The event, which they called "A Starry Night," was last night, held at the new Ryan Fieldhouse, which was opened earlier this month. It was mainly built to be an indoor practice facility for the football team, with other sports applications, but the facility can be converted for other kinds of events and seat up to 2,800 people. Because a few areas were blocked off for the reception afterwards, there were probably about 1,800-2,000 in attendance.
Among the many performers participating were --
Stephanie D'Abruzzo (C93)
Nancy Dussault (BSM57)
Gregg Edelman (C80)
Craig Bierko (S 86)
Ana Gasteyer (C89)
Kathryn Hahn (C95)
Heather Headley (C97)
Marg Helgenberger C82)
Laura Innes (C79)
Brian D'Arcy James (C90)
Richard Kind (C78)
Gary Kroeger (C81)
Stephanie March (C96)
Seth Meyers (C96, H16) -- on video
Dermot Mulroney (C85)
Tony Roberts (C61)
Kimberly Williams-Paisley (C93)
There were a few other performers who I didn't recognize by name, but when I saw them knew who they immediately. And not everyone did a musical number or sketch, but rather introduced others and told stories to tie things together.
(And I must add here, too, that the Head Writer for the event was my pal, the occasionally-mentioned here Shelly Goldstein. It was a terrific evening, and hats off to the Lady Shellington, who also performed in one of the sketches.)
Fun, too, was that had a chance to finally meet my email buddy, Morty Schapiro, who is the president of Northwstern. And I had a nice talk, too, with Pat Fitzgerald, the football coach and former All-American linebacker on the team. (I told him that I knew my dad -- who had season tickets for 51 years! -- would want him to know how important Northwestern football was to him.) Both fellows were extremely nice.
And finally (!), something I didn't think would ever happen, but the elves back in Los Angeles taking care of the homestead were jealous, something I didn't think in their DNA.
So, back to the show.
Seth Meyers wasn't able to attend in person, though the show evening with a very funny video of him and Stephen Colbert, sitting at the elegant, fictitious Northwestern Lounge in New York. They reminisced about both having majored in "Talk Show Hosting" while at NU, with minors in Quips, Chit Chat, and Pretending to Listen to a Boring Guest.
The opening number was a funny duet performed by Stephanie D'Abruzzo, who got a Tony nomination for her role in Avenue Q which won the Tony as Best Musical, and Ana Gasteyer, best-known for her years on Saturday Night Live. One of my few quibbles of the night is that, being such a big admirer of D'Abruzzo, I'd have loved to have seen her get a solo number, but with such a line-up, I understand the limitations...
Colbert didn't have a great deal to do throughout the show, although he did introduce several performers and told his connections to them from his time at school -- including a story of his classmate Harry Lennix, who plays the FBI Director on The Blacklist, being the first person to come up to him on the dais after Colbert's controversial speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner (basically, it had to do with George W. Bush and others on the dais being totally silent after a somewhat-concerned Colbert finished, and Lennix saying to his friend, after looking the panelists over, "Fuck all these people"), and he also stuck around to close the evening. But in addition to the very funny opening film Colbert delivered a 10-minute monologue that was wonderful.
(When he mentioned that he takes on the president every night on his show, there was applause through the room. He laughed and ad-libbed, "I don't know if you people are applauding because you like what I say, or if you are supporting the president. I don't think I want to know.")
There was a great trio of sorts with Broadway performers Gregg Edelman -- who had been in the musical City of Angels, and sang a song from the show -- Brian D'Arcy James and Richard Kind. Terrific as they all were, it was D'Arcy James who had one of the highlights of the evening. He starred in the Broadway musical version of Shrek, as well as Something Rotten, and was in the Tony-winning musical Titanic. But as it happens, he was also the original 'King George' in the initial off-Broadway version of Hamilton (returning to the role after the show moved to Broadway, rejoining the cast later in the run), and he performed his show-stopping number from Hamilton, "You'll Be Back." And it was the best rendition of the song I'd seen. Most versions play 'King George' as a bit foppish, and make the song comic, though with a dark underpinning. D'Arcy James however sang it more as a very angry father, controlling his fury while leaving his love on the surface, and it was funny but far more malevolent -- and he brought the house down, getting everyone to join in on the "La-dee-dah-dut-dahhhhs" at the end.
