“In times when the nation is divided, it is so important for [the theatre community] to come together,” said Brian Stokes Mitchell, just minutes after being inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.
Mitchell was one of eight inductees into the Theater Hall of Fame at their 46th annual ceremony. Other inductees included actors Glenn Close and Phylicia Rashad, producer Paul Libin, playwright Marsha Norman, costume designer Catherine Zuber, book writer Joe Masteroff and lyricist Tim Rice. Each was lauded for their dedication to the theatre.
The evening began with a speech by Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Susan Stroman, who served as master of ceremonies for the event. Stroman congratulated the inductees and then invited producer Emanuel Azenberg to speak about recently deceased theatre giant James M. Nederlander. In his speech, Azenberg explained that, while searching for the words to describe Nederlander, he found the third definition of the word “great”—“of ability, quality, or eminence considerably above the normal or average”—to be “almost good enough.” “Jimmy was a force to be reckoned with,” he said.
The same can be said for each of the ceremony’s inductees. First to be inducted was Paul Libin, who currently serves as executive vice president of Jujamcyn Theaters. Jordan Roth, president of Jujamcyn Theaters, spoke of how Libin tends to repeat stories, but always the gentleman, reminds people to “stop [him] if they’ve heard this one.” “Of course, I have heard this one,” laughed Roth, “but I never stop him.” In his own speech, Libin said that it is a wonderful thing to be able to learn from Roth who is many years his junior, and thanked his wife, Florence Libin, for “putting [her] career on hiatus to raise [their] family.”
Marsha Norman was next to be inducted by fellow playwright Christopher Durang. The two became friends when they began teaching with the Juilliard Playwrights Program at its induction in 1994. Durang said that he had been afraid of Norman after seeing her play Getting Out, which tells the story of a young woman who is on parole after being in jail for kidnapping, robbery, and manslaughter. He joked that he thought it had been Norman’s life story. He then praised her for bringing women into the spotlight with The Secret Garden, for which she won the 1991 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical. “Mandy Patinkin was the only person in the whole production that wasn’t a woman,” he laughed. Norman said that she was honored to be joining the two other living female playwrights in the Theater Hall of Fame and then ensured the audience that she will continue to encourage women to write so that one day their names will join hers on the walls of the Gershwin Theatre.
Stage and screen actor Glenn Close was unable to be at the event, but was inducted by Lonny Price, who directed her in Sunset Boulevard in the West End and will be directing the production when it comes to Broadway in spring 2017. Price described Close as a “64-pack of crayons with the sharpener in the back” in a world full of 8-packs. “She does it all,” he said. In expressing his admiration for Close, Price mentioned that he had recently told her that he was having trouble getting a monkey for the monkey funeral scene in Sunset Boulevard. Moments later, he received a message from Close that simply read, “I have the monkey.” “That’s the kind of person she is,” he laughed.
Next to be honored was actress Phylicia Rashad, who recently completed a run as Shela in the Public Theater’s production of Head of Passes. Rashad was inducted by her sister, Broadway actor and director Debbie Allen. Among many childhood stories, Allen recounted Rashad being chosen as the master of ceremonies for her town’s music festival at only eleven years old. “She had the presence and spirit to do it,” she explained. She went on to say that her sister had always been a performer, once even convincing her entire family that she had gone insane overnight. Rashad spoke of her mother, who encouraged her children to pursue careers in the arts and who woke up every morning at 3 AM just to have some time to write before the dawn. “Were it not for her,” she said, “I would be a very different person standing here before you today.” Rashad also thanked her daughter, Condola, who, when asked what she wanted to be as a child, expressed that she wanted to be a “magic lady” like her mother.
Joe Masteroff, the book writer behind Cabaret, was inducted by Howard Marren with whom he collaborated on a musical version of Jean Anouilh’s The Waltz of the Toreadors entitled Paramour. Marren recounted his first meeting with Masteroff during a reading of Portrait of Jennie at which Masteroff asked him if he knew he was in big trouble with the show. While Marren thought it was perfect, Masteroff simply asked him of his main character, “When does she go to the bathroom?” Marren explained that he had been confused by the question, but then realized that he was being told to make his characters more present and rooted in real life. He applauded Masteroff for writing the book for She Loves Me, which he believes to be “the perfect musical.” Masteroff, who is turning 97 in a few weeks, thanked his friends, family, and supporters.
Producer William Berlind spoke in place of his father, producer Roger Berlind, for inductee Brian Stokes Mitchell. He detailed Mitchell’s impressive stage and screen career, including passing on a role in a production of Porgy and Bess to star in the all-black Broadway revival of George and Ira Gershwin’s Oh, Kay! Mitchell shared that his first acting experience had been in ninth grade when he was asked to perform as Petruchio in the “Good Morrow, Kate” scene from The Taming of the Shrew. He later went on to win a Tony Award for his portrayal of Fred Graham/Petruchio in Kiss Me, Kate. Mitchell said that his entire acting career came full circle when he watched from the audience as a 14-year-old entered the stage and said, “Good morrow, Kate—for that’s your name, I hear.” Mitchell ended his speech by thanking his wife, Allyson Tucker, and their son, Ellington Mitchell, who he said “inspires him every day.”
Bartlett Sher, director of the recent Broadway revivals of The King and I and Fiddler on the Roof, complimented Mitchell’s looks, calling him “the most handsome man [he’s] ever seen” as he got up to speak about his long time friend and collaborator, costume designer Catherine Zuber. Sher said that he loves that that Zuber has had such an interesting life, moving from London to Ozone Park, sneaking into Andy Warhol’s “Factory” using her Catholic school uniform and getting to Woodstock while in art school. However, what he loves most about Zuber is that she is the only person he can talk to about even his most obscure interests. Zuber explained that she was in complete disbelief to have been inducted to the Theater Hall of Fame. “I spent a lot of time in this room during The Red Shoes, mostly just to get away from the [very drawn-out] tech and preview process. I can’t believe my name is on these walls,” she laughed.
The final inductee of the evening was lyricist Tim Rice. Rice’s children, Eva, a novelist, and Donald, a film director, decided to share funny stories about their father, rather than list off his many accomplishments, while inducting him. They told the story of Rice being left on the side of the road by a limousine driver who had stopped to get directions, and, when Rice had gotten out of the vehicle to use the restroom, had driven away, as well as the story of a celebrity fan who mistook Rice for Andrew Lloyd Webber. The two explained that they wanted to share their favorite thing about their father with the audience—his ability to laugh at himself. In his own speech, Rice spoke of the success of Jesus Christ Superstar, and how it had been a blessing that he had released it as an album before it ever came to the stage. “Had there been dialogue it would have [sounded like] Jesus saying, ‘Hi Judas, how’s it going?’” he joked.
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Photos: Brian Stokes Mitchell Inducted Into Theater Hall of Fame
For more information about the Theater Hall of Fame, visit TheaterHallOfFame.org.