Broadway lights shine on Lenox for Shakespeare and Company gala
LENOX -- What do you get when you mix tap dancing, show tunes, Broadway stars and -- wait for it -- Shakespeare? The answer is "Broadway in the Berkshires."
Something of a one-night only variety show at Shakespeare & Company's Tina Packer Playhouse, the event kicks off on Monday, with a cocktail hour at 5 p.m. before the 6 p.m. performance, which features accomplished stage performers like Tony Award-winner Tonya Pinkins.
Hosted by stage actor John Douglas Thompson and directed by New York-based Sam Scalamoni, the evening of song, dance and food benefits the company's education and training programs.
Two years after the first "Broadway in the Berkshires" gala netted about $50,000 for the nonprofit theater, the event's producer, Deborah Grausman, and the company's artistic director Tony Simotes are hoping that they can make lightning strike twice.
For Simotes, the event is not just a fundraiser -- it's a way to build a bridge between the kinds of Elizabethan-era theater that Shakespeare & Company is renowned for, and the more modern razzle dazzle of the Great White Way.
"Shakespeare and Broadway looks like an odd match until you think about it," said Simotes, who got his start as a musician before pursuing acting. "Music was always a big part of theater for myself, and I knew that in my position as artistic director and president of Shakespeare & Company, I wanted to find a way to express that."
Enter Grausman, a New York-based singer and actress who participated in the company's monthlong intensive actor training program back in January 2011. A classically-trained singer who studied voice as an undergrad at Duke University, Grausman began her career in opera before transitioning to musical theater. Hesitant to tackle Shakespeare, Grausman took on the program at the insistence of a longtime family friend, the actress Annette Miller -- with whom she currently stars alongside in the company's production of "Master Class."
"She kept saying, you have to do it, you have to do it. It's going to change your life," Grausman said.
Apparently, Miller was right. Grausman said that she walked away from the training program with a deeper understanding of Shakespeare's words, and noticed that, as soon as she got back to New York for auditions, her work had changed.
"I was much more centered, and much more grounded. I was able to access those deeper emotions," Grausman said.
Feeling enriched by the program, Grausman, whose mother is on the theater's board of trustees, wanted to find a way to continue to be involved. She and Simotes discussed ways in which they could stage an event to raise funding for the training program.
"I always saw this vision for the company in that we continued to bring music to our programs, and ‘Broadway in the Berkshires' gave us a terrific kickoff in that it shows how the space could be utilized in a great way for music," Simotes said.
With their shared interest in music and Grausman's background and connections in the New York-centric musical theater world, "Broadway in the Berkshires" was born. With only six weeks to plan, Grausman assembled a roster of actors -- many of whom were currently performing on Broadway -- and a behind-the-scenes artistic team to donate their time to the single-night event.
Held on Aug, 15, right in the middle of Hurricane Irene, the performance was a huge success, proving to be what Simotes called "a gem of the season."
Wanting the event to remain special, Simotes said he and Grausman hope to hold the benefit every other year.
"To put this together, I email friends who are on Broadway, have worked in touring productions, some have won Tonys -- these are all incredibly busy people who are donating their time," Grausman said.
In an unpredictable business, sometimes actors cancel, which, surprisingly, is not a setback for Grausman, who will also perform during the evening. She said there are always more people asking to get involved.
While the out-of-town performers and musicians involved are donating their time to the show, Simotes said the company made a point of making their short stay in the Berkshires as comfortable as possible.
"It is incredibly generous of these world-class artists to take the time to do this for us," Simotes said. "We are not an organization that has a lot of money to just throw at people, so we try to do the best we can to make them feel welcome and comfortable."
Grausman reached out to several local inns to offer rooms to some visiting artists, while some of the company's local donors are opening up their homes to others.
Coordinating a benefit event like this one means hours of phone calls, emails and severely truncated rehearsal times for performers and tech crews. It also means that the final product is "the preview, opening and closing nights all in one," Simotes said.
Simotes said the hard work is worth it.
"We all came from programs like this one," Simotes said. "All of us has a story from music camp, high school, or somebody in our lives who made something available to us when we ere younger to get us excited by the craft. You see yourself in the young person who is coming in, sees someone on stage and says ‘I want to do that.' "
What: "Broadway in the Berkshires." A special benefit in support of Shakespeare & Company's education and training programs
Who: Shakespeare & Company
When: Monday -- cocktails 5:30 p.m.; performance 6 p.m.; dinner reception 7:30 p.m.; VIP after-party reception 9:30 (for Angels, Producers and Underwriters)
Where: Tina Packer Playhouse, 70 Kemble St., Lenox
Tickets: For information call (413) 637-1199 ext. 117; shakespeare.org
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