What do you give a guy who already has more Tonys (21) than anyone else on Planet Earth? Well, you could give him a gala. If you gave him one ten years ago, give him another one. That's what the American Theatre Wing did Sept. 16 with its [second] star-stacked, all-stops-out salute to Broadway's legendary producer-director, Harold Prince. And it turned out to be a gift that gave right back.
"Tonight, with your help and your generosity, we have created the most successful gala in the history of the Wing — that's 96 years of history," Heather Hitchens, ATW's executive director, proudly beamed as dinner was being served in The Plaza's massive third-floor ballroom. The sellout crowd yielded more than $700,000, which, she promised, would go to the organization's education and outreach programs.
"With Hal Prince, how could we not make money?" quipped the Wing's chairman of the board, William Ivey Long, logically. "Everybody wants to come and kiss him."
When Hitchens referred to the evening's honoree as "the Prince of Broadway," up popped the reigning prince of Broadway, Cinderella's charming Santino Fontana, as if he had been cued. Indeed, he had been, and he launched into an elaborate musical mash-up of almost 30 hit songs from shows that Prince either produced or directed. He and music director Rob Berman cleverly and speedily arranged them end to end.
The roll call of classic Prince achievements was next classily enumerated by Angela Lansbury — The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, West Side Story, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof, Show Boat, Follies, Evita, Parade, Kiss of the Spider Woman, A Little Night Music, Candide, Company, The Phantom of the Opera, et al (21 Tonys started to seem not nearly enough) — and she thanked him "personally, in public" for anointing her Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. Not only did Lansbury host the event (meat-pies were not served) she was also its honorary co-chair, along such name-brand Prince collaborators as Carol Burnett, Stephen Sondhem and Hugh Jackman and the Mrs. (Deborra-Lee Furness).
The agile 85-year-old showman then took to the stage, thanking his "Angie" right off: "It's underestimating the whole relationship to say I love her dearly. I've never been more stimulated or excited rehearsing with an actress, and Angie is one of the greatest actresses of our time." He also complimented Fontana's "brilliant" opening.
"Now, I'm going to talk about me," he said — only he continued to thank people. "To state the obvious, I'm having a hell of a great life! And that is due to two factors." The first was his immediate family — wife Judy, son Charlie, daughter Daisy — "my support team and my cheerleaders. In 51 years, I've never had a boring or a lonely day in my life. How many people can say that? They all possess bright and shiny intelligence, and every one of them is more musical than I. That's my first family.
"My other family — my extended family — represent so many of you in this room — so many artists with whom I've worked for six decades. I love to go to work, y'know. I anticipate every day with excitement and every challenge — indeed, some very disappointing ones, but they usually lead to some solution and a measure of genuine satisfaction. I love the company of theatre people. I love working on material with authors and designers. I love casting. I love casting directors. And tonight," he concluded, remembering the market that he was playing to, "I love theatre owners.
"The rehearsal process is pig heaven for me. When a show works, that's divine. When it doesn't, that's instructive and leveling, and it's good for me. I used to worry about the sense of community that I treasured so much in my early years in the theatre. I worry that it'll disappear. As Angie pointed out, I was an assistant stage manager, wannabe producer, slightly older wannabe director, and I worried that this would be jeopardized by escalating costs and merchant mentality. Tonight, however — as much as any night — it's so damned reassuring, and I thank you all for that. I thank all the incredible artists who've shown up tonight to entertain us. Each of them is unique and irreplaceable to me. So thanks to all of them, and thanks to Heather Hitchens, to Ted Chapin, to William Ivey Long, to the Theatre Wing, to all who made this evening possible so the Wing could continue to nourish the American theatre and all those young people who want to be a part of this exciting life."
Prince then sat back and, with the rest of the room, watched his shows, songs and stars pass in review: Sierra Boggess singing "Buenos Aires" from Evita and "Wishing You Were Somewhere Here Again" from The Phantom of the Opera; Emily Skinner singing "Now You Know" from Merrily We Roll Along and "In Buddy's Eyes" from Follies; Richard Kind and Fontana singing "Free" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; LaChanze singing the title song from Cabaret. Jim Wann closed out the music portion of the program with a fitting number: "Mr. Broadway."
There were a number of people in the audience who got their big break from Prince, and one of them made it to the microphone. Glenn Close recalled suddenly being tapped by Prince to replace the (tactfully unnamed) leading lady in Love for Love, slipping into her costume still scented with her perfume and going on without a single understudy's rehearsal simply because Prince believed she could do it.
Charlotte St. Martin and Nick Scandalios, respectively executive director and chairman of The Broadway League, which is partnered with ATW in presenting the Tonys, were prominently present, along with Kim Cattrall, designer-director Tony Walton, journalist Pia Lindstrom, Norm Lewis, an Aladdin trio of stars (Adam Jacobs, Courtney Reed and James Monroe Iglehart) and producer-director Sheldon Epps.
Among the couples in attendance: Broadway-bound Patrick Stewart and brand-new bride Sunny Ozell, photographer Nathan Johnson and his Cinderella Laura Osnes, producers Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley and Rebecca Luker and Danny Burstein. The Tony winners who were in attendance included Alan Cumming, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Jim Dale, Judy Kaye, Shuler Hensley and composer Charles Strouse.