Sunday, June 23, 2013

"BEHOLD: 50th Anniversary Gala Performance" at the Guthrie Theater

the program was passed out after the show,
the stage and hallways were strewn with yellow rose petals
It's the morning after the Guthrie's 50th anniversary gala performance, and I'm still just beside myself with glee. It was such an incredible celebration of the Guthrie's past, present, and future. We revisited moments from the past with long-time Guthrie favorites, witnessed some of the amazing talent that currently passes through the Guthrie's three stages, and looked to the future of much more goodness to come. I have seen over 120 productions at the Guthrie in my ten seasons as a subscriber, and even though I'm on the Blogger Night list and get offered free tickets to every show, I will not cancel that subscription because I want to be able to say someday "I've been a Guthrie subscriber for 50 years!" I have never been more proud to be a member of the Twin Cities theater community, that in many ways was born and continues to be shaped by Sir Tyrone Guthrie's decision to create his experimental regional American repertory theater in the state where I happened to be born ten years later. What good fortune for us all. I truly believe that we would not have this rich community of over 70 theater companies and more theater seats per capita than any other town outside of NYC if it were not for the Guthie, which continues to lure great talent to our fair state and foster our home-grown talent from within. The Guthrie Theater is one of my favorite places on the planet and where I've spent many of my happiest moments, and last night tops the list.

