The Nederlander Company in Detroit, which operates the Fisher and Masonic Temple theatres and books shows into other venues in the Motor City, has announced a new award in conjunction with Wayne State University to commemorate the 40th subscription season at the Fisher.
Playwright Neil Simon has been named the first recipient of the Sarah Applebaum Nederlander Award for Excellence in the Theatre, an honor to be given annually to an extraordinary theatre artist. The award establishes a visiting artist fund for the Wayne State University Department of Theatre in Detroit. An Apple Award — named for the Nederlander family's beloved, late matriarch, whose nickname was Apple — will be handed out annually to give future theatre students a chance to interact with a variety of theatre professionals who might not normally come to the school.
"This is an exceptional opportunity for our students to interact with a nationally-renowned theatre professional who has devoted much of his life to the arts," WSU president Irvin D. Reid said in a statement.
Bronx-born Simon, 74, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who penned The Odd Couple, Lost in Yonkers, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Barefoot in the Park and more, was announced as the Apple recipient Oct. 1 (the 40th anniversary of the first show at the Fisher). The award includes $10,000 and a crystal apple. Recipients will conduct a master class at WSU and be honored at a gala performance at the Fisher. The master class consists of a lecture by the recipient and a question-and-answer session with students.
A black tie gala for Simon will be held Nov. 28. Profits from the event will sustain the award. Simon is expected to be on campus for two days. The Nederlander Company funded the initial 2001 award. The public is invited to attend The Apple Award gala event Nov. 28 at the Fisher, which includes a reception with Simon and tickets to a performance of the national tour of Contact. Tickets range $250-$400, with proceeds going to WSU's College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts.
Detroit was the nesting ground for the Nederlander theatrical empire, which spread over the years to include the operation and management of Broadway, London and touring theatres, as well as hit musicals and plays. Patriarch David T. (D.T.) Nederlander and Sarah Applebaum were married in 1916 and had six children: Harry, Frances, James, Fred, Joseph and Robert. D.T. Nederlander ran the now-gone Shubert-Lafayette Theatre in Detroit and the family took over management and bookings of the modernized Fisher in 1961, presenting the pre-Broadway engagement of The Gay Life, a Dietz and Schwartz musical starring Barbara Cook.
Son Harry, who produced New York-created winter stock productions at the Birmingham Theatre in suburban Detroit 1980-1995, oversees the Nederlander operation in Detroit. The other sons and grandchildren have produced or booked shows in New York and elsewhere over the decades. Sarah Applebaum Nederlander died at the age of 97 in 1991.
Wayne State University's theatre department has a national reputation for being home to the nation's only graduate troupe that presents in rotating rep. The Hilberry Theatre has launched the careers of Jeffrey Tambor, Max Wright and others. Its undergraduate arm is the Bonstelle Theatre, named for early 20th-century actress-manager Jessie Bonstelle.
For information about the Apple Award, call (313) 577-1458.
— By Kenneth Jones