In a memorial speech honoring of his lifelong friend, business partner and Broadway legend Bernard B. Jacobs, who died in August, Shubert Organization Chairman Gerald Schoenfeld recalled that when the famed Broadway producer and president of the Shubert Organization would leave memorial services, he'd remark, "That was a packed house... do you think I'll pack the house?"
He needn't have worried.
The Majestic Theatre was packed at noon Oct. 15 for Jacobs' memorial service. In fact, it was so crowded that it was difficult to spot the many theatre legends that attended the service, including Tommy Tune, Carole Shelley, Jim Dale and Kevin Spacey.
As heads of The Shubert Organization, Schoenfeld and Jacobs had, over the last 20-plus years, created a theatrical empire spanning the country. Their recent producing credits include The Heidi Chronicles, Sunday in the Park With George, Grapes of Wrath, Passion, and Indiscretions. Shubert Theatres currently house Cats, Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, among many others.
Jacobs died Aug. 27 at age 80, due to complications following bypass surgery. He was especially remembered at the service for his humanity and keen ability to conduct fair business negotiations. The memorial service opened with Marvin Hamlisch, composer of the Shuberts' longest running hit,A Chorus Line, who prefaced his piano medley of that score by eliciting a metaphor between the last number in A Chorus Line, which never really ends, and the legendary producer himself, who will also go on.
Jacobs' daughter Sally followed, and as real offspring she set the precedent for the many non-relatives who would later refer to the mogul as "father," "father figure," "the father I never had, " "mentor," "family," "advisor," "guide" and "friend."
The service was highlighted by three Broadway divas singing their tributes. Laurie Beechman sang "Memory" from Cats. She shared her profound gratitude for Jacobs in a story of the time she turned down the offer to do Cats in Boston. "Bernie" called her personally to suggest she take it and made her an offer she couldn't refuse. "It was the most important decision of my life" Beechman said.
Betty Buckley sang "As If We Never Said Goodbye," asking the audience to stretch Norma Desmond's victory song into a tribute for her dear friend. Buckley shared a cute story about a time during her run in Cats when the crane lifting Grizabella into the Heavyside Layer broke. She had quite a scare, and Jacobs met her personally the next day at the theatre to make sure it was safe, giggling all the way.
Bernadette Peters was the final performer. She sang Some Other Time, from On the Town. Peters shared her experience of Jacobs' loving, fatherly friendship, through a story in which he took her by the hand and walked her down the street to witness the marquee of Song and Dancebearing her name.
Master Class's Tony Award-winning actress Zoe Caldwell read a letter written by a woman whose life was greatly influenced by Jacobs. As a young director she was encountering problems with the dance number in her school production of Grease!. She returned home frustrated and late one evening to find Jacobs as part of her parents' company. As she was sharing her saga, his persistent stare made her nervous. Twenty minutes later, he had gotten choreographer Pat Birch on the phone to help her with her problems. The punch line is that the woman is now a happily domesticated lawyer.
Playwright Wendy Wasserstein shared her endearing tribute to Jacobs and their relationship, spanning from the first moment she watched from a window his stern face getting out of the limousine to see her Off-Broadway hit, Isn't It Romantic, to a time when she and Jacobs would team up and share "real" desserts at dinner while Andre Bishop and Jacob's wife Betty would eat only fruit.
Wasserstein ended her speech with the observation that, although he had an edge, and could be tough and shrewd, he also had a warm, loving, caring side. He truly understood and respected theatre people. "He had the looks of a true gentleman."