In 1993, Steppenwolf Theatre Company had a hit with Steve Martin’s play Picasso at the Lapin Agile. Director Randall Arney and I decided to remount it in Los Angeles prior to opening in New York. I would produce the play for Steppenwolf, and we needed to find a compatible producing partner in L.A. Albert Poland, who general-managed Steppenwolf’s Tony-winning The Grapes of Wrath, immediately suggested a colleague and great friend of his—Joan Stein. He said, “You will love her, she’s your type of person, very knowledgeable, and most important, she’s fun!”
That recommendation was enough for us. So Arney and I traveled to L.A. to meet Joan for the first time. We maneuvered from LAX into Beverly Hills and found our way up the stairs of the Canon Theatre to meet our potential new partner. There she was!
Dressed in red and black, arms outstretched, large loving eyes like sparkling stars and a giant smile, she hugged us both as though we were long-lost relatives. Her big laugh made us feel immediately at home. After introducing us to her trusted assistants, Jim Gardia and Kathryn Cousar Rosenberg, Joan sat down with us and discussed in depth the strategy for making the play successful in L.A. Over the course of a few hours, she deeply impressed us with the comprehensive plan she was laying out. Her vast experience in L.A. theatre was perfect for our project, and Albert was right: It was going to be fun! Randy and I were hooked; we loved Joan, and we wanted her as our partner.
The play opened at the Westwood Playhouse in 1994 (since renamed the Geffen, and now under the artistic directorship of—who else?—Randall Arney) and had a record-breaking run of more than 10 months, positioning it perfectly to go on to New York. Our business partnership with Joan was flourishing, with the delightful added feature that we were gaining a lifelong friend. I had the pleasure of going on to produce the play with Joan in New York, Chicago (in a return commercial run), San Francisco (three times), the U.K. and Toronto. In each permutation of the show we had great success, but most important—we had lots and lots of fun.
We went on to become deeply close “amigos” over 19 years, which now seem all too short. Joan was a compassionate, dedicated, indefatigable partner. She was contagious with positive energy and creative ideas. At the end of our workday, we would discuss the day’s events and dissect each decision, ensuring it was strong enough to build tomorrow’s work upon. We delineated who would do what and how we could help each other, always ensuring that our investors and the show were being well taken care of.
For our last project together, we were going to quickly transfer a brand new musical from a 99-seat theatre to a 700-seat regional theatre across town that was struggling with catastrophic money problems. We found ourselves in uncharted and precarious waters. Joan and I spent many hours dealing with the budget requirements of the show, but with timely and well-placed help, monies were found and the play came to life. A new musical was born. As a testament to her hard work, dedication and almost religious patience, Baby It’s You! opened on Broadway in April 2011. That simply would not have happened without Joan’s efforts.
The light in our world that was extinguished upon Joan’s departure in August was significant. Her multitude of family, friends and colleagues understand this all too well. Joan was an effervescent spirit, full of caring and love. Her wonderful husband Ted Weiant will persevere, as she would have demanded. And the legacy of Joan, and her powerful presence, will remain with us forever.
Stephen Eich is an independent theatrical producer in Los Angeles.