“THE SONG IS ENDED (BUT THE MELODY LINGERS ON)”
Ladies and gents,
Please don’t take the fact that I’m devoting another column to the memorial for a departed friend as evidence that I have a fascination with morbidity or am in a state of depression. On the contrary, this is the best way I know to celebrate lives well lived, and perhaps no life was as well lived as that of Stuart Thompson. Stuart, the beloved producer and general manager, died this past summer in the midst of a valiant journey with cancer. (It was Lynn Redgrave who taught me to never use language of war when speaking of cancer. It’s a journey, not a battle, she insisted, and I take her at her word.)
Stuart was, as everyone who knew him can tell you, all about family, so it was fitting that his memorial service – held in festive style at Brasserie 8 ½ — felt like a giant family reunion. All of Broadway turned out. His family, in the literal sense, was represented by his beloved husband, Joe Baker, as well as Joe’s sister, Paula, and Stuart’s brother, Graham – all of whom spoke eloquently about their love for Stuart. Normally, as I did in last week’s column, I would quote these remarks, but Stuart was an exceedingly private man, and would have no doubt been mortified by all the beautiful gushing over him. So I am going to keep my reportage to a sort of impressionistic blur.
Representing family of a proverbial nature was Charlie Whitehead, son of the legendary Robert Whitehead, who was not just a mentor to Stuart (along with the great Lewis Allen) but also a father. David Turner, Stuart’s brother in business, spoke too, as did friends and colleagues John Guare and David Stone.
Micah Frank, a longtime staffer at Stuart Thompson Productions, told tales of their legendary office: 1501 Broadway, Suite 1614, where Stuart himself was hired by Robert Whitehead all those years ago before eventually taking over the space (and hiring Frank). He told of “Ice Cream Anti- Socials” on Fridays, when Stuart would buy ice cream for the staff only if they promised to eat it at their desks. He also told us Stuart’s motto: “Every business decision is an artistic one. Every artistic decision is a business one.”
Finally, Patti LuPone closed out the evening, reminiscing about meeting Stuart at Peter Sellars’ American National Theatre in D.C. in the 1980’s during that famously tumultuous time. Patti was a company member, Stuart was company manager. Their connection was instantaneous. Patti, naturally, ended with a song: Irving Berlin’s “The Song is Ended (But the Melody Lingers On).”
My thoughts go back to a heavenly dance
A moment of bliss we spent
Our hearts were filled with a song of romance
As into the night we went
And sang to our hearts’ content
The song is ended
But the melody lingers on
You and the song are gone
But the melody lingers on
Stuart and I go back to 1992, when he was general managing Tru — the glorious Truman Capote bioplay starring Robert Morse in what turned out to be an incredible comeback moment for the Tony winner. The play was premiering in LA, and I was covering it furiously, writing daily about the rumor that Joanne Carson was going to personally throw a black-and-white ball at her Sunset Blvd. home as an opening night celebration. (The home was where Truman Capote died, and his ashes still sat on Joanne’s mantel.) I got a call from Stuart, whom I’d never theretofore met, begging me to stop writing about the party. What the hell kind of manager wants less buzz for his new play, I begged of him. He was getting too many phone calls from A-listers trying to get into the opening night, which was already way over capacity. I found the dilemma so charming I agreed to embargo all further coverage to post-opening. At the party — which turned out to be every bit as wonderful as all my coverage predicted — I sat poolside with Stuart, laughing about all the incredible Truman lore that Joanne would dine out on, including the time that his ashes went missing after a particularly raucous bash. It was the kind of night you never forget, and Stuart and I never fell out of touch after that.
If there was one thing Stuart loved more than the theater, it was spending time with Joe at their home in Columbia County, where they never missed a sunset. Sometimes, on particularly bright days, even long after the sun has dropped beneath the horizon, its glow seems to light the sky forever.
As always, a toast of something sparkling to you and yours!