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ON BROADWAY! Report from the Audience

If you didn’t recognize the acronym CTFD or know much about what that organization, Career Transition for Dancers, does, you’d still be ready to fork over a generous donation after seeing the great show they put on Monday night at City Center—their biggest fund-raiser of the year and a true gala for musical theater buffs.

What else could you call it when you’re treated to Tommy Tune, in a tux, doing a softshoe to Gershwin; the uber-attractive (not to mention talented!) couplings of Jane Krakowski and Cheyenne Jackson, and Karen Ziemba and Noah Racey; and an appearance—and even a little hoofing—by Angela Lansbury...all in the space of two hours? Plus, there were performances of iconic dance numbers from musical theater history, with the original choreography by Robbins, de Mille, Fosse, Champion and Stroman. CTFD’s 23rd Anniversary Jubilee, “On Broadway! A Glittering Salute to the American Musical,” also featured film clips, testimonials and award presentations.

Yet the scene-stealers may have been Herman Cornejo and Xiomara Reyes of American Ballet Theatre and their stunning “Pas de Deux” from Le Corsaire. Cornejo leaped across and around the stage to gasps from the audience. They were introduced by Kelly Bishop, A Chorus Line’s original (and Tony-winning) Sheila, whose actual childhood memories became lyrics of “At the Ballet.”

Lansbury, fresh off knee replacement surgery, was the first star to come on stage, escorted by choreographer Donald Saddler. She joked about being “the bionic woman” with her multiple knee and hip replacements, then presented an award for outstanding contributions to the world of dance to Brian Heidtke, a former Colgate-Palmolive exec who’s a major supporter (and board member) of ABT. In his acceptance speech, Heidtke said his appreciation of the art was probably fueled by his own ineptitude on the dance floor—and he pointed to his wife in the audience in case anyone wanted to verify his claim. Another award for outstanding contributions to the world of dance was presented by Mikhail Baryshnikov to Sono Osato (pictured, left), one of the first Americans in Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, who also danced in the original Broadway productions of On the Town and One Touch of Venus.

The gala opened with a film montage saluting stage and screen choreographers past and present. And future: The final clip was of the three boys who share the title role in the yet-to-open Billy Elliot. Footage came from movies, Tony Awards performances and other telecasts, and the audience burst into applause upon seeing Jerry Orbach, as 42nd Street’s Julian Marsh, exclaim “Musical comedy: the most glorious words in the English language!”—which certainly set the tone for the evening. Three Fosse vets, Bebe Neuwirth, David Warren Gibson and Pam Sousa, performed the “Manson Trio” from Pippin and shared reminiscences of Fosse. Sousa had done the number on Broadway in the ’70s (judging by how she and Neuwirth looked in their camisole leotards, Fosse dancing must do a body good). The Fosse tribute continued with Krakowski and Jackson reprising their “Two Lost Souls” from this summer’s Damn Yankees at City Center, and concluded with a perfect execution of “Steam Heat” by Curtis Holbrook, Mary Macleod and Alex Sanchez.

Additional performances included Racey and Ziemba in “Shall We Dance” (no, not that one) from Crazy for You; “Cool” from West Side Story; an excerpt of the Oklahoma “Dream Ballet,” by the New York Theatre Ballet; Leiber and Stoller’s “On Broadway”; and 42nd Street’s opening audition scene, led by Randy Skinner, who had choreographed the 2001 revival but used Gower Champion's original choreography here.

And for something completely different, the Nanjing Acrobatic Duo of An Nan and Zhu Zhengzhen dazzled with a piece they do in the Big Apple Circus. In a novelty blending of ballet and Chinese acrobatics, An performed arabesques and other ballet moves en pointe while balancing on Zhu’s back, shoulders and, finally, head (pictured, right).

George de la Peña and Mark Baird talked about the assistance they’d received from CTFD when they decided to stop dancing. Gala producer Ann Marie DeAngelo gave a similar testimonial on behalf of Leda Meredith, who DeAngelo said wasn’t speaking for herself because she’d just had knee surgery and didn’t want to hobble onto the stage. Career Transition for Dancers, founded in 1985, provides resources, networking, counseling, scholarships and grants to dancers who are moving into other professions.

The final award of the evening—the grand prize, you might say—was presented by Brooke Shields to Tommy Tune, who brought back memories of My One and Only by crooning “’S Wonderful” and dancing to “Embraceable You” (pictured, left). Shields spoke of how Tune was instrumental in her career transition from Hollywood celebrity to Broadway performer by casting her (stuntcasting, she admitted) in the 1990s Grease revival, which he produced. Tune, who’s celebrating his 50th year in show business, made a charming acceptance speech and, holding up his award of a Rolex watch, quipped “There’s no present like the time.”

He then confided (facetiously?) that the finale had not been rehearsed, so he and the cast would quickly do so now in full view of the audience. The curtain went up, Tune taught them all the combination, curtain came back down, and Tune recited a poem he remembered from the program of his first dance recital, at age 5 in Houston. That was the cue for the finale: Tune launched into “It’s Not Where You Start,” which he’d sung on Broadway in Seesaw, and then everyone—Lansbury and Shields included—danced, just as Tune had just taught them. Bravo! (See below for finale photos.)

We have to give credit to the dancers in the ensembles. In “Cool” they were: Joey Calveri, Stuart Capps, Leo Ash Evens, Stephanie Fittro, Shiloh Goodin, Ryan Jackson, Logan Keslar, Jamie Markovich, Kiira Schmidt, Matthew Steffens and Ryan Worsing. In “Two Lost Souls”: David Baum, Jimmy Ray Bennett, Robert Bianca, Rachel Coloff, Mary Ann Lamb, Pamela Otterson, Adam Perry, Karine Plantadit, T. Oliver Reid, Jon Rua and Chandra Lee Schwartz. And the t-t-terrific tappers of 42nd Street: Jeremy Benton, Brandon Bieber, Sara Brians, James Gray, Billy Griffin, Jordan Grubb, Tiffany Howard, AJ Hughes, Angela Kahle, Robin Levine, Joseph Medeiros, Emily Morgan, Alison Paterson, Colin Pritchard, Katie Rooney, John Scacchetti, Erin West, Anna Aimee White and Worsing. As I said, bra-vo!

The performance was followed by dinner, dancing and a live auction at the nearby Hilton. Items up for bid included tickets to the Vanity Fair Oscars party, a walk-on role in In the Heights, a New Year’s Eve champagne and dessert party for 20 in a room overlooking Times Square, and vacations in Italy, France, Napa Valley and Park City. Attendees went home with a Capezio bag packed with dancer gear and other gifts. Presenting sponsor of the “On Broadway!” gala was Rolex, with major underwriting provided by Condé Nast Publications and the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation. The event raised $1.085 million for CTFD.

Tune shows everybody what to do for the finale.

Brooke Shields (second from right in front) joins in the finale, next to David Warren Gibson (right).

Tune (in foreground, left) leads (from left) Cheyenne Jackson, Jane Krakowski, Randy Skinner and the rest of the cast in the big sendoff!

Brooke Shields, David Warren Gibson, Angela Lansbury and Tommy Tune take a choreographed bow with the ensemble.

For BroadwayWorld’s photo coverage from the Hilton, click here. For photo coverage of the dress rehearsal, click here. All photos in this story by Adrienne Onofri.        

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From This Author - Adrienne Onofri

Adrienne Onofri has been writing for BroadwayWorld since it was launched in 2003. She is a member of the Drama Desk and has moderated panels with theater artists on such topics as women playwrights... (read more about this author)