Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Even Without Its Leading Lady, Sarah Siddons Society Award Concert & Presentation Provides Plentiful Rewards -- Recap

Theater Event Recap

Sarah Siddons Society
Actor of the Year Award Presentation
Honoring Brian D'Arcy James and Sutton Foster
(Foster not present)
Pick Staiger Concert Hall
Northwestern University
May 16, 2016

(Note: This is a recap, not a typical theater review. Photography was forbidden at the event, so I was not able to take & share photos as I did for the 2015 Sarah Siddons Society award presentation honoring Jessie Mueller.)

The first words spoken at the Sarah Siddons Society’s Actor of the Year award ceremony Monday night served to essentially erase my principal reason for attending.

In welcoming the audience to Northwestern University’s Pick Staiger Hall, Communications Dean Barbara O’Keefe quickly announced that Sutton Foster—one of two Broadway stars being honored by the SSS—was unable to attend due to a personal emergency.

Certainly, in the scheme of things, this constitutes a relatively minor disappointment, even for those of us who are big fans of Foster—and from the sound of it, there were plenty in attendance. Whatever emergency she is dealing with is obviously far more consequential than my slight inconvenience, and I truly hope everything works out for the best.

And though she is a fabulous performer I was looking forward to seeing yet again, Foster was seemingly only slated to perform 2-3 songs within the 90-minute program. While she was clearly missed, the Sarah Siddons Society and its artistic director Dominic Missimi nonetheless put on a enjoyable event highlighted by her co-honoree, Brian D’Arcy James, a Northwestern grad and likewise a bona fide Broadway star.

Click here for a list of previous
Sarah Siddons Society award recipients
Benefiting the erstwhile Chicagoland-based organization that took its name from a reference in the movie All About Eve and provides scholarships to Theater students attending Northwestern, Roosevelt and DePaul Universities and Columbia College, the revue-type show featured several excellent performances.

A group of current Northwestern students performed a customized version of “Raise the Roof” from Broadway’s The Wild Party to salute both Foster and D’Arcy James, who each appeared in productions of the Andrew Lippa-composed musical. A video tribute from Lippa then ran.

Besides D’Arcy James, the program also showcased NU alums Christine Mild (a 2002 SSS scholarship recipient), Michael Mahler (a 2003 recipient who played two compositions from his original musicals Hero and October Sky), Devin De Santis and Kate Baldwin, a Broadway star currently leading Lyric Opera’s The King and I.

In various combinations, the Northwestern students and alums sang a nice selection of songs from musicals in which Foster (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Little Women, Anything Goes, Violet) and D’Arcy James (Titanic, Hamilton (off-Broadway), Sweet Smell of Success) have starred.

All of these impressed, with "I Get a Kick Out of You" (from Anything Goes) led by Adhana Reid being a particular standout.

Along with Foster, also absent despite being listed in the printed program were composer Jeanine Tesori—who wrote the score for, among others, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Violet and Shrek the Musical, the last of which starred both D’Arcy James and Foster—and Sun-Times columnist Bill Zwecker, who was to read some video testimonials to the two honorees alongside Porchlight Theatre artistic director Michael Weber.

The affable Weber rendered Zwecker not sorely missed—notwithstanding a somewhat questionable joke about Bill being out bike riding with Sinead O’Connor—as he read effusive statements about Foster and/or D’Arcy James from Broadway colleagues.

These included directors Kathleen Marshall, Jason Moore, Michael Mayer, Casey Nicolaw and actor Christian Borle, who currently co-stars with D’Arcy James in Something Rotten. I noted that neither he nor Weber mentioned that Borle had also appeared with BDJ in the TV show Smash and had previously been married to Sutton Foster. (I wondered if this may have made for a slightly awkward moment had she been present.)

On a night off from The King and I, Kate Baldwin delivered a sparkling rendition of “Hello, Young Lovers” from that show—accompanied, as was everyone, by music director Ryan T. Nelson and an orchestra comprised of NU students and alums—before delivering a sweet introduction to the man with whom she co-starred in a musical adaptation of the film Giant.
“Brian D’Arcy James is a national treasure, the nicest man in show business and my friend” 
...Baldwin enthused, while reminding that in addition to his stellar Broadway career, he was seen in the reigning Best Picture Oscar winner, Spotlight.

Alongside some of the Northwestern students, D’Arcy James then demonstrated the resplendence of his leading man voice in a run-through of “God I Hate Shakespeare” from Something Rotten.

Broadway producer Barbara Whitman took the place of Jeanine Tesori in introducing—albeit in absentia—Sutton Foster, lauding her “triple threat” singing, dancing and acting talents, two Tony Awards and storybook rise from an out-of-town understudy in Thoroughly Modern Millie to its Broadway star…and ultimately one of the most renowned stage performers of this century.

I likewise hold Foster in extremely high regard, having loved her on Broadway in Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Drowsy Chaperone and Anything Goes, as well in concert at Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse in 2011.

She has also been kind enough to fulfill a couple of my requests to autograph ticket stubs by mail, and her television work (on Bunheads, Younger and soon the Gilmore Girls Netflix reprise) has also made her seem super cool.

As I said above, I hope her personal emergency proves not too dire, and I understand why her participation in the festivities was precluded.

Yet with no lasting perplexity, I still must note that this adds to a rather hit-and-miss personal history in terms of ticketed evenings with Sutton.

In March 2003, I ventured to New York with a ticket to Thoroughly Modern Millie, only to have the performance cancelled due to a musicians' strike. (I was fortunately able to get back to NYC that July and catch the terrific show.)

In 2005, I had a ticket to Little Women, only to have it close before my trip to New York. And in 2008, I went to NYC largely to see Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, only to have an understudy cover Foster's Inga role that night.

Still, though I purchased my ticket to the Siddons event in good part due to the inclusion of Foster, not only was the whole evening altogether worthwhile for a good cause, but especially given the venue, there was something apt about D'Arcy James getting even more of the, um, spotlight. (As it was, the SSS giving dual Actor of the Year awards seems unprecedented.)

Not only is the NU alum a first-rate talent who I first saw in the 2002 pre-Broadway Chicago run of Sweet Smell of Success--in a role for which he would win a Tony--and then in a Millennium Park Sondheim concert, Broadway's The Apple Tree in 2007 and regularly on Smash, he is the first person to have been awarded a Sarah Siddons Society scholarship (in 1989) and subsequently an Actor of the Year Award.

After delivering a splendid "Who'd I'd Be" from Shrek, in place and in honor of Foster, he accepted his award from Dominic Missimi--a longtime NU Professor who, along with Theater Dept. Chair David H. Bell, seems to have maintained touch with the actor throughout his career--and Sarah Siddons Society President Marc Kaufman.

In his gracious acceptance speech, Brian D'Arcy James paid tribute to current theater students and three cherished acting teachers: his sister Ann who teaches theater at New Trier High School, Missimi and Bud Beyer, another Northwestern theater professor who in the actor's sophomore year instilled this fundamental tenet:

"Who you are shows through in what you do."

Click here for a list of previous scholarship winners
The event then ended, appropriately, with D'Arcy James wonderfully belting out "Let It Sing" from Violet alongside most of the evening's other performers.

Earlier, Missimi read off the names of the 2016 Scholarship Winners--see nearby graphic--and had them stand in the audience for a round of applause.

Hence, although the program was a delight in its honoring and showcasing of Broadway luminaries, perhaps even more rewarding is knowing that it may well help foster (yes, pun intended) future ones.

Visit to learn more about the organization, including opportunities to contribute financially and otherwise.

No comments: