The revival of “Company” was in previews and 10 days from opening when Broadway shut down. And opening night was meant to be especially special, timed to the 90th birthday of the musical’s composer Stephen Sondheim. Soon after, the show’s director, Marianne Elliott, returned to her husband and producing partner, Nick Sidi, and their daughter in London, while one of its stars, Patti LuPone, headed to the Connecticut home she shares with her husband, Matthew Johnston, and their son.
Prompted by The New York Times, they agreed to share their email exchanges during those first weeks, a conversation that touched on plans for the show and for Elliott & Harper, its production company (optimistic); their respective nation’s leaders (pessimistic); a former colleague’s health (worrisome); and how family, friends and members of the current cast, including Katrina Lenk, were keeping in touch (Zoom parties). An edited selection of their emails follows, with Elliott kicking things off the day after the canceled opening night.
My dear friend,
It’s amazing, isn’t it, how one’s life is now recalibrated. All things I took for granted are now long-lost treasures.
I’ve been clearing everything in this house, ready for God knows what, but it’s easier than sitting at a desk and doing concentrated work. I like a pair of yellow rubber gloves, and I love to throw things into the rubbish heap. So there’s truly satisfaction of sorts here. And it channels my energies. But it also means I’ve been going through old drawers of long-kept items or piles of faded photos — even from my 20s — and looking at how young and happy we looked.
I had to throw out Eve’s school uniform the other day. As she had her last day of school on Friday. She’s been there since she was four! I found myself burying my head and sobbing into an old skirt of hers. That uniform that always went missing, nobody liked, was thrown into heaps every day as she entered the house, that never seemed very durable, was usually hitched way too high up her legs, and was far too expensive for its own good. And yet there I was, crying over it as though it was born from my very own limbs.
Yesterday was tough, wasn’t it? I’m truly not sentimental about shows, and certainly not about opening nights — because they are usually so pressurized about other things. But I really, really, and, yes, really missed ours yesterday. It felt like a huge hole. And all that publicity for Sondheim’s birthday was wonderful on one level, but kind of bleak on another, because Elliott & Harper had been working so hard to make sure we could be open on that very day, with Steve with us — all celebrating!
However, the sun is shining here in England. So I’m feeling hopeful.
Nick and [co-producer] Chris are working like buzzing bees, trying to decipher what is to happen to our work force, our employees, our future shows, most of which are probably going by the wayside. Though we are fighting tooth and nail to keep our staff. The government is offering help, but it’s vague how much and when. It’s hard not to catastrophize when you hear some of the stories out there. Some being very gloomy about the future of theater at all.
But the one thing we all agree on, and that we all KNOW, is that by hook or by crook “Company” is coming back! We need it, we love it, the theater community needs it, and New York needs its story. Theater has always been and will always be vital. We humans are creatures that survive as a togetherness. And we need stories to make sense of things.¶
I look forward to that moment with all of my being. And I look forward to being in a room with you again Patti, to be sharing a G & T and to be screaming with laughter over some silly thing or other.
It seems far away now, but it’s only round the corner really!
Until then …
Love you so much
That was quite a missive. You put down the rubber gloves and wrote a monologue!
It’s so wacky and disjointed and at the same time kind of wonderful to be home with our loved ones and really grasping time. Whoever has the time to really understand time in the fullness of the word? My problem is structure. I want to be very disciplined, but I can’t figure out how to structure the time. I’m cleaning house like you, but I do that a lot. I’m the Delete Queen. I actually threw out the elusive, desperately needed mask only a month ago. I have no idea why I had a box of them, but I looked at them and tossed them in the bin. Well done, Patti! Now I go to the market looking like a madwoman with scarves wrapped around my nose and mouth with fogged-up glasses.
I wonder if we’ll come back. The uncertainty is the killer. I went through the polio scare, but there was a plan in place! I can still see the vaccination administered in my arm in the gymnasium of the elementary school. We had to suck on pink sugar cubes — or I’m making the whole thing up.
I think about you every day. Stay safe, healthy, warm, and know you are LOVED by so many of us.
Gosh, it was good to see your face last night. And everyone’s. Poignant too, because you all felt so near via Zoom, and yet, you weren’t!
