PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Ann; A Big House for the Little Lady

By Harry Haun
08 Mar 2013

Judith Light
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Judith Light, deep into rehearsals for her third Broadway show in as many years (Richard Greenberg's The Assembled Parties, opening April 17 at the Friedman), recalled being with Richards at a numbingly long event for the AIDS memorial quilt: "Ann Richards was the keynote speaker, and she was not introduced until 11:30, and she said, 'I have never had an experience like this before.' She brought the house down because she told the truth. She lifted everybody up. It was just great."

"What a great character for theatre!" said Follies' Ron Raines [Nacogoches, TX]. "I wish I'd met her. Everybody wanted to. Liz Smith was always showing her off."

"I met her in '82 when she was county commissioner," said Lily Tomlin. "We had the same birthday: Sept. 1 — and also Liz Carpenter, who was Lady Bird's secretary. Liz and I did fund-raisers with Ann, when she was treasurer and, later, governor."

Jane Wagner, Tomlin's comedy-writing partner, ghost-wrote Richards' famous crack about George H. W. Bush at the 1988 Democratic National Convention: "Poor George, he can't help it," she sighed. "He was born with a silver foot in his mouth."

Actor-director Gabriel Barre said he hopes to have the musical Amazing Grace on Broadway by the end of the year. This is the story of John Newton, who wrote that title hymn. "It takes place on all three points of the slave triangle in the 1700s and deals with his relationships to his father, to his childhood sweetheart and, of course, to God. We have our financing in place. Carolyn Rossi Copeland is shepherding the project."

Other Ann fans: entertainment lawyer Mark Sendroff; Entertainment Weekly Managing Editor Jess Cagle [Abilene, TX], back from Oscar's red carpet; Richard Osterweil; director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall and hubby-producer Scott Landis; Tony winners Ben Vereen and Richard Easton, producer Elizabeth Ireland McCann, playwright A.R. Gurney, whose 1991 play, The Old Boy, is getting a Keen resurrection along Theatre Row; Dan Jinks, Oscar-winning co-producer of "American Beauty"; publisher Joe Armstrong [Abilene, TX]; Jamie de Roy; MSNBC's Thomas Roberts and Susan Powell.

Linda Lavin met Richards the first day The Clintons took office. (The governor and the President converse a couple of times during Ann. "I was one of the performers who performed at the Clintons' First Day Dinner," recalled Lavin. "It was a dinner for the governors of the states and territories — in the White House, in the East Room. A lot of Broadway stars went down — Barbara Cook, Carol Channing. I met Jim Caruso, who now runs Birdland, and I sang, 'Why, Oh Way, Oh Why, Oh.' I also got to do 'Big D,' and that was the night of the Dallas Super Bowl. Ann Richards had watched the Super Bowl with the new President Clinton in his private television suite, and I got to sing that song to her and hear her whoop and holler. That's as much as I knew her, but I tell you that woman made a great difference for all of us. It was a great year, that year, and it was a great time. Ann Richards was a formidable force of nature and a powerful, brilliant woman. She said a lot of wonderful, funny things."

(Longtime Playbill staff writer Harry Haun is a native of Greenville, TX.)