Stuart J. Thompson, producer and general manager of such Broadway productions as The Book of Mormon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and Sweat, died on Aug. 17 at the age of 62.
I first met Stuart more than 25 years ago in the offices of Robert Whitehead and Lewis Allen, his two brilliant mentors; he was general-managing a play I was coproducing with Lewis, and sadly it was a flop. Stuart knew it was not going to work from the get-go is my guess, but like the professional he was, he never blinked or showed his doubts. He was supportive and exemplary in every way.
I think he learned a lot from Robert and Lewis, and I did too. They were producers of the old school, and their example and knowledge, which they passed on to Stuart, he was able to share with all the wonderful people who have worked with him and for him.
The fact that Stuart was an Aussie also gave him an advantage. He understood the foibles of the English and the Americans as only a real outsider can, and I think that was hugely helpful when productions swung back and forth across the Atlantic under his aegis.
We worked together very closely on 10 productions in New York, and no matter the outcome, Stuart maintained a steely professionalism, a giant and wicked sense of humor, and most importantly an iron grip on the budget.
The period when we worked most closely together was on productions of Exit the King and God of Carnage, which opened back to back in 2009. Our mutual friends David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers had produced God of Carnage very successfully in London but didn’t want to be in New York at that time, so they generously asked us to coproduce it with them and for them. Coincidentally Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush wanted to bring their production of Exit the King to Broadway at the same time, and we were their chosen producers.
In hindsight these might look like two slam dunks. But at the time an obscure and difficult play by Ionesco and a new play without a “movie star” in the cast weren’t everyone’s ideas of a box-office bonanza. In God of Carnage we did have the very well known James Gandolfini, along with the other fabulous cast members. But James had not been onstage for many years and was suffering from stage fright quite badly; indeed, it was touch-and-go for 24 hours as to whether we would get to a first preview intact.
I don’t remember all the details, but what I do remember is that throughout these two productions Stuart and I did not have one moment of disagreement, and we never had to lay out who did what. It was seamless, as all good partnerships should be. Stuart was a rock of calm and good manners, and at times of extreme stress his cracking wit broke the ice in what could have been hideous moments.
For a while Stuart had a nickname, which our mutual friend and colleague, John Barlow, and I had given him: the Glove. Only John and I used it when speaking of Stuart, until one day Stuart, with his eagle eye, spotted “the Glove” on an email trail he was on with me and John. Straight back came, “So who is the Glove?” and of course we had to confess it was him.
Why the Glove? Well, when Stuart had given up smoking there were occasional stressful moments when he succumbed to the temptation. In order not to alert anyone—particularly his partner Joe—he would don a glove to mask the smell of smoke on his hand, open the window in his office, and lean so far out that he looked as if he might fall into Times Square. When we explained the origin of the name he was as delighted as we were by it. I can see his twinkle now as he shared a piece of exquisite dish and can hear his laughter at some remark that tickled him pink.
His death at 62 is a real loss for the theatre, for his friends, for his family, and most of all for his fabulous husband, Joe. What we have all lost is a rare man: someone with courage, taste, discernment, honesty, and wisdom.
His career was a hugely successful one, but for me his greatest success was in his ability to balance work and life. I’ll always remember him calling and saying, “I’m working from my North West office today,” by which he meant: I’m at home, where life truly happens.
Robert Fox is a theatre and film producer.