What a bunch of gorgeous people, our cast of “Company.” And how bonded we all seem. Now more than ever. Everyone cheery and happy to be connected again. It was three weeks to the day of our last performance, did you know that? Feels more like three years, doesn’t it?
But the quirks that everyone displayed in just their little close-ups: Jen [Simard] and her gratefulness, Etai [Benson] with his dry humor, Matt [Doyle] recovering from Covid but actually looking more like George Michael every day, Chris [Sieber] dressed up in his beautiful blazer for our cocktail “party,” Chris [Fitzgerald] with his son’s Trump impressions. Amazing.
And then there was you, dancing at the jukebox. Oh, and then mooning at us all! Brilliant. Not a dry eye in the house! You were always the very soul of the party — and Zoom, I’m so happy to learn, has lessened none of that!
By the way, have you got Judy Garland’s “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries” on that old jukebox? I was listening to it this morning (regarding another project I might do when and if I ever get out of this house!), and I thought I’d love to hear you sing it! Go on … give me a rendition. Your Twitter feed would go mad!!
I heard, two days ago, of a good friend of mine in dire straits in a New Jersey hospital. He’s been there a few weeks. Still on a ventilator. That made my head spin, and I took myself to bed and started visualizing him well and happy and going for dinner and a good big drink, of course, with me in some packed restaurant in the future.
I feel pretty lucky, though. We’re safe and together here in the house. My sister had it pretty bad (and did get the test), but she’s bounced right back. But I feel sorry for Eve, my teenager, the most. I think she’s picking up more than she shows actually. But she mostly doesn’t watch the news. Who can blame her?
However, she’s getting Nick and I doing Tic Tok (I’m too old to know the right blinking spelling) challenges to our neighbors across the road. I’ll learn to body-pop yet!!
I’m trying to run most days, while we’re still allowed. And I do a Pilates session and arm exercises (with lots of serious swearing — I turn the air blue!) most days too. I tell you, I shall come out of this looking young and beautiful and with incredibly sculpted arms. And watch me wear that opening night dress! Come on!
Keep safe my lovely friend,
And I’ll see you on the other side!
Meantime, here’s a photo of you and Katrina in our show. Glorious!
PS: How is that Katrina STILL looks beautiful on Zoom — and with no [expletive] make up!!?! Ugh.
The Zoom cocktail party left me drunk on my ass. Matt said I was shout-singing “Blue Moon” in bed. I think it’s just the release. Our collective energy shot through those funny little boxes.
We are all doing our best to be positive, mentally and emotionally. I think, I hope, we find a way to blow back all the negative energy in the world. This reset is good. It’s forcing us to slow down, reflect, look out and see, really see, what’s in front of us. I’m continually fascinated with the birds, squirrels and chipmunks at our bird feeder. The birds are singing and nesting, the squirrels are demanding more peanuts. They’re so bold as to come to the door, raise up on their hind legs, peer in the glass imploring Farmer Matt to FEED ME!
I feel for Eve. For all the youth in the world. What have we left them?
I’m trying to remember 16 years old, in my high school on Long Island. There were those of us in the music department in joyous harmony with our teachers, our various choruses, our instruments, our summer band retreat with a high school from another county (a different set of boys in my case …). We were the outcasts, the oddballs, the bohemians.
I’ll bet that division still exists. It’s prevalent in our society as adults. The arts are superfluous. I am always made to feel like a third-class citizen in this country. They are NOT superfluous. They are an inherent human right. Games and storytelling have been our life’s force for as long as they’ve been writing on walls. Eve will have a story to tell, a story she’ll tell her children who I hope will have a more peaceful Mother Earth.
We must get rid of the current politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. We are stuck with a clown and his clown car of clowns. And while I’m raging, there has to be term limits for Supreme and federal court judges, the generals in the war room and Broadway musicals.
Sending you dear friend BIG LOVE.
Your pal, Patti
That article you sent from the NY Times was amazing: “Come Back, New York, All Is Forgiven.” Thank you. It sums up just exactly what I feel about that splendid city. It made me grieve for that beautiful volcano of craziness and brilliance. Well now, what to report in this weird cave of an existence over here?
