How the producer of ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ left behind pure joy

A portrait of a man in a black shirt.

A portrait of the late theatrical producer Steve Fickinger.

(Photo by Jessica Roy)

Steve Fickinger didn’t drink hot drinks, and he wasn’t afraid to let people know that.

He sat in a booth at Little Dom’s in Los Feliz and often met up with friends. They called themselves Siddons Society, a kind of club for theater lovers – many of them expelled from New York to the west coast. Traditionally, Fickinger always took his place under a portrait of Gary Cooper, the actor best known for High Noon.

The group is named after a fictional award described in the 1950 film All About Eve – a film that served as the glue that brought the group together and described who represented each person at the table. Siddons member Deborah Warren, director of marketing for the Center Theater Group, says Fickinger was the group’s Addison DeWitt because he was “always with a wit, always incredibly funny with the language.”

She recalls that, with “a very large glass of Chardonnay” in hand, Fickinger would tell jokes and “make us laugh with stories.”

Siddons colleague Robbin Kelley, general counsel at DreamWorks, shared that one of Fickinger’s trademark quips involved his aversion to hot drinks. After a waiter asked him if he’d like coffee or tea, she recalls him saying, “I don’t drink hot drinks.”

“It’s not information they asked for,” says Kelley. “We’d all like to see the first reaction we get.”

These poignant memories are what Warren and Kelley hold dear following Fickinger’s recent death on June 17 at the age of 62.

“It’s hard to tell if he’s walking down the hall at work or going to dinner or a movie or just about anything,” says Kelley.

The Tony Award-winning producer was known for his work on Dear Evan Hansen, Newsies and many other stage projects, which he led as Vice President of Creative Development for Disney Theatrical Group.

His death was announced on Facebook by his niece, Jessica Roy — an assistant editor on the Los Angeles Times’ Utility Journalism team — after he “suddenly” stopped by his home in Laguna Beach. The cause of death is still unknown.

He died just two weeks before the premiere of Dear Evan Hansen at the Ahmanson Theater. In his honor, Warren planned an informal get-together before the show so friends of Fickinger could share a glass of Chardonnay – his favorite.

“I think we’re all blown away because it was so unexpected,” she says. “The perfect way to honor Steve is to be in a theater room together. I can’t imagine anything greater and that he didn’t love more.”

Before attending the pre-show gathering, Kelley looked back on memories of going to the theater with Fickinger and recalled, “How many times have I walked through that door with him and been there? It’s hard to imagine.”

Kelley and Warren met Fickinger while at Disney Theatrical Productions. While Warren worked on the marketing side and Kelley on the legal side, Fickinger still found a way to get in touch with them.

“Steve values ​​everyone who works in our space, not just people on the production and creative side,” says Warren.

She adds, “There was never a moment with Steve that I felt like I wasn’t being celebrated.”

Kelley says Fickinger was known to have a “great love for people.”

“I think everyone is one of Steve’s closest friends, I really am,” she says. “I think he had this amazing ability to connect with people.”

Kelley explains that it was hard not to be friends with him because of the welcoming energy he had with everyone. Fickinger created a “rare” circle of friends where happiness was an everyday priority in any setting – even the office – no matter how stressful things got. Another of his priorities was nurturing new talent, Warren says.

“He’s mentored people over the years,” Warren says. “He brought people who are key players in the industry today and they were mentored by Steve. He had a passion for our business, one that you can’t imagine ever wanting to do anything else.”

She says the world of theater is small, and people like Fickinger make the industry thrive.

Before people knew Fickinger as the man behind some of the biggest Broadway stage productions, he was a theater student at UCLA along with Thomas Schumacher, President of Disney Theatrical Productions.

Schumacher says they performed together at UCLA in the 1970s before breaking up. Schumacher made his way to Disney and Fickinger went to New York to pursue acting. When Fickinger retired from acting, he went to Disney Animations in Los Angeles as a production assistant to Schumacher. The bond between the two grew stronger, and Schumacher says Fickinger then blossomed as a creative.

“His biggest impact was putting the pieces of ‘Newsies’ together,” he says. “‘Newsies’ wouldn’t have happened if Steve hadn’t been there.”

As with every environment he’s been in, Schumacher says Fickinger did it forward and center with joy and a connection.

“Everyone remembers his bright smile and his ability to make any room laugh,” he says.

More recently, Kelley recalls one of those laughing moments just 10 days before his death. The Siddons Society gathered at their usual venue: Little Dom’s. They discussed the forthcoming revival of “1776” by the Roundabout Theater Company in New York City. Suddenly, Fickinger started singing “Sit Down, John” from the musical.

“Sit down, John! Sit down, John! For God’s sake, John, sit down!” Fickinger sang.

Fickinger had done the musical in high school and somehow still remembered every word. “People at Little Dom’s thought we were crazy all the time because we’re always bursting into songs, but it’s just been so much fun doing the last few years,” says Kelley.

It’s one of those memories that embodies the man he was.

Schumacher says one thing he remembered and admired about Fickinger was his love for his mother. “When something came up, he would often quote his mother or share a thought his mother would have had about it,” he says.

Schumacher recalls sharing his mother’s advice with her voice — as a natural theater actor would — introducing each nugget of wisdom the same way. “When he died,” he says, “the first thing I heard in my head was Steve’s mother’s voice saying, ‘Now Steve, don’t forget…'”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-07-07/theater-producer-steve-fickinger-died-at-62-leaving-behind-a-trail-of-joy How the producer of ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ left behind pure joy

Sarah Ridley

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