Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Around the town

Reading the paper. 2:15 PM. Photo: Jeff Hirsch.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014. Fair weather here in New York, in the low 70s in daytime and low to mid-60s at night. Same forecast for today, although ... they say we’re going to get very cold weather this weekend, even maybe snow in some areas of the Northeast. Just on time for trick and treat.

Around the town. This past Monday night the New York City Center held its annual benefit gala with a performance at the theater followed by a dinner at the Plaza. They honored Bobbie and Lew Frankfort, two born-and-bred New Yorkers who are actively involved in City Center.
Arlene Shuler with Lew and Bobbie Frankfort.
Mrs. Frankfort has been on the board of the theater for quite some time and her emphasis is on programs for young people and children in New York, mainly the “underserved” (used to be called under-privileged) who through the Center’s programs are exposed not only to productions but also activities where they learn about the basics of making theatre (like dance).

Mr. Frankfort in accepting his award also told us that the COACH Foundation (he is head of COACH) was donating $1 million to the cause. They showed a video of it before the show got started last night and it is actually a thrill to watch those participating being exposed to arts (dance, for example) as a personal experience. Mr. Frankfort gave us a little bit of history of the theater that was built in 1923 as the Mecca Temple for the Ancient Order of the Nobeles of the Mystic Shrine as a meeting and banquet hall. In 1943 it was established at the New York City Center for Music and Drama to bring theatre to bring the performing arts to all New Yorkers -- at a fraction of Broadway ticket prices. Mayor LaGuardia himself inaugurated the project by conducting the New York Philharmonic’s opening overture with his baton on December 11, 1943.
Ted Chapin and Heidi Blickenstaff.
Stephanie and Fred Shuman.
Seventy-one years ago, top price for adults was $1.45 and for kids, 30 cents! The bargain, though greatly inflated by the economy’s inflationary trends, still stands. And the productions – revivals of some of the great Broadway shows – are still playing to sold-out audiences.

For example, in two weeks, on November 6th, Encores! will stage Brian Stokes Mitchell starring in “The Band Wagon,” the classic showbiz tale of a washed up Hollywood star who attempts to make a Broadway comeback, with a cast that includes Tracey Ullman, Michael McKean, Tony Sheldon and Laura Osnes. The production runs through November 16th.

The show which was first opened at the New Amsterdam Theater in 1931 with Fred and Adele Astaire (their last show together) with a book by George S. Kaufman and words and music by Arthur Schwartz (father of WQXR’s Jonathan Schwartz) and Howard Dietz. Comden and Green wrote the 1953 film version which featured “That’s Entertainment” which Dietz and Schwartz wrote for the film. Other American songbook standards from the original show include “Dancing in the Dark,” “By Myself,” and “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan.”

As a boy growing up in a small New England town and always fascinated by the magic of (only heard about) Broadway and theatre, I could only think how each and everyone of those kids who take part in the City Center’s programs are being shown a pathway to self-confidence and creativity that will positively influence their lives as grown-ups, no matter their future choices. It is heart-rending to witness, and something we can all be grateful for in this difficult society that children are being born into today.
Michelle Fawbush and Alana Frankfort.
Stacey and Eric Mindich.
Ray Lamontagne, Wendy Whelan, Irina Dvorovenko, and Maxim Beloserkovsky.
Paula and Ira Resnick.
Arlene Shuler who is President and CEO of New York City Center opened the evening with the good news that the benefit raised a record $2.2 million for their productions and their programs for young people.

The evening’s performance was titled “Encores! Celebrates Rodgers and Hammerstein and Hart,” and the program (after the brief aforementioned speakers) began with Ted Chapin, President and Executive Director of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization giving us a little bit of background about City Center’s relationship with the works of R&H&H (for example the great Bob Fosse recreated the title role of Rodgers and Hart’s “Pal Joey” in the 1963 “Encores Revival” and Farley Granger and Barbara Cook starred in the 1960 revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I.”
Lisa and Richard Witten.
Kate Kies, David Kies, Heidi Gore, and Liz Kehler.
Todd Kahn and Victor Luis.
After Ted Chapin and Jack Viertel (City Center’s artistic director of Encores!) finished their brief introduction to the performance, it began and continued for the next 90 minutes without interruption (except for the rousing applause – and then standing ovation).  It was a trip through the genius of Rodgers and his two main collaborators – Hart and Hammerstein.

