The American Theatre Wing’s annual gala was held on Sept. 12. The event honored the late Antoinette “Tony” Perry and women in theater.
Broadway News was in attendance as dozens of performers, up-and-comers and industry veterans celebrated the honorees while raising money for various programs to help support pathways for the next generation of theatermakers.
Guests mingled and sipped the famous Cipriani’s bellinis before sitting down to dinner and being treated to more than a dozen performances. The energy was palpable as guests returned to the Wing’s gala for the first time in two years — a hiatus prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic and industry shutdown.
Heather Hitchens, president & CEO of the American Theatre Wing, delivered opening remarks, thanking attendees for “continuing to believe, continuing to support and continuing to create,” adding, “but most importantly, thank you for your commitment to come back better.”
“I think it’s fair to say Antoinette Perry would be very proud of what [the Tonys have] become.”
Hitchens also touched upon the fight for women’s rights, stating, “We need to make sure we are uplifting and including women” — especially as they remain underrepresented in the industry.
For the performance portion of the evening, Georgia Stitt, the gala’s music director and an honoree, brought together a band that included Rosa Avila, Beth Callen and Yuka Tadano.
Stitt told Broadway News that curating music and getting to know women in theater is so much of what she enjoys.
“To be able to showcase the greatest work from their catalogues in this room with the greatest theatermakers in the industry [feels] like such a gift,” Stitt said.
“Then I got to put together this talent and these songs and show that these people do exist, these songs do exist … if you’re not seeing them and you’re not finding them, you are not looking hard enough. They are out there and I’m so happy to be able to showcase them in this way.”
Among the talent Stitt brought together for the evening was Leilani Patao, a 2020 winner of the Wing’s and the National Endowment for the Arts’ Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge. Patao performed an original composition entitled “Imposter Syndrome” while singing and playing guitar, accompanied by Stitt’s band.
“My main thing is that I love telling different stories — stories that are not so represented on Broadway — and honoring women and women’s stories,” Patao told Broadway News. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
Also among the performers were Amber Gray tributing the late Liz Swados; Charlotte Maltby honoring Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon; Luna singing from the upcoming Broadway musical “KPOP” to honor Helen Park; Kate Baldwin tributing Stitt and Elizabeth Stanley honoring Lynn Ahrens.
In honoring Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Caesar Samayoa sang “Remember Me,” delivering a tear-jerking rendition of the tune from the Disney animated film “Coco.”
Sherz Aletaha sang “Change the World” to honor Rona Siddiqui, who appeared onstage to accompany the tune with the percussion instrument boomwhackers. Siddiqui ditched her shoes and was on her hands and knees with two others, all spotted smiling and laughing while maneuvering the tuned percussion tubes.
The Broadway Boys, NaTasha Yvette Williams, Bonnie Milligan, Gretchen Cryer and Aisha de Haas were also on hand to perform tributes throughout the night.
Emilio Sosa, who was named the Wing’s new Chair in 2021, delivered remarks right before the auction portion of the evening began, reiterating the importance of funding the Wing’s various programs.
“The work that’s being done, it really is reaching the people that it needs to go to. You’re actually changing people’s lives,” Sosa said. “Since March 2020, the American Theatre Wing has contributed to more than $1.5 million in grants,” he continued, noting that the Wing continued to provide them despite the COVID-19 pandemic and industry shutdown.
Sosa was joined by Marilu Henner to assist with the auction part of the event.
The American Theatre Wing’s goal is to raise over $1.2 million for programs including the Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative, the Jonathan Larson Grants, Springboard to Design and The Network for Emerging Leaders in the Theatre.
The honorary chairs at this year’s gala included Lynn Ahrens, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Dede Ayite, Lileana Blain-Cruz, Camille A. Brown, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, Linda Cho, Diana DiMenna, Sonia Friedman, John Gore, Maria Manuela Goyanes, Rachel Hauck, Palmer Hefferan, Susan Hilferty, JoAnn M. Hunter, Alia Jones-Harvey, Amy Jacobs, Toni-Leslie James, Erica Jensen, Cookie Jordan, Natasha Katz, Lorin Latarro, Mimi Lien, Kathleen Marshall, Cricket S. Myers, Shakina Nayfack, James L. Nederlander, Nick Scandalios, Cynthia Nixon, Lynn Nottage, Jordan Roth, Tara Rubin, Catherine Schreiber, Christine Schwarzman, Leigh Silverman, Cherie B. Tay, Jeanine Tesori, Liesl Tommy, Bob Wankel, Donyale Werle, Tamilla Woodard and Paloma Young.
The gala was co-produced by Staci Levine of Groundswell Theatricals and Lauren Class Schneider of Class Productions.