Amid the glitter, champagne and kisses at the Sept. 29 ceremony for the inaugural Bernard B. Jacobs Excellence in Theatre Award, a new era for Broadway could be seen taking shape.
For much of the last half-century, the rivalry between the two biggest theatre-owning chains, the Shubert Organization and the Nederlander Organization, defined who got produced and where on Broadway.
That era came to an end with the August 1996 death of Bernard B. Jacobs, who, with Gerald Schoenfeld, ran the Shubert Organization, the largest legit theatre-owning company in the U.S. (16 on Broadway alone) It also co-produces many of the shows in its theatres.
At Monday's ceremony in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue in New York, the first of what's planned as an annual award for theatre excellence went to none other than Jacobs' rival, James M. Nederlander, chairman emeritus of the second-largest legit theatre owning chain (nine on Broadway alone), which bears his family's name.
Carol Channing, Laurie Beechman, F. Murray Abraham and Sam Harris were among performers at the $500 a plate award dinner that earned a reported $400,000 for the United Jewish Appeal. The rapproachment between the two companies could mean more such co productions, as well as cooperation in other business fields.
Laurie Beechman introduced the entertainment portion of the evening, singing "Memory" from Cats.
Then, Triumph of Love star F. Murray Abraham read Shakespeare's "Seven Ages of Man" speech as giant photographs of Nederlander were projected on the wall at the back of the stage. Each of the "ages" was illustrated in more or less apropos fashion by a song from a Broadway show.
For the "Schoolboy" section, The Life star Sam Harris sang "Any Dream Will Do" from Joseph. . . accompanied by a chorus of four dozen youngsters.
For "Lover," West Side Story's Maria was sung.
For "Soldier," a group of stalwarts from Scarlet Pimpernel were scheduled to sing something swashbuckling. Delayed by the long days of rehearsal prior to first preview Oct. 7, they were replaced by Pimpernel star Christine Andreas singing "My Carousel" from the show. During the song, Andreas came into the audience and kissed Nederlander twice.
For "Justice," Ruben Blades and the cast of Capeman previewed that show, performing "I Was Born in Puerto Rico," and doing a recitative scene from the forthcoming Paul Simon musical.
For "Pantaloon," a group of dancers performed a suite from Sweet Charity.
Beechman returned for the last of the "Ages," performing "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.
The ceremony was capped by an appearance by Carol Channing, who said she was the "disappointment act" in place of composer Jerry Herman, who was "Alive and well and in good health" after triple-bypass surgery in California.
She delivered a special version of Herman and Channing's signature song, "Hello, Dolly!" with new lyrics tailored to Nederlander. The song tried to work in the names of as many Nederlander-owned theatres with the titles of famous Nederlander productions, at one point rhyming Fisher (Theatre in Detroit) with Treemonisha; "stages" with Pantages; and "there ain't no place" with "Nederlander-owned showplace."
Channing ended the entertainment part of the program leading the roster of stars in singing Herman's "The Best of Times Is Now," which was introduced in La Cage Aux Folles at the Nederlander-owned Palace Theatre in New York.
-- By Robert Viagas