Lunch in the Limelight for the Producers


By Masha Leon

Published May 09, 2003, issue of May 09, 2003.
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“I’ll do anything for Isabelle Stevenson [American Theatre Wing’s chairman of the board]… even wear men’s clothes,” declared master of ceremonies Harvey Fierstein at the Wing’s April 14 luncheon, which honored 12 Broadway producers — all women: Dasha Epstein, Carole Shorenstein Hays, Terry Allen Kramer, Margo Lion, Elizabeth Ireland McCann, Lynne Meadow, Chase Mishkin, Nelle Nugent, Daryl Roth, Anita Waxman, Fran Weissler and Elizabeth Williams.

“Were there no women producers, there would be no me,” said Fierstein (star of the impossible-to-get-tickets-to “Hairspray”).

“Between them, they gave us 126 shows, 101 Tony Awards and were responsible for jobs for 2,104 actors,” said Fierstein, who’d earlier mugged for the cameras with actors André De Shields and Mary Bond Davis.

The 500 guests jammed into the Pierre Hotel’s ballroom included Lauren Bacall, Walter Cronkite, Beth Rudin de Woody, Patti Kenner, Charles Grodin, Stewart Lane, Frank Langella, Marion Seldes, Betsy von Furstenberg, Wings’ president Roy Somlyo and event chairs Clarissa and Edgar Bronfman Jr. An all-male cast of Broadway veterans — among them Hinton Battle, Joel Grey, Lonny Price and Arthur Rubin — reprised solo performances from Broadway shows.

“I have a story for you,” my tablemate Richard Seader said when he heard I was with the Forward. “In the 1960s I was the company manager at ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.’”

“When Zero [Mostel] was blacklisted,” Seader continued, “he had a difficult time earning a living … so he did weekends in the Borscht Belt. He’d drive up every Friday afternoon and stop at the [Catskills landmark] Red Apple Diner. Zero went into the men’s room and, as a gentleman approached the next urinal, Zero said to him in Yiddish: ‘You look like Marc Chagall.’ The man replied in Yiddish: ‘I am Chagall!’… That’s how their friendship began.… Zero used to say ‘Don’t call me an actor, I just act to support my painting.’”

* * *

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman; its consul for cultural affairs, Ofra Ben Yaacov, and its deputy consul general in New York, Simona Frankel, attended the April 22 New York debut of the Inbal Pinto Dance Company’s production “Oyster” at Joyce Theater.

Disregard the treyf title; the work is kosher. There’s neither sight nor hint of any shellfish in this puzzling fable that overflows with metaphors about manipulation, love lost and found, escape, aging — and ver veys (who knows) what else? The work is mind-bending, the dancers sublime, the costumes witty, the music — from Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” to Harry James’s rendition of “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” to Yma Sumac’s four-octave warbling of “Taki Rani” — is simply delicious. Entranced, I joined in the standing ovation.

* * *

On a cultural roll, Ambassador Gillerman was in the audience for the April 27 benefit performance of “Golda’s Balcony” (extended through June), starring Tovah Feldshuh as Golda Meir. The benefit raised $50,000 for Operation Access, a project of Tel Aviv’s New Cameri Theatre. Amina Harris, chairwoman of the International Society of the Cameri Theatre, touted Operation, which invites Israelis and Arabs for “an evening of sightseeing and a play” (with simultaneous Arabic translation) to help foster good will between the groups.

Aaron Ziegelman, chair emeritus of the American Friends of the Cameri Theatre, posited that the vision of the Jews as the “People of the Book” needs to encompass “culture,” which he said is “as important as the necessities of life.”

Ziegelman had another reason to kvell: The documentary “Luboml,” which he funded, aired April 29 simultaneously in Israel and the United States. It depicts his Polish hometown’s flourishing pre-war life.

Of “Golda’s Balcony,” Feldshuh later told me: “It’s the greatest role of my career, and I am privileged to spend every evening with the prime minister…. To be her is to learn from her… a mother lioness screaming for peace in the belly of war.”

* * *

Terrorism expert Steven Emerson was the keynote speaker at the April 8 Jewish National Fund “Tree of Life Dinner” at the Waldorf-Astoria. The author of “American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us,” Emerson said, “I believe we are turning the corner on international terrorism, [but]… we must not let our guard down.”

He warned that groups including Hamas and Hezbollah use “the United States as a sanctuary,” filtering hundreds of millions of dollars through shell companies. Emerson applauded Fleet Bank — whose executive vice president, William McCahill, was the dinner’s honoree — as “having come to my attention because, after 9/11, it was involved in tracking terrorists’ funds.”

Emerson recalled his testimony before Congress: “‘There is no such thing as terrorism.… There are terrorists. Each has a name, address, face.” He lamented the absence of an Islamic Reformation… the separation of church and state.”

He concluded: “I believe the terrorists will revisit New York and Washington as they did in 2001. [Osama] bin Ladin and [other fundamentalist] Islamic leaders are obsessed by the freedom symbolized by New York’s downtown…. The bad guys have to succeed only once. The good guys have to succeed thousands of times.”

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