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Jeffrey B. Kindler, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the

 

Jeffrey B. Kindler, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the
Board of Pfizer, Joyce Hergenhan and Gerard McKeon,
Publisher of Black Tie International.
Photo by: Joyce Brooks - Black Tie International

 

Salute by Award Winners:
Composer John Kander Honored at
Gala Evening at
Westport Country Playhouse

 

Award-winning talents Shuler Hensley, Eartha Kitt, Debra Monk, James Naughton, Bebe Neuwirth, David Hyde Pierce, Ben Vereen and Karen Ziemba took the stage of Westport Country Playhouse, Westport, Connecticut ( Tazewell Thompson , artistic director, Jodi Schoenbrun Carter , managing director) celebrating guest of honor John Kander, the Tony Award-winning composer of “Chicago,” “Cabaret” and “Curtains,” on Monday, September 24.

Westport Country Playhouse artistic director Tazewell Thompson said, “All this talent, all on one evening, all in one place---Westport Country Playhouse! We are proud to have Broadway’s ‘best of the best’ saluting a true gentleman of the Broadway stage. This is a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable spectacular!”

The annual benefit to support Westport Country Playhouse honored the theatrical achievements of legendary songwriting team John Kander and the late Fred Ebb. All of the artists who performed in this unique event have starred in Kander and Ebb shows and are award winners. The evening was titled “Everybody Loves a Winner,” lyrics from the song, “Maybe This Time,” penned by Kander and Ebb for the film version of “Cabaret.”

Honorary chairs of the fundraiser were Joanne Woodward, artistic director emeritus of Westport Country Playhouse, and Paul Newman. Co-chairs were Kim and Niv Harizman of Westport , Barbara and John Streicker of New York , and Sharon Sullivan and Jeffrey Kindler of Westport , aided by a group of dedicated volunteers from Connecticut and New York .

The celebratory evening included a private, cocktail reception for benefactors with guest of honor John Kander and artists at 6 p.m., a star-studded musical performance in the Playhouse’s Jason Robards Theatre at 7:30 p.m., and dinner with celebrity guests at 9 p.m.

There were silent and live auctions with extraordinary items including a Mediterranean cruise for 10 on the 137-foot private yacht, “Mirabella III”; dinners with celebrities; stays at exclusive vacation homes in Nantucket, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Miami’s South Beach, Colorado’s Beaver Creek and Martha’s Vineyard; tickets to Broadway shows, boxing events, operas and the Super Bowl; and for the kids, a “Blues Clues” birthday party.

Funds raised by the event will further artistic and educational programming at Westport Country Playhouse, now open year-round. “Ticket revenue makes up less than 50% of our annual budget,” said Jodi Schoenbrun Carter , Westport Country Playhouse managing director.

“We look to our annual benefit to provide additional support so that we may continue to present compelling art on our stage today and develop superb educational programming for the young theatre-goers of tomorrow.

“We are counting on the generosity of those who hold the Playhouse in their hearts and minds to help make this premier social and entertainment event an incredible success,” she added.

The Kander and Ebb Legacy

The John Kander and Fred Ebb collaboration of four decades has created what many would consider Broadway standards and contemporary classics: “Flora the Red Menace,” “Cabaret,” “The Happy Time,” “Zorba,” “70 Girls 70,” “Chicago,” “The Act,” “Woman of the Year,” “The Rink,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Steel Pier.” Their collaboration also transferred itself to movies and television as they wrote original material for the Academy Awards, “Liza with a Z” and HBO’s “Liza Minnelli’s Steppin Out,” “Funny Lady,” “Lucky Lady,” “New York, New York,” “Stepping Out”

and “ Chicago ,” The Movie. In 1985, the song “ New York , New York ” became the official anthem of New York City . At the time of the unfortunate death of Mr. Ebb, Kander and Ebb had several projects in different stages of completion waiting in the wings, “All About Us,” an adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth,” produced at Westport Country Playhouse this past spring, “Curtains,” currently on Broadway, “The Visit” and “Minstrel Show.”

Performances by Award-winning Talents

The award-winning performers on the program, in alphabetical order, were:

Shuler Hensley, who appeared in Kander and Ebb’s “All About Us” at Westport Country Playhouse in April, will star as the monster in Mel Brooks’ new musical “Young Frankenstein,” opening on Broadway in October. He portrayed Kerchak in “Tarzan,” Jud Fry in “ Oklahoma !” (Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Olivier Awards) and Javert in “Les Miserables.” Off-Broadway, he was in “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.” Other credits include Phantom in “The Phantom of the Opera” in Germany .

