The bond of brothers: As close as you would expect twins to be

2010-02-20T23:30:00Z The bond of brothers: As close as you would expect twins to beBy JEFF KORBELIK / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
February 20, 2010 11:30 pm  • 

As if the night wasn't surreal enough for Brad Sher, actor Sam Waterston took the seat in front of him at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in New York City.

"As soon as he sits down, my daughters turn to me and make the ‘dum dum' sound from ‘Law & Order,'" Sher said.

He and his family had flown from Lincoln to the Big Apple to attend the April 3, 2008, opening of Sher's twin brother's musical, a revival of "South Pacific."

Bart Sher directed the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, which was making its way back to a Broadway stage for the first time since its 1949 premiere.

The Lincoln Center Theater hired him again after the success he had for its "Light in the Piazza" (2005) and "Awake and Sing!" (2006).

Both earned him Tony Award nominations for directing.

Anticipating that "South Pacific" would be just as fruitful for his brother, Brad began pestering Bart early and often for opening night tickets to "South Pacific."

"I threatened him, I cajoled him, I think I even tried to bribe him," Brad joked.

There was no need to.

Bart admitted in a phone interview he tends to keep family away from his openings.

Not because he doesn't want them there, but because he doesn't have time to play the good host.

"There's so much anxiety on opening night for me," he said. "It's a business night."

This was different, however. He wanted his family to see where he was working and what he was doing.

"I was thrilled to have Brad and my whole family come," he said.

At intermission, Bart checked in to gauge their reaction.

"I had never seen ‘South Pacific' before," Brad said. "I knew the music ... but I didn't realize how intimate of a show it was."

He was impressed by how "natural" his brother had made it feel.

"You don't notice the shifts from talking to singing," Brad said. "He was able to turn it from a musical into a play with music ...

"He's so much about the story and making it flow, making it a natural part of the experience. It's what he's really good at."

So good that the musical won seven Tony Awards, including the best director statue for Bart.

Nobody was prouder of Bart than the fellow sitting behind Sam Waterston at the premiere.

***

Bartlett Sher (pronounced "sheer") arrived in this world on March 27, 1959, eight minutes ahead of his brother, Bradley.

They were Nos. 5 and 6 of Joseph and Aird Sher's seven children.

And while miles - as well as political and philosophical ideologies (more on that later) - separate them today, the pair are as close as you would expect twins to be.

"When you're a twin, you can't imagine the world without that other person (in it)," Bart said.

That's why, even though he's seen his brother's Tony Award-winning production of "South Pacific," Brad will attend the show again this week in Lincoln.

Brad, a former BryanLGH Medical Center administrator, has purchased a large block of tickets for friends and family for Friday's performance of the touring show. "South Pacific" opens Thursday at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.

"The success he's had ... I'm very proud of him," Brad said of his twin. "He's really good at what he does. I've seen it as it has gone on.

"I knew it when he did Studs Terkel's ‘Working' at his high school. It was so good ..."

***

The Sher brothers' childhood reads like a Charles Dickens novel, with 1960s and '70s San Francisco as the setting.

Reporter Alex Witchel chronicled much of it for The New York Times in her portrait of Bart - "The Stages of Bart" - in February 2008, just prior to "South Pacific" opening on Broadway.

It's here we learn the Shers were raised in a Catholic family and educated by Jesuits at St. Ignatius College Preparatory.

When the boys were 9, they learned their father, an insurance broker, had a second family.

They also discovered that their father wasn't a Lithuanian Catholic, but a Lithuanian Jew, whose family immigrated to California in the 1920s.

"I have a funny story about that," Brad said. My oldest daughter was studying the Holocaust, and when she read (the Times article), she turned to me and said, ‘We're Jewish? I never knew that.'"

Their upbringing was a product of the times. They attended Grateful Dead concerts and anti-Vietnam demonstrations and hung out in Haight-Ashbury, home of the 1960s hippie movement.

"Our growing up was quite fun and quite intense on every level," said Bart, who fractured his skull at 6 after being hit in the head by a bat while playing baseball and broke both legs at 12 in a skiing accident.

Their father's secret life, and the messy divorce that followed played a big role in their early lives. Their father died at 58 when they both were in college. Brad did not see his father for the last seven years of his life.

"All weird, it's just weird," he said. "When I hear about it now, it's still hard to comprehend."

***

In high school, the brothers went their own ways. Brad transferred to a public high school, while Bart stayed at St. Ignatius.

From there, Bart went to College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., while Brad went to a civic college in San Francisco before finishing at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Bart taught at St. Ignatius before embarking on his theater career, which took him to San Diego, England (where he earned his master's degree at the University of Leeds), Minneapolis, Hartford, Conn., and Seattle.

Brad went to work for his oldest brother, who had taken over his father's insurance business. It was segue into managed care. He worked for other insurance companies and hospitals before moving to Lincoln in 1984.

Today, Bart is the resident director at the Lincoln Center and artistic director of the Intiman Theatre in Seattle.

In June, Brad moved from Lincoln to Grand Rapids, Mich., where he's the reimbursement and payer relations director for Spectrum Health Medical Group. He left Bryan LGH after his position was eliminated under the new CEO.

Brad's family remains in Lincoln, where his daughters are students at Lincoln East High School.

Bart, too, is married with two daughters.

But the comparisons end there.

As Bart likes to say, "You can't find two more opposite people. We're like twins in a Bergman film."

Said Brad: "We are very different people today. We have a better realization of it the last few years than the 10 before that.

"We have very different political views and philosophical views. We like to argue loudly together. I would like to think we've gotten more civil."

Bart is liberal. Brad is conservative, so they, of course, differ in opinion on such subjects as health care reform, global warming and gay marriage.

"You can guess what mine is," Bart said about gay marriage, noting he works in an industry where many of his friends are gay.

And don't even get them started on former President George W. Bush.

"We almost did not survive those two Bush elections," Bart said. "It's a source of continual anxiety."

Said Brad: "I'm not a complete advocate of George W. Bush, but I don't think he was the devil incarnate, nor do I think Obama is the second coming as Bart thinks he is."

And so it went.

"He's been very, very supportive, and he's an incredibly caring brother. No question about that," Bart said. "He's probably the biggest-hearted and most honorable person I know. Never mind that he believes in all the wrong things."

The one thing they do agree upon is the mutual respect they have for each other.

"Our families are bigger than we think," Bart said. "They include a large number of people that are very different than we are."

Reach Jeff Korbelik at 473-7213 or jkorbelik@journalstar.com.

 

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