The Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, which specializes in turning words on paper into stories onstage, lived up to its reputation for transformations Saturday as it hosted Centerstage 2011. The annual fundraising dinner for the Dallas Theater Center was held in the Wyly’s Potter Rose Performance Hall, which had been turned into into a “beautiful supper club” for the evening. Gone was the Hall’s theater seating, replaced by a look reminiscent of the simple, classic nightclubs of the 1930s and ‘40s. Think gauzy curtains, white-peonies centerpieces, two or three big Art Deco-style overhead lighting fixtures, and a simple stage with a stand-up mic for the evening’s elegant entertainer. But more about her later.
The supper-club description came from host committee chair Jay Oppenheimer (who also said proudly that Wyly’s metamorphosis came in “under budget”). Jay was greeting guests at the “Martinis and Manhattans” cocktail party before the dinner with Jeanne Marie Clossey, the host committee’s underwriting chair, at his side. Jeanne Marie was also spotted in conversation with Mark Weinstein, the brand-new president and CEO of the AT&T Performing Arts Center. This was Mark’s”coming out” appearance at a PAC event, as he’d only arrived in Dallas three days earlier.
Weinstein, who previously ran the Washington National Opera alongside Placido Domingo, wasted no time working the room, chit-chatting with Hal and Diane Brierley (they were major underwriters for Centerstage) and bending low to talk with Margaret McDermott (she was on the host committee, and the Eugene McDermott Foundation was a major underwriter as well). Also enjoyingthe reception were underwriters Billie Leigh Rippey, Tincy and Vance Miller and Caroline Rose Hunt (accompanied by Bob Brackbill).
Deloitte honcho Blaine Nelson, board chair-elect of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, said his “date” for the evening—and for the next few days—was his daughter, Kimberly. She’s from Utah, Blaine said, but not for long, as she and her husband are relocating to Washington, D.C. Other faces in the crowd included
Kidney Texas president Megan Meyercord; Yvonne and Mayo Crum (they had to duck out early because Mayo’s back was giving him a fit) and Jill Rowlett (Jill’s husband Tracy was home with their son Michael for the night); John Clutts of The Clutts (modeling/talent) Agency; airline executive Don Carty and his wife Ana (just back from a week in Italy with their two sons); fragrance designer Niven Morgan; and Barbara Brice with her fiancé, Jim Walsh. Jim couldn’t help
beaming about his son, Dallas-reared Pat “Sponge” Walsh, a four-star Navy admiral and commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Pat had been busy the last few days, Jim said, speaking in Washington D.C., San Diego, and San Francisco to commemorate the 69th anniversary of World War II’s Battle of Midway (June 4-7, 1942).
While guests enjoyed their dinner—stacked Caesar salad, horse-radish-crusted prime rib, butterscotch apple crumb “pie” with ice cream—Dallas Theater Center officials took to the raised stage and got down to business. Board chairman Frank Risch, who said Centerstage’s purpose was to “celebrate the complete transformation” of the DTC after 53 years, predicted a 25 percent rise in attendance, to as many as 95,000, for the 2010-2011 season. Risch then introduced Heather Kitchen, the DTC’s new managing director, who’s been in Dallas just 11 weeks. Heather, who relocated from San Francisco, said that when she’s asked the biggest difference between California and Texas, she says, “This is the most friendly, accepting place I’ve ever been in my life.”
DTC artistic director Kevin Moriarty (he wore red sneakers with his dark blazer, taking the evening’s “anything-but-black-tie” dress code to heart) described the recipients of the gala’s fundraising including Project Discovery, the theater group’s flagship education program. One of the participants in that program—Mickey Giles, who’d graduated from his high school in Garland just hours earlier—told the crowd that “it took Project Discovery to turn my dreams into gold.” Mickey’s talk must have done the trick, because a lot of money was raised for the DTC in the next few minutes.
Auctioneer/actor Chamblee Ferguson asked for bids of $5,000, $2,500, $1,000 and so on, down to $100. When all was said and done, Chamblee announced that a whopping total of $118,600 had been pledged.
Then it was time for the elegant entertainer we mentioned earlier: Oklahoma native Kelli O’Hara, who’s made a name for herself as one of Broadway’s leading ladies. A three-time Tony nominee (for her roles in The Light in the Piazza, The Pajama Game, and South Pacific), Kelli wowed the crowd with classic tunes like “All the Way,” “Make Someone Happy,” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.” But her biggest applause may have come for something called “Opera-Country”—a spoofy, “semi-autobiographical-but-not-really” song about a country gal who goes to New York and makes it big in the opera world. O’Hara was backed during her set by pianist Adam Ben-David, on loan for the night from his associate-music-conductor duties with The Book of Mormon.
No sooner had the applause for O’Hara died down when “Wedding Bell Blues” by the Fifth Dimension started blaring over the sound system, signaling the Wylie’s final transformation of the night. New York drag queen/DJ/comedienne Lady Bunny had begun spinning discs for the Centerstage after-party.
Last we saw the Cartys and the Millers were among those out on the dance floor, helping cap a great evening for the DTC.