"Why is Stephen Sondheim
Variations was a wonderful supper club/bar/restaurant on West 23rd between 8th and 9th Avenues. It was owned by Jorge; that's Spanish and it's not pronounced like George. It's Jorge! Just say "hey whore" backwards....."whore-hay"...get it? got it? good. O.K. enough with the language lessons. Anyhow, the owner, Jorge, was just a super nice guy, so talented, so warm, so friendly, so two-faced. Just kidding on that last one. He was a pianist and would play the piano during the cocktail and dinner hours. His style was superb, his voice was velvet and we all loved him!
Each night, on the way home from work, I would stop by Variations for a cocktail. I would walk in, Jorge would bow and announce, "Mister Finn!", stressing the first syllable of Mister, much to my amusement, because he always had a twinkle in his eye. The drinks were expensive, but Collin, the bartender, always mixed a double, so for fifteen bucks you could get a very proper buzz.
Every Monday was Cabaret night, and you never knew who would show up. I'll just give ya two quickies for now. Jimmy Daniels came in during one cocktail hour. Jimmy is a great blues singer, and he did songs like "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore" and this absolutely wonderful song with the lyrics "I'd give a dollar for a dime to hear that song again...." It was something about an old juke box. Ah, it's the memory. I need better drugs. Or another Monday, it would be the fabulous Alberta Hunter with those absolutely fabulous earrings. (My god, everything is fabulous today! Bear with me.) Alberta is a legend, one of the greatest jazz/blues singers who ever lived. There would be only, maybe 50 people in the joint. The stage was in the center of the restaurant area, so you would only be 20 feet away maximum. I always had the same table, dead center, near the piano just 3 or 4 feet away.
So, it's December and Jorge is planning New Years Eve. Now, I think it's 1978. This is where I get in trouble, but it could have been 1979. Unimportant. Jorge asks me if I will be coming to the "big" fiesta for New Years Eve. I say "But, of course!" in my very best french accent, and he goes to the floor plan of the restaurant, winks, and pencils in my name in at my table.
The four of us arrived at Variations around 10, dressed to the nines. We walk in and were greeted by Jorge, but gone was the twinkle in his eye. Still the same greeting, but something was amiss. We walk to the bar, Collin poured the doubles, I look in the dining room and "my" table is taken. I look at the occupants and it's Stephen Sondheim, Angela Lansbury and two others. I walked over to Jorge and said, "why is Stephen Sondheim sitting at my table?" He just brushed it off and said a quick tongue- twister about last minute changes, "but you have the table next to them!" Good enough, thought I. Stuff like this doesn't bother me, I mean, it was only New Year's Eve.
At the time, Sweeney Todd was the biggest thing on Broadway and I have the distinct pleasure of having seen it 23 times. I didn't like Sweeney Todd, I was obsessed with it. We took our table, me seated closest to the swells, of course. My friends are starstruck, so I decided to have some fun. I put the menu under my chin, leaned into the center of the table and whispered incredulously, "did ya hear that? I can't believe it!"
"What? What? Tell us!"
"I think Garber is leaving Sweeney Todd! Stephen's upset."
"No!", they say in unison.
"Oh god, Angela is making demands!"
"Shhh, let me listen!" "She's gonna leave the show!"
"Say not so!" says my friend, Fred.
"Unless", "shhhhhh, I can't hear" "oh god, I don't believe it!"
"She says there is a new actor in town, and unless Billy Finn gets the role of Anthony, she's walkin!"
Well, they all threw their menus at me and we had a good laugh. They had been had by the Finn and loved it. I use to do that all the time, mostly with Chita at Backstage, but that's another story for another day.
At midnight, when we toasted, Stephen Sondheim, Angela Lansbury and guests raised their glasses to us, saluted and wished us a Happy New Year.
It was the best of times!