80 Years Young:
Gala fundraiser celebrates musical theater, looks to future
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
Westport, CT – Elegance and finery with a 1930s flair was the defining look as Westport’s A-List gathered together at a resilient institution to celebrate a long history of musical theater. And while they recalled the past, the group looked to the future as well. In fact, their very presence ensured there would be one.
Monday evening, about 500 supporters of the arts, philanthropists, staff and alumni artists convened at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, for the leading gala fundraiser of the year. Titled “Playing Our Songs: Celebrating 80 Years of Musical Theater”, the event featured a welcome cocktail reception, performance by Broadway friends, tribute to actress Bernadette Peters for her dedication and service to the American Musical Theater, dancing, dinner and a silent auction.
Setting the tone for the night was the cocktail welcome, held in the area encompassing the theater’s patio through to the Lucille Lortel White Barn. The outdoor stretch was sheltered by a high-peaked white tent, with uptilt lighting creating splashes of color on its ceiling and the perimeters lined with 32 silent auction items. The latter included exclusive wines, Playhouse memorabilia, Broadway tickets, a MoMa lunch hour, spa package, shopping spree, villa stay and sports treats like a Yankees fan package and Joe Torre-signed jersey.
The auction was limited to 100 tickets at $100 a pop, with all monies collected helping to fund Playhouse operations. Westport’s Lux Bond & Green added to the intrigue, raffling modern rock candy gem drop 18k gold earrings and matching bangle, with a combined value of over $6,000.
Dressed in abbreviated uniforms that accented their stunning “stems” (as 30s lingo would refer to a woman’s legs) and circulating through the crowd were Kristen Murcott and Kim Maresca. A former Playhouse Special Events Associate, Maresca is now an actress and will soon appear in the Playhouse’s production of “Twelfth Night” as one of lead character Olivia’s attendants.
Responsible for the floorplan and accents of the gala event was Joanna Heimbold, who was a picture in a long blue dress and on the arm of her dashing escort Gianluigi Longinotti Buitoni, in a complementary blue suit. Also a standout was Sandra DeFeo, a lady in red for the evening and the Chairman of the Board for the Playhouse, who appeared with her tuxedoed husband Neil.
Playhouse Managing Director Michael Ross looked dapper as ever, as he buzzed from patron to patron extending a warm welcome. Equally stunning was a quintet of ladies, headed by Kim Harizman, on the Playhouse’s Board of Trustees and the Gala’s co-chair (with husband Niv), which included Amy Katz, Donna Slavitt, Melissa Shein and Nancy Wilson – Westporters all.
A Westport event wouldn’t be complete without First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, nor Westport Arts Center’s Helen Klisser During, putting in an appearance. Camera in hand, During stepped back and forth over the paparazzi/guest line, snapping as many photos of attendees as press on hand.
Drawing the patio set into the White Barn were both auditory and olfactory sensations – the auditory supplied by a swing jazz trio nestled in the corner and the olfactory generated by sumptuous hors d’oeuvres supplied by Diane Browne Catering of Darien. Servers peddled such palate pleasers as smoked chicken quesadillas, spinach and artichoke gratine, and soy marinated salmon. Stationary crudite and cheese also beckoned.
In this room, the feathered boas and silk wraps were more apparent, the wine and champagne flowed a little more freely and the glitterati met and mingled. There was Westporter Bill Scheffler, who just completed another successful year conducting his Concours d’Elegance classic car event at Fairfield County Hunt Club, with wife Ann Sheffer. Scheffler said he and Ann met in 10th grade homeroom – their names followed each other alphabetically so they were always placed together in lines and photos. A life long townie, the car enthusiast said, “I’ve been coming to plays here for 45 years. The Playhouse is an invaluable cultural resource. I’d do anything to support it.”
Beside him, another star, Playhouse Artistic Director Mark Lamos. “This is a very important event,” Lamos said. “Private funding is an essential part of keeping us going. Many non-profits have had a rough time over the past year. We’ve been lucky to have great supporters. Subscriptions are up. This is the penultimate night of the year.”
Adding even more dazzle to an already dazzling evening was Actor James Naughton, who appeared in nine Playhouse productions in the years 1999 to 2008 and is a member of the Artist Circle. On his heels was Larry Luckinbill, with three productions, 1981-1995, to his credit, and his wife Lucie Arnaz, daughter of Lucille Ball, with two Playhouse production credits. Luckenbill and Arnaz appeared together in 1981’s “Educating Rita”.
This group was high on glamour, up on glitz and focused on the preservation of a rich tradition of musical performance and its enduring homebase. Here’s to another 80 years Westport Country Playhouse.