 91.David Redfern/Redferns / Getty Images

To my surprise, I got a most gracious letter back from him, regretting to have to tell me that there was still no video recording of the show published. However, he continued, he noted that I lived in Toronto, and if I was ever planning a visit to New York, he would be pleased to arrange for me to screen his personal copy of the show at his home/office brownstone in Manhattan.

As it happened, my work involved fairly frequent business visits to New York, and so it was that in December, 1979 I showed up at Stephen’s house, where he welcomed me most cordially and took me to his television room where the screening had been set up. He apologized profusely for not being able to stay and watch the show with me, and showed me a bandaged septic finger that required more close attention at a nearby hospital, the result of an accident while doing something domestic but obviously hazardous. He clearly needed the whole hand for his piano playing, so repairs to the finger had to take precedence over enjoying my company, but would I write and let him know what I thought of the show.

I of course enjoyed the show, and wrote to tell him so, and over subsequent years we exchanged a few letters, and that was that. But I was quite amazed at the courtesy shown to me by this incredibly busy and talented man, purely on the basis of a polite enquiry about one of his shows.

Needless to say, I was saddened by the news of his passing, but his music and lyrics will continue to delight me for the rest of my life, along with this unique memory.

Oh, and I did eventually see and enjoy a live off-Broadway revival of Pacific Overtures in 1984.

Pip Wedge, Toronto