Stephen Sondheim and Mary Rodgers, late Broadway greats, have brilliant last words, with the former referring to the show as “an institution” that had taught “us to be what we are” and the latter lamenting the fact that it had “been so nearly taken from him.”
Now Sondheim, 86, is gone. But Rodgers, 85, is still here. She lives in New York City, and her performance as Lola Montez—a role she originated, and for which she won a Tony Award for Best Actress—is being performed now for three performances at the Lucille Lortel Theater, starting Saturday, December 14. (Sondheim was married three times, and when she died, which was in 1991, she had two children from her second marriage.)
The two women are both in good health, so they were excited to learn their last words had been chosen—nearly two decades after the show premiered, and after each had been diagnosed with cancer.
Rodgers was diagnosed with breast cancer and began treatment at the time the show was ending. When doctors discovered she had another tumor in a different organ, it was removed, and she underwent chemotherapy and radiation. The first time she met the producers, she described herself as “a walking miracle,” and said she would take over the show “even though the role was over.”
She has since said she believes her breast cancer was caused by the “emotional and physical stress of the show.” But her comments also suggest she views the performance as a blessing, even while she is undergoing treatment and awaiting a new outcome. “From the very start, I was given the gift of performing while my life was on the line,” she said. “I think in this lifetime I could have never expressed it, even if I felt I was too sick to even play.”
Rodgers called her time in the show “a gift.” She is “one of a kind,” she has said. She believes she has “the gift of the ability to take something great and make it