Remarks made by Richard Pletcher at The Round Barn Theatre's 2011 Preview Party, November 1, 2010.
If you read TIME magazine this week, you know that we come with heavy hearts tonight. Our inspiration, mentor and friend Joseph Stein who wrote Plain and Fancy and for whom this stage is named, died a week ago yesterday at the age of 98 in Mt. Sinai Hospital. I had the honor of attending his memorial celebration at Riverside Chapel in New York City last Wednesday.
(Joseph Stein wrote Plain and Fancy, the 1955 Broadway musical about Amish life and love. It ran for 462 performances and was nominated for the Tony award for Best Musical. He went on to write Fiddler on the Roof, Zorba and many other musicals. His first Broadway hit was Enter Laughing, based on Carl Reiner's autobiographical book. Enter Laughing won the Tony award for Best Actor for Alan Arkin. Enter Laughing: The Musical is the last of Stein's shows that he was reworking and it is scheduled for an upcoming Broadway revival. Plain and Fancy has been produced on The Round Barn Theater at Amish Acres for 24 years before audiences totaling over 300,000, making it one of the longest running musicals in history.)
Tributes were given by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, with whom he collaborated on Fiddler on the Roof; Stephen Schwartz who wrote the music and lyrics for The Bakers Wife plus the lyrics for Rags; Charles Strouse, composer of Annie and Bye, Bye, Birdie, and Stein’s Rags, John Kander, who with the late Fred Ebb, are best known for Chicago and Cabaret, wrote the music and lyrics for Zorba, which is returning to Broadway next year and Stuart Ross, creator of Forever Plaid and Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings, who is directing the rewrite of Enter Laughing: The Musical that is slated for an upcoming Broadway opening.
We have produced eight of Joseph Stein’s works, perhaps more than any other theatre in America. And tonight can say, literally, he is looking down on us.
Having just returned from New York Friday night, I have not had time to write my usually hilarious jokes for this event you have come to expect and love. Luckily I can use some of Joe’s most recent ones for you tonight. During his illness he told his son Harry that some of his best material came to him on his way to the grave. Several years ago on his way to an opening of his newest show All About Us in Connecticut he began having the first symptoms of his heart problems that would eventually require bypass surgery. An emergency medical team was waiting for him upon his arrival.
A nervous nurse opened the car door and said, “Mr. Stein, How are you feeling?” Joe said, “I feel bad that George Bush is president.”
Recently he fell backwards down a flight of stairs, crushing his shoulder. Mel Brooks called and said. “I didn’t know it was possible for someone of your age to survive such a fall.” Stein replied, “It’s not only possible, I know a number of people to whom I would highly recommend it.”
Several weeks ago as he lay crumpled up in his hospital bed, an acupuncturist arrived and seeing his awkward state asked if he was comfortable. Stein replied, “I make a living.” She said that is a really old joke.” He said, “For all you know I wrote it.”
Upon reaching Joe in the hospital by phone, Sheldon Harnick said the information operator had first given him the number of the Mt. Sinai animal hospital. Stein said, “I tried to get in there, but it was full.”
His son Harry and his family recently arrived at Joe and Elisa’s one Sunday for lunch. Joe was not looking himself. He said, “What’s wrong dad?” Stein replied, “Another of my good friends died yesterday, and they are using it as an excuse not to join us.”
A woman was laughing so uncontrollably at Enter Laughing: The Musical at the York Theatre that she had an asthma attack and had to be escorted out. Upon being told of her misfortune, Joe said, “That’s wonderful! Is she O.K.? That’s wonderful!”
A number of Stein’s phrases are now absorbed into the English vernacular. For Tevye he wrote, "If everyone lived by 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' the world would be blind and toothless." If you Google the phrase, It is now attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.
Jenny Lyn Bader, Stein’s stepdaughter, in listing lesser known accomplishments that Joe was most proud of began with his pride that Plain and Fancy has been produced at a theatre in Indiana for over 20 years and ended with his pride that Fiddler had give employment to nearly every actor in America.
John Kander said of all of Stein’s characters, Joe felt closest to and learned the most from Zorba who explains to his protégé, Nikio, that life is what you do until the moment you die; that one must accept death as one accepts life, and all there is left to do is dance. And so tonight for Zorba, for Joe, we shall sing and dance for you.