BY JACKIE BRYANT
The 2017–2018 Porchlight Music Theatre season has been filled with milestones for the 23-year-old company. It began with Billy Elliot the Musical at Porchlight’s new home in the Gold Coast, The Ruth Page Center for the Arts, with the largest cast in its producing history. Subscriptions have never been higher for both of its series, Porchlight Revisits and New Faces Sing Broadway.
An additional milestone must now be added: the recent 2018 ICONS Gala at the Ritz Carlton set a new attendance record and raised more funds than previous events, directly benefitting Porchlight’s artistic and educational programs. The elegant Gala Brunch, chaired by Tamara Sims, included performances from Chicago’s leading talents celebrating the nearly 80-year career of Fred Astaire and the presentation of the 2018 Guy Adkins Award for Excellence in the Advancement of Music Theatre in Chicago to choreographer Brenda Didier. Tamara commented:
“The ICONS Gala brings together music theater lovers of all ages to spend a Sunday afternoon celebrating Porchlight and its mission. My favorite part is seeing so many friendly faces who have supported the organization through the years, and who continue to support Porchlight, all in one room. The energy when the first performers take the stage evokes joy, happiness, and an appreciation for the music theatre art form like nothing else.”
Guests asked to raise mimosas, as well as paddles, included Todd Arp and Brian Donlan, Cheri Coons, Wynne Delacoma, Diane Graham-Henry and Tom Hall, Tom Perry, Joan and Marco Weiss, Chris and Diane Whatton, and Elaine Cohen and Arlen Rubin, Elliot Fineman, Rhona and the Honorable Julian Frazin, Bob and Mardee Gramen, Diane McGowan Tracy and Ed Tracy, and Jamey Lundblad and Bill Melamed.
David Fiorello, pianist and vocalist, performed with each of the dancers. He greeted the attendees with the classic Fred Astaire hit song Top Hat, White Tie and Tails. Porchlight Music Theatre’s Executive Director, Jeannie Lukow, shared highlights of the past season including the launch of Porchlight’s Write Your Own Musical youth summer camp and the move to Ruth Page. Artistic Director Michael Weber followed with a review of the incredible life of this year’s ICONS honoree, Fred Astaire. He introduced Jeff Award-winning Matt Crowle for an astonishing tap dance performance to A Shine on Your Shoes.
Weber then presented The Guy Adkins Award for the Advancement of Music Theatre in Chicago to director/choreographer Brenda Didier. Weber commented:
“It is no coincidence that the same year we honor the multi-talented Fred Astaire, we are honoring Brenda—an incredible, creative force of nature wrapped in a loving, caring human being. She is not only a mentor and an inspiration to many but also a friend. Porchlight and its audiences eagerly await her signature style when she directs the classic A Chorus Line for Porchlight in 2019.”
Didier took the stage with a standing ovation to accept the award, and by the time she had finished, there was not a dry eye in the ballroom. Didier’s honest, heartfelt speech showed why she is so beloved by the community.
“When I first received the email from Michael Weber that I was the recipient of the Guy Adkins Award this year, I had to read his email about three times to be sure I was reading these words. I immediately felt humbled and so very grateful. I had seen Guy’s work on many stages over the course of his incredible career, but I was not fortunate to know him personally.
“I talked with his sister, Jane, and really learned who he was off the stage. I followed his Facebook entries during his cancer journey from 2009 until his passing in 2010. To receive this award is a true honor for me. As a cancer survivor, I feel very connected to Guy’s story and will continue to honor him and this award through my work on and off the stage.”
Before brunch the audiences delighted in another dance performance, this time Begin the Beguine from Broadway Melody of 1940, performed by Michael George and Joe Capstick. And following the sumptuous brunch, two virtuoso dance couples, Dina DiCostanzo, Tammy Mader, Steven Spanopoulos, and Tedd Greenwood, performed to Change Partners.
James Earl Jones II, currently starring in Porchlight Music Theatre’s Memphis at the Ruth Page Center, gave a spectacular sample of the 2018–2019 season, which kicks off with 1776.
The final event before a show-stopping version of Puttin’ on the Ritz from Blue Skies performed by Ja’Bowen Dixon was a paddle raise. Tony Gibson, Vice Chair of Porchlight’s Board of Directors, engaged the record crowd as he highlighted this transformative time for Porchlight and how much-needed support will help continue to build its artistic excellence, its ability to hire the very best talent on an off the stage, and its commitment to education and outreach for Chicago’s youth, particularly those from underserved communities.
Photo credit: Michael Courier