Eartha Kitt appeared in Kander and Ebb’s new musical, “All About Us,” based on Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth” at Westport Country Playhouse last April. Ms. Kitt has an enduring international career that spans theatre, cabaret, television and the recording industry. She won the 2007 Emmy Award for her performance as the voice of Yzma in Disney's series “The Emperor's New School ”; she had been nominated twice for a Grammy Award and three times for a Tony Award.

Debra Monk received a 2007 Tony nomination for Kander and Ebb’s “Curtains.” Other Broadway shows by Kander and Ebb in which she has appeared are “Chicago” (2005) and “Steel Pier” (1997). Ms. Monk won a 1993 Tony Award for “Redwood Curtain.” In 1982, she was in “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” for which she was also co-author and co-director. Off-Broadway she won a Drama Desk Award for “Oil City Symphony” and an Obie Award for “Time of the Cuckoo.”

James Naughton is an acclaimed performer from Broadway and regional theatre to television and films. He is the winner of two Tony Awards as Best Actor in a Musical, for Kander and Ebb’s “Chicago” (1997) and for “City of Angels ” (1990), which also earned him a Drama Desk Award. He met equal success with his solo concert/cabaret acts. He directed a 2002 production of “Our Town” on Broadway starring Paul Newman, which originated at Westport Country Playhouse.

Bebe Neuwirth garnered Tony and Drama Desk Awards as Best Lead Actress in a Musical for her role as Velma Kelly in the 1996 Broadway revival of Kander and Ebb’s “Chicago.” In 2006, she returned to the still-running “ Chicago ,” this time in the role of Roxie Hart. She won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for the 1986 production of “Sweet Charity.” She made her Broadway debut in 1980 as Sheila in “A Chorus Line.”

David Hyde Pierce won the 2007 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for his role in Kander and Ebb’s “Curtains.” He was also in the cast of Broadway’s

“Spamalot.” Pierce is best known for his role as psychiatrist Dr. Nile Crane on the television sitcom, “Frasier.” Throughout the show's 11-year run, 1993-2004, Pierce was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor each year, winning four times: 1995, 1998, 1999 and 2004.

Ben Vereen appeared in the 1999 U.S. and Canadian tour of Kander and Ebb’s “Chicago,” and in the film “Funny Lady,” with primary score by Kander and Ebb. Vereen won a Tony Award for “Pippin” in 1973, and was Tony-nominated for “Jesus Christ Superstar” in 1972. He starred in Broadway’s “Wicked” as the Wizard of Oz, and also appeared on Broadway in “Fosse” and “Jelly’s Last Jam.” Vereen played the African slave Chicken George in the 1977 miniseries “Roots.”

Karen Ziemba portrayed Roxie Hart in Kander and Ebb’s “Chicago,” and Rita Racine in their “Steel Pier” for which she received a Tony Award nomination as well as Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award nominations. She captured the Drama Desk Award for Kander and Ebb’s “And the World Goes ‘Round,” a performance she repeated at Westport Country Playhouse in 1992. Ms. Ziemba won the 2000 Tony Award as Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for “Contact.”

The performance was directed by Peter Flynn. Musical direction was by Mary-Mitchell Campbell.

Playhouse Information

Following a multi-million dollar renovation completed in 2005, the Playhouse is now open year-round, welcoming 85,000 audience members annually. On its legendary stage are theatrical productions, educational programming and special events, including film, readings of short fiction and new plays, and a Family Festivities series.

The rich history of the Westport Country Playhouse dates back to 1931, when New York theatre producers Lawrence Langner and his wife Armina Marshall created a Broadway-quality stage within an 1830s cow barn. Now celebrating its 77th season, the Playhouse has produced more than 700 plays, 35 of which later transferred to Broadway. Its roster of actors reads like a "Who's Who" of the American theatre. Westport Country Playhouse serves as a treasured home for the performing arts for audiences and artists alike, and as a true cultural landmark for Connecticut .

The Westport Country Playhouse is a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit corporation. For more information or to request a benefit invitation, call (203) 227-5137, ext. 138. A schedule of year-round events at the Playhouse is available online at www.westportplayhouse.org

 


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