But enough gushing - on to the show. I had seen the impressive list of attendees weeks before, but I sort of forgot in the wonder of each moment that someone else wonderful was coming next! It was just moment after incredible moment of pure talent. The show was directed by Peter Flynn, written by Mark Benninghofen, music directed by Andrew Cooke (with a fabulous onstage band), choreographed by Brian Sostek, with set design by Michael Hoover. This behind-the-scenes talent was matched by the talent onstage - so many artists whom I love and admire on that stage and in that building (I saw too many faves in the crowd to mention), that by the end of the night my heart was full of love and my face was sore from smiling. Here are a few (OK many) highlights:
  • Joe Dowling, the Guthrie's Artistic Director since 1995, was greeted with a standing ovation when he introduced the show and spoke a little bit about the history of the Guthrie (read more here).
  • The show opened with a medley of showtunes from musicals that the Guthrie has done over the years, some that I fondly remember and some before my time. And who else should open this musical portion of the evening besides the brilliant and beautiful Baldwin sisters?! Christina Baldwin and Jennifer Baldwin Peden both revisited celebrated roles in Gilbert and Sullivan shows as, respectively, "Poor Little Buttercup" in H.M.S. Pinafore a few years ago and Mabel ("Poor Wandering One") in 2004's Pirates of Penzance (which lives in my memory as my favorite Guthrie show ever). They were joined by many of my favorite musical theater actors (including but not limited to: Dieter Bierbrauer, Aleks Knezevich, Timotha Lanae, Norah Long, Ann Michels, and Angela Timberman) singing selections from Sweeney Todd, She Loves Me, and 1776 among others.
the ensemble (photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
  • The evening's co-hosts were none other than Sally Wingert and Greta Oglesby. They were funny and entertaining hosts, and both got a chance to showcase their talent. Sally did a scene from The Royal Family with the incomparable Barbara Bryne and Valeri Mudek, an entirely appropriate scene about love of the theater. Greta reprised "Lot's Wife" from the acclaimed 2009 production of Caroline, or Change, and instantly I was carried back to that show to the point where I could picture the set around her. She was truly astounding on this incredible song.
Sally Wingert and Greta Oglesby (photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
  • The "one and only" Peter Michael Goetz has appeared in over 90 productions at the Guthrie, from the 60s through just this year. He is utterly charming and quite the storyteller - no story better than when they were doing Of Mice and Men and Midsummer Night's Dream in rep, and he went onstage for Midsummer Night's Dream in his Lennie costume (a story I've heard before, but it's still great). Incredulously, he's never won an award for theater, but he joked that if there were a Tony for "the guy who kept going," he'd win. After his entertaining talk, he reenacted a scene from the 2004 production of Death of a Salesman with the help of Guthrie alums Matthew Amendt (most recently of Charlie's Aunt) and Erik Heger (a magnificently bearded Macbeth a few years ago).
Matthew Amendt and Erik Heger (photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
  • Several nationally known stage and screen actors spoke of their Guthrie memories via pre-recorded video segments, including Gary Sinise, David Hyde Pierce, Harriet Hayes (Hay Fever), Joshua Henry (Scottsboro Boys), Santino Fontana (currently starring in Cinderella on Broadway), recent Tony winner Courtney B. Vance, and Christopher Plummer (be still my heart).
  • The male vocal ensemble Cantus (familiar to me from Theater Latte Da's annual All is Calm) treated the audience to a stunning rendition of "Somewhere" from West Side Story.
  • Real-life married couple Daniel Gerroll and Patricia Kalember (anyone else remember Sisters?) presented a hilarious sparring scene from Noel Coward's Private Lives
Daniel Gerroll and Patricia Kalember (photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
  • An adorably nervous T.R Knight ("I wasn't meant to play myself") spoke of his history with the Guthrie (his first role was Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol) and also spoke of original company member (and four-time Tony winner) Zoe Caldwell, and showed a video of an interview he did with this spirited 80-year-old. He also read a lovely quote about the effect her performance had on one man, and how "theater is about changing the lives of people you'll never meet." Ever since falling in love with the sweet dorky George on Grey's Anatomy, I've been waiting for T.R. to return to the Guthrie stage. This will have to do until he comes home to do a play.
T.R. Knight (photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
  • Musical theater composer Jason Robert Brown (who, I have to admit, I am not that familiar with) was commissioned to write a song for the occasion, and boy did he deliver! "Hamlet 3.2" is everything you want in a musical theater song - fast and clever lyrics, a full and complete arc, and a melody that's still stuck in my head. Now I see what all the fuss is about - that guy has talent! And so does the man who sang it, Broadway actor and Tony nominee Brian D'Arcy James. I've never had the pleasure of hearing him sing live before, so it was a treat to witness his powerful voice and charismatic delivery on this brand new creation, never before performed for an audience. And he was backed by the best chorus ever (see above). Lyrics include "Speak the speech, I pray you... trippingly off the tongue," ending with a rousing chorus of "To be or not to be, to be or not to be." I wish I could download the song (I wonder if they recorded the show?), but until then, it will live in my memory (you can listen to a demo recorded by Jason Robert Brown here).
Brian D'Arcy James (photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
  • I can't tell you how much I love Whoopi Goldberg. Not only is she one of the coolest, smartest, most talented, funniest people on the planet (EGOT, anyone?), but I feel a connection to her because she's in my living room every day and we share a birthday. In the excitement of the evening I almost forgot she was there until she literally (please read that as Parks and Recreation's Chris Traeger would say it) descended from the ceiling. She performed her Tony-winning one-woman-show at the Guthrie years ago, and in her off-hand hilarious style, part faux-reading from a script and part speaking from the heart, talked about how intimidating and amazing that was and how much she loves theater and the Guthrie. With one final "flyover my ass!" she descended down through the floor of the stage, never to be seen again. Was that a dream or did it really just happen?!
Whoopi! (photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
  • This evening would not be complete without an appearance by Tracie Bennett. A Tony nominee and Ivey winner for her role as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow, she once again channeled Judy to sing a medley of "Almost Like Being n Love" and "This Can't Be Love."
Tracie Bennett (photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
  • The show ended with a soliloquy from The Tempest by the divine Stephen Yoakam, followed by one final song from our fabulous ensemble (including Cantus) - "Make Our Garden Grow" from Candide. I am certain that Sir Tyrone Guthrie would be quite proud of how the garden he planted 50 years ago has grown.
Stephen Yoakam (photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
  • I realize I have outed myself as a TV addict in this post, if not before. Needless to say I am beyond thrilled that Vincent Kartheiser (aka Mad Men's smarmy Pete Campbell) is playing Mr. Darcy in the Guthrie's upcoming production of Pride and Prejudice. When I spotted him in the crowded lobby after the show, I couldn't resist the opportunity to tell him how much I love him on Mad Men (is Pete not the most complex, fascinating, frustrating character on TV?) and how much I'm looking forward to seeing him as Mr. Darcy. I told him I believed he'd do a great job, despite people's protestations that "Pete Campbell can't be Mr. Darcy" (news flash - Vincent is an actor and Pete is just one of the characters he inhabits). He very humbly assured me that the play would be good, if not Mr. Darcy. I'm afraid I was a blithering idiot, but what a thrill to meet one of the best actors from perhaps the best drama ever on television!

That's it friends, thanks for sticking with me through this long story. Last night will live on as one of the theatrical highlights of my life that I will remember forever. I have enjoyed every show (some more than others) of my last ten years as a Guthrie subscriber, and even more I love that it has served as a way in to this deep and rich theater community we call home. And I believe it's only going to get better. As my friend Whoopi said - see you in 50!

a letter from the Kennedys
upon the opening of the Guthrie in 1963

a letter from the Obamas
commemorating the Guthrie's 50th anniversary

costumes from past Guthrie shows were on display,
including this one from the 2009 '50s themed
Two Gentlemen of Verona

Christina Baldwin's gorgeous bustled dress
from the 2004 production of Pirates of Penzance