Boris Johnson seems to be out of hospital. But don’t ask me who’s running the country. Our press conferences sort of lack a leader and a driver. They are dry, boring, staid affairs. And the same things get repeated and repeated: Not enough tests! Not enough protective equipment for our health workers! It kind of drives you mad after a while.
My friend who has been on a ventilator for nearly four weeks now is part of a very new drug trial, Pluristem. He’s just gone on it, and he’s making the news! The new drug is a sort of stem-cell therapy. It comes from placentas! Can you believe it?
He’s doing well! It’s literally Day Two on the drug, but he had a few hours yesterday off the ventilator and breathing himself! I’m praying. Every time I go jogging, I fill my lungs as I run, as though I was teaching him how to breathe again. I dunno. Anything. I’m trying anything. Ridiculous, but what can you do?
We still watch movies most nights, which is highly educational for all of us! And we look forward to it each day. Although we realized the other night that the dog had pissed on the sofa. It slowly started to seep into Nick’s trousers during “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” In the morning I took the cushions outside to properly clean and realized that clearly the dog had been using the sofa as a toilet for some time. It was full of stains! I wonder, if there had been no quarantine, we would have EVER discovered this?
So maybe this is a metaphor for unearthing what was always beneath the surface? We’ll all emerge from this cleansed and illuminated. Ha! Or I’m just looking for meaning and stories in every little thing? Directing and analyzing the text as ever!
I just reread your email. You are eternal sunshine. I’m a black cloud. It’s harder and harder to maintain equilibrium.
I’m loving “Madame Bovary,” but I find my mind scanning, not absorbing, Lydia Davis’s beautiful translation (a quarantine gift from my dear friend Jeffrey Lane. When you return you must come to Salon de Jeff. He’s a monster cook, and his dinner parties are Bacchanalian events.)
I can’t watch any more videos, because it’s just too late at night, even though it’s only 8 p.m. The daytime seems to slip through my fingers, and I’ve done next to nothing. I don’t mean for this to sound like a bitch fest. I think I’m verbalizing my anxiety. I’m sorry.
The one great treasure for me is being somewhere to really experience the blossoming of spring. The birds are in full cacophony, occasionally full harmony. The squirrels are demanding and trusting. The bear woke up and destroyed our bird feeder. It’s all glorious nature. Virus? What virus?
It’s Sunday. What will I do? I think I shall drive to Farmer Randy, get the best eggs in the Western Hemisphere and attempt a soufflé. I had a moral dilemma. Randy is a BIG TIME Trump supporter. There were signs all over his barn. What to do? Boycott his eggs? I just couldn’t. They’re too damn delicious.
It’s time for me to get out of bed. I wake up early, very early. I’ll attempt to change my attitude today and make something of myself. But what will it end up being? A restless, unfocused energy? Or maybe a pensive, dreamy organism? Or maybe a housewife dusting?
Dear pal o’ mine, I wish you sanity, safety, health and peace.
Your loving friend,
I have to tell you that my friend, the one that was on the ventilator for FIVE weeks, has made an amazing recovery. You may know him, Eddie Pierce? He codesigned my set of “Angels in America” on Broadway. Such an amazing guy and so talented. Younger than me and no complicated health circumstances that I know of. Anyway, he’d been through so much in hospital, was sedated most of the time, caught other infections while in hospital, and they even thought at one time that he’d had a stroke! It was not looking good, P.
Well, he came home yesterday! His wife sent a video of him leaving the hospital. With all the staff, standing in awe, clapping as he left the front entrance, and his children running to hug him. Then there was another video of his friends welcoming him arriving at the house. It was incredible. They had gathered in their cars, in a nearby parking lot, and then PROCESSED together down his street, honking their horns. They couldn’t get out, obviously, so they held out huge, homemade, colored signs to be read as they passed. Some had painted their cars, some had got dressed up in fancy dress, some stood on their car doors. It was like watching a carnival.
He’ll need a bit of physio, but otherwise he’s totally on the mend. Seems like a miracle. Things that you can’t believe can ever come about can indeed occur. Keep the faith.