The cast was (alphabetically) Cyrille Aimee, Kate Baldwin, Heidi Blickenstaff, Nick Cordero, Irina Dvorovenko, Chase Finlay, Jared Grimes, Shuler Hensley, Lauren Lovette, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Kelli O’Hara, Laura Osnes and Paulo Szot, all accompanied by the Encores! Orchestra under the direction of Rob Berman. The overture was the original arrangement of the overture from Oklahoma (which opened also in 1943 – and changed Broadway musicals forever), followed by Rodgers and Hart’s “Everything I’ve Got”, followed by “It Might as Well Be Spring,” “Dear Old Syracuse,” “My Heart Stood Still,” “This Can’t Be Love,” “On Your Toes” (with a sensational tap & ballet choreography featuring Jared Grimes, Irina Dvoroveko, and sung by Laura Osnes); “People Will Say We’re In Love,” “The Gentleman Is a Dope,” “Lonely Room,”  “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Hello Young Lovers,” “Soliloquy,” “Pas De Deux” (The Carousel ballet), “This Nearly Was Mine,” and “Some Enchanted Evening” sung by Paulo Szot and Kelli O’Hara who performed it in the revival a couple of years ago at Lincoln Center.
Paolo Szot and Kelli O'Hara brought the audience to their feet with "Some Enchanted Evening." Brian Stokes Mitchell thrilled them with "Sollilquy" from "Carousel."
It was a dream of an evening in Broadway musical theatre. I’ll bet that half the audience had all they could do from singing along with the performers as Hart and Hammerstein’s lyrics and their command of language and ability to tell a sensitive, witty, romantic story still reverberates in memory for many of us. The only lament that might have completed the evening was that we’ve seemingly lost the language and story telling (not to mention the glorious Rodgers melodies) that still command and thrill the attention if theatre-goers after more than almost eight decades in the American theatre.

After the show my friend and I went across the street to take in the experience at Circo and had one of their great Parma pizzas, a great salad and their fried zucchini. Seated near the door, we had the pleasure of running into a friend Ed Gallagher who was entertaining Lady Harrison, the widow of another great star of Broadway and film, Rex Harrison. A perfect evening in New York.
Curtain call.
Back to business. Yesterday at the Plaza, the New York chapter of the American Cancer Society held its 19th annual Mothers of the Year luncheon. This year they honored mothers Deborah Norville  and Felice H. Schnoll-Sussman, MD.  You know who Deborah Norville is. Dr. Schnoll-Sussman is an Associate Professor of Clincal Medicine in the division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and Director of the Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Diana Feldman, who is long a devoted and enthusiastic Volunteer Chairman of Special Events for the American Cancer Society, opened the luncheon and introduced Paula Zahn was emcee. Paula, incidentally, who is also a professional cellist, in telling me about her day told me that she was performing last night in a chamber music concert at Carnegie Hall. Paula put herself through Stevens College on a musical scholarship playing cello and has performed in chamber music concerts all over the world.
Diana Feldman.
Paula Zahn talking about Mothers of the Year.
Paula then introduced Muffie Potter Aston who was an honoree in 2011 talked about Motherhood and then introduced Deborah’s husband Karl Wellner (the perfect “Viking” according to Muffie who is an old friend of both). Karl spoke about their meeting -- on a blind date and then presented the Mother of the Year Award to his wife. Deborah who talked about her own experience growing up, including the experience her grandfather’s death of colon cancer,  and what motherhood has been like for her with her three children (two sons and a daughter, all of whom are now young adults). Both Deborah and Muffie celebrated hands-on motherhood with their talks.
Muffie Potter Aston, 2011 honoree, talking about mothers and motherhood.
Karl Wellner talking about his wife, Deborah Norville, the honoree.
The honoree and her husband.
Deborah talks about her children and how much she loves being a mother.
Then Katie Couric took the podium to tell us about Dr. Schnoll-Sussman whom she met when her husband Jay Monahan was diagnosed with 4th stage colon cancer at age 41. Couric’s story is well known to the public but she told us how after the fact she met a young mother whose husband had just learned of his diagnosis, and she directed the woman to Dr. Schnoll-Sussman. That story had the very happy ending of recovery.

The doctor, whom I did not know about until yesterday’s luncheon is a remarkable young mother herself. In fact she looks too young to be a distinguished gastro-enterologist. She was preceded on the podium by her mother who told us about her daughter (who is a twin).
Katie Couric introduces Dr. Shnoll-Sussman.
Then the doctor took the podium. A very contemporary looking young woman with a great figure and beautiful long hair still looked more like a contemporary young mother than a woman who is head of a department at a major world-class hospital. However, once she began speaking of her life as a wife, a mother, and doctor, and about her patients’ illnesses, she filled the room with admiration and confidence in her work. She talked about the subject of cancer realistically but with an assurance that progress is not only being made but showing up in the lives of more people who are getting such a diagnosis.
Honoree Dr. Felice Dr. Schnoll-Sussman talking about work, her patients and the promising future.
In 2013 mortality rates in this country have fallen by 20 percent. Dr. Schnoll-Sussman told us that early screening and tests made colon cancer not only treatable but mainly curable these days. Cure unreached does not rule out manageable results, saving more lives faster by prevention and screening.  The doctor’s husband and two young boys were present at the luncheon. The woman whose image is the ideal of a young wife and mother spoke with the aplomb and knowledge of a greatly knowledgeable and deeply empathic physician. 

It was a great day at the Plaza celebrating Mothers and their work.
Getting ready for Halloween under the Met Life Building.
Meanwhile, last night Mark Gilbertson gave his annual cocktail party for two or three hundred guests at that famous Stanford White designed clubhouse on Park Avenue. Mark is the consummate party host in New York, and the room was filled with people who either know each other personally, or by one degree of separation. So there is a lot of meeting and chatting over cocktails with the pleasure of seeing so many familiar faces. More about that when we can show you an array of the guests in an upcoming party pictures page.
Guests arriving and settling in at Mark Gilbertson's annual autumn cocktail party.

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