Award-winning Broadway and movie star Anthony Ramos gifted a surprise renovation to the high school theater teacher who inspired him as part of a new home makeover series on CBS.
The Bushwick native, of “Hamilton” and “In The Heights” fame, was a natural on stage even when he was a teenager, said Sara Steinweiss, the southern Brooklyn educator who first got to know the star when he auditioned for a musical as a junior at Bensonhurst’s New Utrecht High School.
“He thought he was auditioning for a talent show,” Steinweiss told Brooklyn Paper, “but he was auditioning for a full-scale musical.”
It was then, she said, she knew Ramos was meant to be an actor — so she encouraged the high school baseball star to join New Utrecht’s theater program as well, which he did simultaneously.
“I basically told him that he was going to be with me the rest of the time, and made him become a part of the theater program,” she said. “I just knew that there was something extremely special about Anthony, that he needed to be doing this in his life.”
But, when it came time to graduation, Ramos’ plans for college hit a roadblock.
“There was a lot going on in his home and his life,” Steinweiss said. “He didn’t get financial aid papers in on time, and things had fallen through for him.”
With Ramos thinking of alternatives to higher education, his theater teacher suggested he apply for the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, a private performing arts conservatory college in Manhattan. Determined to help keep Ramos on the path to stardom, Steinweiss paid for his application and vouched for him to get a scholarship through a foundation founded by Jerry Seinfeld.
He was accepted for both “and the rest is pretty much written in history,” she said.
Since then, Ramos and Steinweiss have been like family — and with every new stage he takes, he gives his former teacher-turned-friend a front row seat.
“He invited me to everything, I am at all the biggest and smallest moments,” Steinweiss said. “I have been at the opening night of ‘Hamilton,’ I was recently at the premiere of ‘In the Heights,’ which was unbelievable … what a profound moment that entire thing was.”
And now, over a decade letter, the two got to star on the small screen together thanks to a recently released episode of CBS Secret Celebrity Renovation, where Ramos gifts his beloved mentor a home renovation — though, Steinweiss said, her former student never owed her a thing.
“He doesn’t owe me anything at all,” she said. “My whole thing with anything in life is I think the only thing you owe somebody that does something or you is to pay it forward to somebody else and be a good person.”
In May, Steinweiss was whisked away from the home she shares with her mother and only returned once renovations were completed. She arrived to find a completely revamped bedroom, a new office space, and a hip backyard makeover she says only Ramos would have been able to design for her — and all of which she adores.
“It was a total surprise, I wasn’t expecting it at all,” she said. “It wasn’t easy giving up my sense of control but I trust him so much I knew that there probably wouldn’t be another person that I would allow to do this.”
In the episode, which premiered Friday, July 16, Ramos says he wanted to give Steinweiss her own space, as she lives with and takes care of her mother. Contractors renovated the attic space, where her bedroom is, replacing Steinweiss’ twin beds with a luxurious king-sized bed, and added a personal office next door. The team also upgraded her backyard with a pool and an entertainment space.
“She’s been an angel in my life,” Ramos says in the episode. “She’s done so much for me.”
“It really was focused around a space for me,” Steinweiss said “I don’t think I have ever had an experience where everything was all about me. It gave me everything I never knew I needed.”
In her new office, Ramos surprised Steinweiss with framed lyrics to his song “The Good and the Bad,” which is about their journey together.
Sara Steinweiss changed my life. She was my high school Theater Director and Mentor. Now one of my best friends.
— Anthony Ramos (@ARamosofficial) May 5, 2020
Steinweiss said she hopes the show, more than anything, will highlight the importance of an arts education in city public schools, where many of the programs have been gutted.
“There were a lot of changes in the Department of Education,” said Steinweiss, who taught within the agency for over 13 years before resigning in 2011. “And this program that Anthony was a part of, this beautiful program that I built for 13 years, they closed the program.”
After a brief stint in former Bay Ridge City Councilmember Vincent Gentile’s office, Steinweiss went back to her roots, opening her own business in 2016 where she trains teachers and students in arts education.
“It is a necessity. It shouldn’t be an afterthought, it shouldn’t be an after-school program,” she said. “It should be built into our education system because it saves lives and I decided that I needed to step away from the Department of Education so that I could be the educator that I need to be.”