Steve Fickinger didn’t drink hot drinks and he wasn’t afraid to let people know.
Sitting in a booth at Little Dom’s in Los Feliz, he often got together with friends. They called themselves the Siddons Society, a sort of club made up of theatergoers – many of whom were moved from New York to the West Coast. According to tradition, Fickinger has always sat under a portrait of Gary Cooper, the actor known for “High Noon”.
The group is named after a fictional prize portrayed in the 1950 film “All About Eve” – a film that served as the glue that held the fold together and described who each person at the table represented. Deborah Warren, a member of the Siddons and director of marketing for the Center Theater Group, said Fickinger was the Addison DeWitt of the group because he was “always with a quip, always incredibly funny with language”.
She remembers Fickinger telling jokes with “a very tall glass of Chardonnay” in hand and “making us laugh hysterically with stories”.
Siddons member Robbin Kelley, head of legal affairs at DreamWorks, shared that one of Fickinger’s typical jokes was about his distaste for hot drinks. After a waiter asked her if he wanted coffee or tea, she remembers telling him, “I don’t drink hot drinks.
“It’s not information they asked for,” Kelley said. “We would all love to see the first reaction we get.”
Warren and Kelley are close to those poignant memories following Fickinger’s recent death on June 17 at the age of 62.
“It’s hard to separate it walking down the hall at work or going to dinner or going to the movies or just plain,” Kelley says.
The Tony Award-winning producer was known for his work on ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ ‘Newsies,’ and many other on-stage projects he led as vice president of creative development for Disney Theatrical Group.
His death was advertised on facebook by his niece Jessica Roy – associate editor of the Utility Journalism team at the Los Angeles Times – after her “sudden” death at her home in Laguna Beach. The cause of death is still unknown.
He died just two weeks before “Dear Evan Hansen” opened at the Ahmanson Theater. In his honor, Warren arranged a casual get-together before the show so that Fickinger’s friends could share a glass of Chardonnay together — his favorite.
“I think we’re all in shock because it was so unexpected,” she says. “The best way to honor Steve is to be together in a theater space. I can’t think of anything bigger that he wouldn’t have loved more.
Before attending the pre-show meeting, Kelley reflected on memories of going to the theater with Fickinger, recalling, “How many times have I walked in that door with him and been there? It’s hard to imagine. »
Kelley and Warren met Fickinger during their time at Disney Theatrical Productions. While Warren worked on the marketing side and Kelley on the legal side, Fickinger always found a way to connect with them.
“Steve appreciates everyone who works in our field, not just the people who are on the production and creative side,” says Warren.
She adds, “There was never a moment with Steve where I felt like I wasn’t being celebrated.”
Kelley says Fickinger was known to have a “great love of people.”
“I think everyone is one of Steve’s closest friends, really,” she says. “I think he had this incredible gift of connecting 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” friendship circle where joy was a daily priority in any environment – even the office – no matter how stressful things got. One of his other priorities was nurturing new talent, Warren says.
“He’s mentored people over the years,” Warren says. “He brought with him people who are now major players in the industry, and they were mentored by Steve. He had a joy for our company, a joy in which you can’t imagine wanting to do anything else.
She says the theater world is small and people like Fickinger make the industry thrive.
Before people knew Fickinger as the man behind some of Broadway’s greatest stage productions, he was a theater student at UCLA alongside Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Productions.
Schumacher says they performed on stage together at UCLA in the 1970s before going their separate ways. Schumacher went to Disney and Fickinger went to New York to continue acting. When Fickinger left acting, he joined Schumacher in Los Angeles at Disney Animations as a production assistant. The bond between the two only grew stronger, and Schumacher says Fickinger then blossomed as a creative.
“His biggest impact was bringing together the pieces of ‘Newsies’,” he says. “‘Newsies’ wouldn’t have happened if Steve hadn’t been there.”
As with any environment he was in, Schumacher says Fickinger did it with joy and connection front and center.
“Everyone remembers her beaming smile and her ability to make any room burst into laughter,” he says.
More recently, Kelley recalls one of those moments of laughter just 10 days before his death. The Siddons Society met at their usual place: Little Dom’s. They talked about the upcoming revival of “1776” by the Roundabout Theater Company in New York. 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 still remembered every word. “People at Little Dom’s thought we were crazy all the time because we were always singing, but it’s been so much fun to do for the past few years,” Kelley says.
It’s one of those memories that sums up the man he was.
Schumacher says one thing he remembered and admired about Fickinger was his love for his mother. “When something happened, he would often quote his mother or share a thought his mother might have had about it,” he says.
Schumacher remembers sharing his mother’s advice in her voice – like a natural theater artist would – introducing each nugget of wisdom in the same way. “When he died,” he said, “the first thing I heard in my head was Steve doing his mother’s voice saying, ‘Now Steve, don’t forget…'”