Metro Weekly

Personal Reflection: Ryan Spahn on Stephen Sondheim

The works of Stephen Sondheim, who died Nov. 26, 2021, at 91, often served to bring people together. Here is one such tale.

Stephen Sondheim at Kennedy Center's Sondheim Festival -- Photo: Scott Suchman
Stephen Sondheim at Kennedy Center’s Sondheim Festival — Photo: Scott Suchman/Courtesy the Kennedy Center

It was Fall. 2008. I was a recent New Yorker, having lived in Los Angeles for the last 10 years.

“You gotta see the place I’m subletting. You’re gonna die,” Michael bragged after two days of us courting. We had yet to be in each other’s homes. “Yeah sure, I’ll be right over,” I said.

The apartment door opened and I gasped: a sprawling terrace overlooking Central Park, a floor-to-ceiling mirror that must’ve been delivered via crane, and art-deco mint green furniture.

“The furniture was gifted to Carol by Diane Keaton,” Michael said with a smirk.

“Wow, really? Who is Carol?”

“Carol Kane. That’s who owns this apartment. I’m subletting from her. Do you know who Carol Kane is?”

“I have seen Scrooged at least thirty dozen times.”

Michael laughed, charmed that Scrooged was the movie I’d selected from Kane’s impressive resume.

“We swapped apartments. Carol is staying in my L.A. place. Should we order Chinese and watch a movie?” Michael asked, hopeful I wouldn’t leave.

“That sounds good. What movie?”

“Carol only has one TV and VCR. In her bedroom,” He said.

“Is that how you’re hoping to get me into bed?”

“Ha, no. I mean, sure. But it’s actually true. Carol only has a small TV and VCR. In her bedroom. And she only has one movie.”

“What movie?” I asked, intrigued.

Into the Woods,” he said. “The PBS recording with Bernadette Peters. Have you seen it?”

“No.”

“WHAT?! Do you know Into the Woods?” Michael implored, hoping for the correct answer.

“I know it, yes. I was cast as ‘Jack’ in high school, but I was kicked out of the play because I got suspended.”

“Do you know who Stephen Sondheim is?”

“To be honest, I haven’t really gotten into musicals.”

Bernadette Peters and Stephen Sondheim – Photo courtesy Signature Theatre

Michael’s jaw dropped. I was an alien on planet Earth. “Ryan! We are watching Into the Woods right now! You’re gonna die!”

We crawled into Carol Kane’s queen-sized bed with our containers of Chinese takeout. Michael pressed play. The hazy fuzz of the old VHS tape distorted the first images. The overture began. We snuggled; hearts racing. Our love was still fresh.

Michael and I spent the first few months of our courting geeking out over Sondheim’s filmed masterpiece. We watched Into the Woods over and over, loving on Peters and Sondheim, often citing them for why we are still together. It cemented us as a theatre couple; confirmed our roots on the New York stage.

Sondheim became the sound of our musical world. We attended every revival of his work. Michael starred in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Two River Theatre. Sondheim attended our New York shows: Michael in Buyer & Celler at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre and me in Gloria at the Vineyard Theatre.

During the pandemic, now 13 years into our relationship, Michael and I bought a record player. The first album we got was the original cast recording of Company. A show I had never seen.

But then, on November 26, 2021, I attended the matinee of the current Broadway revival of Company. I was blown away. Floored.

After the matinee, I walked onto the Times Square streets and waited for my friend, Greg Hildreth, who was playing ‘Peter’ in the show.

Greg exited the stage door. He was somber. “Hey Ryan. Thanks for coming. I don’t know how to see you and not say — um — Stephen Sondheim died last night. We were just told by the producers.”

Greg began to cry. I held him. New Yorkers passed us by, unaware of the sadness that was moments away from being bestowed onto their hearts.

Stephen Sondheim: Sondheim at Signature
Stephen Sondheim – Photo courtesy Signature Theatre

“I need to call Michael. Sondheim means so much to us.”

“Of course. I need to call my girlfriend. She’s going to be very upset,” Greg said as he held me.

Michael and I met at Westway Diner on 9th Avenue. A part of me wished we’d reached out to Carol Kane and asked her for the keys to her apartment so we could curl up in her bed and properly thank Sondheim for, quite simply, changing our lives.

Thank you, Stephen. For everything you gave.

Ryan Spahn is an actor, playwright, and filmmaker who lives in New York. Follow him on Instagram at @ryanspahn.

Read Next:

Movie Memory: Ryan Spahn gets ‘Lost’ in David Lynch

Conrad Ricamora steps into the spotlight in Signature’s ‘Simply Sondheim’

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