Another highlight was Craig Bierko, who in 2000 took on the risky job of following in Robert Preston's footsteps, and starred as 'Prof. Harold Hill' in the Broadway revival of The Music Man, getting a Tony nomination (as well as winning other awards for it) in the process. He enthusiastically and superbly recreated two songs from the show -- "Trouble" and "76 Trombones." (One of my other quibbles is that the number was oddly staged at the end -- they made it fun, bringing out some of the Northwestern marching band, but it was done in a way that didn't allow the audience to really applaud, and you could tell they were ready to explode.)
End-staging aside, here's Bierko performing the number in full during an appearance with the Boston Pops, under the direction of Keith Lockhart,
There was another fascinating Broadway tidibit worth noting. Adam Kantor is currently appearing in The Band's Visit on Broadway, but he took the night off from the show just to appear in the gala. He sang a song with the same a capella group he had been a part of when at the school (though they didn't do it a capella).
There was a lovely filmed-tribute to Garry Marshall (creator of Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, and director of Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries, Beaches and more), who had a love affair with the school and always tended to have some homage to Northwestern somewhere in his works, lectured regularly at on campus, and donated funds to several buildings. And he gave Head Writer Shelly Goldstein her start in Hollywood, having seen her work at school and offering a a contract. But then, he helped other NU grads, as well.
Richard Kind, who co-starred in the series Spin City, starred in a revival of Larry Gelbart's play Sly Fox on Broadway, and sang "The Inquisition" for Mel Brooks' Kennedy Center Honor, and returned later in last night's show to sing the title song from Bounce, a Stephen Sondheim musical he had starred in, though which never made it to Broadway.
It's not from last night's production, but so that you can get an idea of the evening, here's a video of Kind, along with Howard McGillin -- based on a true life story of two con artist brothers in the early 20th century during the Klondike gold rush up through the Florida real estate boom of the 1920s -- performing the song during the run at the Kennedy Center. The video is mediocre, but he's the one in the smoking jacket.)
It was fun to see veterans Nancy Dussault do solo numbers. (She played 'Maria' on Broadway in The Sound of Music, got a Tony nomination in Do-Re-Mi opposite Phil Silvers, joined the cast of Into the Woods during its Broadway run, and is best-known as the mother on the series Too Close for Comfort. Tony Roberts co-starred in six Woody Allen movies, along with the Broadway stage version of Allen's Play It Again, Sam, and starred in the musical How Now, Dow Jones?) They both recreated -- I assume -- songs they had performed over 50 years earlier in the famous student musical, the Waa-Mu show, now in its 87th year.
(They also performed a few sketches and songs from the Mee-Ow show, an alternative production that was a bit more "cutting edge" to use a term, and more fully student-run. I mention this because I wrote for the very first Mee-Ow show...)
One of the nice touches of the production is that the show included a lot of student participation, mostly as background singers and chorus. But one of the current students, Lucy Godinez (class of 2018), won some local awards for appearing in the Chicago company of Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights, and was given a solo turn, getting to recreate her number "Breathe" from that show. She was great, by the way. With quite a future.
Okay, you can see for yourself. I was able to find a video of her performing the song at a cabaret. (Keep in mind as you watch, she's a college student when singing this) --
(I should also note for regular readers of these pages that Heather Headley’s first song was a tender ballad performed while a montage was shown of special people they wanted to honor from the School of Communication. One of whom was Newton Minow, father of the oft-mentioned here Nell.)
This isn't from the event last night, but five years ago, and it's not a great video, but this is the song that Heather Headley ended the night with, "Home" for The Wiz.