Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Any dream will do

Last night's Harvest Moon 12:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, September 25, 2018.  Cooler, yesterday in New York, with a breeze making it even cooler, with lots of storm clouds passing through. Autumn is in the air.

New York this week is under siege traffic-wise thanks to the annual UN Week where leaders come from all over the world to meet.  For New Yorkers, this international confab manages to close off main thoroughfares so that these “leaders” can get around (very easily), and with all kinds of “security” to protect them who are presumably meeting to protect us. The stress this creates for us reflects the irony of this imperious undertaking, provided by the massive bureaucracy that we pay for with our taxes.
The good news: last night there was music in the air for both this writer and JH, and all the fortunate guests of two events, at quite different venues as well as different music gatherings. Jeff and his wife were guests of Jenny and John Paulson at their Upper East Side mansion where they hosted a concert by Lang Lang followed by a dinner for fifty guests. That was a spectacular and highly enjoyable experience as you might imagine, and Jeff will tell us about it on tomorrow’s NYSD.

Last night I had been invited by Enid Nemy to the American Theatre Wing’s 2018 Gala honoring Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber at Cipriani 42nd Street.

The American Theatre Wing was founded by seven suffragettes in 1917 when America entered World War I, as Stage Women’s War Relief to organize charitable giving in support of the war effort. They established workrooms for sewing uniforms, set up clothing and food collection centers, sold Liberty Bonds as well as opening a canteen on Broadway for servicemen.
On entering Cipriani 42nd Street last night for the American Theatre Wing's annual fundraising gala honoring Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.
They followed this during World War II 25 years later with a Stage Door Canteen here in New York. After the war, the focus became educating the public by holding seminars about the American Theatre, and funding grants to aspiring artists (many of whom became major names in American theatre and entertainment). Today it is famous for the Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in the Theatre which we all know as the Tonys.

This was my first time attending the annual gala and I was amazed at the huge crowd it drew.  As it is in the theatre world, it was tightly organized time-wise – 6:30 cocktails, 7:30  seated for dinner which was preceded by greetings from Heather Hitchens, President and CEO of the organization.
The ALW 70 represents his birthday this year.
The table waiting with the starter: smoked salmon, with frisee and asparagus salad and tuna.
The dining room as guests were entering to take their seats.
Ms. Hitchens reported that they raised $1.3 million all of which goes for scholarship programs for men and women to study their specific interests in theatre, being it performing, directing, choreography, lighting, set design, etc.  She also introduced several recent graduates who spoke briefly about their experience and their professional, all thanks to the American Theatre Wing.

She also pointed out the evening honoring Lord Lloyd Webber marked the second year of his American Theatre Wing’s Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative to seed funding of $1.3 million to provide life-changing theater education, opportunities, training and scholarships to under-resourced schools and students across the country.

2018 has been a landmark year for the composer who celebrated his 70th birthday (March 22nd), the 30th anniversary of The Phantom of the Opera (still playing on Broadway and across the world), the 540th anniversary of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; the release of his memoir, and Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Peggy Siegal conferring with Annette Tapert Allen. The great man himself chatting with a table partner.
My hostess Enid Nemy with friend and former New York Times colleague Nancy Newhouse.
After Ms. Hitchens’ introduction, dinner was served, and then the entertainment began with special performances by: Sierra Boggess, who starred in Phantom on the 25th anniversaries in New York and London; Norm Lewis, who recently started in the NBC special Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert; Katrina Lenk, who wont the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for The Band’s Visit; Alex Newell, who made his Broadway debut in the revival of Once On This Island; Brandon Victor Dixon, who recently starred as Judas in the NBC Jesus Christ Superstar.  Their performances were accompanied by the School of Rock alumni, Evie Dolan, Ethan Khusidman, Raghav Mehrotra and Brandon Niederauer; and Musical Director, Annastasia Victory.
American Theatre Wing's CEO Heather Hitchens (center) with former students (and now working at their crafts) of the ATW's scholarship programs.
Sierra Boggess and Norm Lewis performing, accompanied by the guitar prodigy Brandon Niederauer who made his Broadway debut in the original cast of "School of Rock."
The musicians also accompanying the performers: drummer Raghav Mehrotra, keyboard Ethan Khusidman and Evie Dolan, all of whom made their debuts in "School of Rock."
Sierra Boggess singing an Andrew Lloyd Webber song from "Phantom" in three languages — English, Japanese, and French.
Katrina Lenk, who won best actress in a musical for "The Band's Visit," singing a haunting Webber tune.
Brandon Victor Dixon who starred in "Hamilton" and as Judas in "Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert" on NBC. Alex Newell performing another Webber standard.
After the sensational and exciting performances which brought memories back for everyone in the audience, Andrew Lloyd Webber was called to the stage by his daughter Imogen Webber to receive his award from David Henry Hwang (who is also Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Theatre Wing).

Hwang who grew up in Los Angeles with parents who had no knowledge of American theatre, told the audience that the first album he bought as a teenager growing up was Jesus Christ Superstar. He spoke about the work of Lord Webber and how his support in educating young people for work in the theatre focused on diversity.
David Henry Hwang, Chairman of the Board of ATW introducing Imogen Webber. The man himself telling us how music made his life and how important it is to all of us in the world, now more than ever.
Lord Webber in accepting his award told us about his own education in the UK and how today in many schools music has been dropped from the curriculum and how regrettable that was not only for those with potential but also for the world which needs music. He talked about his own experience and how inspired he was by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and his lifelong admiration for Richard Rodgers as a composer, and how music is more important than ever for young people (as well as the rest of us).
The man of the hour with the School of Rock alumni.
All of this was packed in to two perfect hours of American musical theatre to the rapt and happy audience. Gala Chairs were Pamela Barbey, CeCe Black, Anki Leeds, Evan Shapiro, Marva A. Smalls and Nadine Wang, and what a wonderful it was for everyone onstage and off. New York New York, it’s a wonderful town and last night belonged to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and the performers and musicians who shared his work with all of us.
And just outside after the stupendous evening, the stupendous Chrysler Building across the street.

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