NEW YORK CITY: The theme of the night was celebrating creative collaboration as a group of passionate members of the theatre community gathered for Theatre Communications Group’s 2017 Gala at ESPACE. The event marked numerous milestones: the 20th anniversary of the National Council for the American Theatre, the culmination of a successful Fall Forum preceding the gala, and the creative contributions of quartet Doug Wright, Scott Frankel, Michael Korie, and Michael Greif, who, using their combined talents, graced Broadway with the musical War Paint.
The evening began with a heartfelt speech by Marshall Jones, producing artistic director of Crossroads Theatre Company in New Brunswick, N.J., who has served on TCG’s board of directors for the past eight years. Marshall spoke of his own experiences with TCG, meeting other artists at conferences who had an impact on him and became his collaborators for projects at Crossroads. “Theatre creates moments that take us beyond our seats and ourselves to be entertained,” said Marshall in his opening remarks. “What’s really unique about all of us in this room is that we are storytellers. We tell it live. We have live people communicating to an audience of strangers in a dark room, and there’s no better feeling in the world.”
Teresa Eyring, TCG’s executive director, and Adrian Budhu, TCG’s deputy director/COO, then welcomed attendees. Eyring addressed sweeping changes affecting theatres everywhere as the next generation of leaders step into new positions, altering the future of American theatre. And Budhu picked up the theme, saying, “The future of our field, the future you’re helping us imagine tonight, is a future where theatre is made about, by, and for every community in our diverse country where theatres, the stories they tell, and the artistry they create can be places of contemplation, of healing, and of activism. We state the obvious by saying it’s needed now more than ever.”
The National Council for the American Theatre was then presented with an award for 20 years of commitment to TCG and its annual Fall Forum, which has shaped the organization’s program on governance. The council currently has 28 members representing 22 theatres in 14 different states.
Shortly after, the crowd was dazzled by a performance by Samuel E. Wright, who played Mufasa in the original cast of The Lion King on Broadway, now celebrating its 20th year. Wright also memorably voiced the role of Sebastian in the 1989 Disney film The Little Mermaid. In his comments, Wright startingly revealed that the character was originally conceived as a turtle. His medley of Disney songs, including “They Live In You” and “When You Wish Upon a Star”, culminated with “Under the Sea,” transporting audience members back to the days of classic Disney on VHS.
Wright’s performance was followed by the introduction of a “text to donate” campaign led by Jon Moscone and Lisa Portes, former and current TCG board members, respectively. Moscone led the charge, saying, “I will continue to give money to an organization that cares that deeply for the arts, the act, the verb of theatre—the verb of making theatre, not the object of making theatre. That’s what we’re here to do tonight.”
Texted pledges from audience members appeared on the screen, with tables challenging each other to donate and matching each other’s pledges, all with Moscone and Portes comically narrating the messages.
The Broadway musical War Paint, about the rivalry between cosmetic pioneers Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein, next took the stage. The show’s stars, Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone, sent a video greeting, and two of their male co-stars, John Dossett and Chris Hoch, to sing “Dinosaurs,” a humorous duet from the show in which these men air their grievances about the changing times.
The show’s visionary creators—librettist Doug Wright, songwriters Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, and director Michael Greif, previously joined for the acclaimed Grey Gardens—next took the stage to accept awards. Wright spoke for the group, and emphasized the show’s non-New York beginnings at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. “Broadway is not the beating heart of the American theatre,” said Wright. “More often than not, it is a museum featuring work curated from the resident theatres across the country from La Jolla, California, to Seattle, from Louisville, Kentucky, to Boston, Massachusetts, from Minneapolis to Chicago.”
It was a theme driven home throughout the evening, which honored the collaborative efforts of artists and theatre advocates all over the country—a large network made up of several theatrical communities, small and large and in between.
“Resident theatre is truly the heart of the art form in America,” Wright continued, “and Theatre Communications Group is its lifeline, providing an invaluable network of resources, fiscal support, information sharing, and community building among artists.”