Back in His Corner of the Sky

Special Features   Back in His Corner of the Sky


John Rubinstein is back on Broadway for the eighth time--and he is thrilled to be there.

"It's in my blood," says New York's original Pippin and the 1980 Tony Award-winning Best Actor for Children of a Lesser God. "When I came here at age seven, the first show I saw was Wonderful Town with Rosalind Russell. And then I went to pretty much every play and musical from 1954 to the early seventies. So Broadway was something I grew up with. It's where I saw all the great actors, all the great playwrights, all the great musical comedy writers."

Now Rubinstein is starring at the Broadhurst Theatre with Terrence Mann and Christine Ebersole in Getting Away With Murder, a mystery-comedy co-written by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth. Sondheim's first Broadway non-musical, it is set on Manhattan's Upper West Side at a group therapy session. The patients arrive and find that their Pulitzer Prize-winning psychiatrist is missing.

"It's a tip of the hat to an older style of play," says Rubinstein, who will turn 50 this year. "It's the Agatha Christie kind of thing, where you're presented with a group of people. One of them must be the killer, and the audience tries to guess whodunit." The play, though, is very much a work of the nineties, he says. "Sondheim and Furth have given it a twist. There's darkness and cynicism. And it also has a layer of farce, which makes it challenging. We have to bring forth the slapstick, the almost crazy humor, without losing the darkness and the terror and the suspense."

Rubinstein does not want to talk about his role--"It would give away too much about the story." But about the rest of his life, there is no hesitance. He is, of course, the son of the legendary classical pianist Arthur Rubinstein. And he readily admits that being the child of such a renowned father was difficult.

"It's both difficult and wonderful," he says. "It's difficult because I've seen up close, in great perspective and detail, what it means to be a great artist. I've seen how he approached his music, how he applied his physical and emotional and intellectual gifts to interpreting the music and giving it to his audience. And it is very daunting, especially if you enter a field where you also take material written by someone else, interpret it and give it out to an audience. Because no matter what I accomplish, it probably won't add up to what he accomplished. I can get a big bravo and think to myself, 'It wasn't like what Dad would get.' But the opposite side is that I was also given, without really being taught, great lessons on how to approach my work, on how to give to an audience, on how to interpret writing."

In addition to acting and directing for theatre, movies and TV, Rubinstein, in keeping with his genetic heritage, is a composer. He has written music for movies, including Jeremiah Johnson and The Candidate, and for more than 50 television programs, among them "Family" and "China Beach." But his one overwhelming dream encompasses the worlds of both music and theatre. "I want to write a Broadway musical," he says. "I've started two, but they never made it here. That's what I should do. That's what I have to do." He smiles. "After all, I'm a Broadway baby."

-- By Mervyn Rothstein

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