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Theater Thrills at Dreamgirls Benefit

September 25, 2001, 12:00 AM EDT

Dreamgirls 20th anniversary benefit for the Actors' Fund of America Monday, 09.24.01 Cocktails and performance: 6 PM onward, Ford Center for the Performing Arts After-party: Lundy Brother's Restaurant Times Square, 11:30 PM onward
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“One Night Only” is the title of one of the songs from the Broadway hit Dreamgirls, and it also described the sold-out concert that marked the show's 20th anniversary and served as a benefit for the Actors' Fund of America. The performance featured what could be called a dream cast, including Tony winners Heather Headley, Audra McDonald and Lillias White as the Dreams (a group of Supreme-ish beings).

It was also a quintessential New York night, with a great evening of theater that helped build a sense of unity in the audience, a welcome feeling during the difficult time facing New Yorkers recovering from the World Trade Center attacks. After that tragedy, the planners at the Actors' Fund decided that their mission (helping entertainment professionals across the country through programs including social and health care services) was as important as ever, and went ahead with the event. As Broadway actor and Actors' Fund board member Brian Stokes Mitchell said in his introductory remarks before the show, “The show must go on.”

Before the show, theatergoers with the most expensive tickets attended a cocktail party sponsored by Veuve Clicquot Champagne, which featured a nice selection of hors d'ouvres (smoked salmon,.phparagus wrapped in proscuitto) from Good & Plenty to Go. Both levels of the beautiful rotunda lobby of the Ford Center for the Performing Arts were filled with a buzzing theater crowd, and everyone seemed happy to be out and seeing people they knew. The security guards seemed to have a more dominant presence than usual, although there was no bag checking at the door.

Once inside the theater for the 7:30 curtain time, the audience got a little restless after 7:50 came with no sign of the performance starting. (Among the crowd: Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Chris Meloni, Rosie O'Donnell and Luther Vandross.) Finally, at 8:00 Mitchell appeared on stage to welcome the crowd, offering the presence of divas backstage as the reason for the delay. He also acknowledged two special guests, New York firefighters from the Midtown divisions, who received the first of numerous standing ovations of the evening. Mitchell also thanked the evening's sponsors, including M.A.C. Cosmetics (also the show's makeup consultant), Target, Clear Channel Entertainment, The New York Times and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

As for the show itself, it was as magnificent as it promised to be with such an extraordinary abundance of talent involved (and all working for free). Headley, McDonald and White were simply astounding. Because it was a concert performance, some performers appeared with scripts in hand, but dazzling lighting and spirited choreography brought the show closer to a full-scale production, and the very enthusiastic crowd didn't seem to miss the sets.

After the curtain call, White--the star among stars of the show--exhorted everyone to continue to buy theater tickets in the current hard time for Broadway. The evening was also a reminder of what a thrilling experience live theater can be.

After the show, top-ticket buyers and members of the cast boarded chartered buses to Lundy Bros. Restaurant Times Square, where an overpacked, loud after-party with lengthy food lines had the vibrant energy of the evening, if not the performance's polished sparkle. The consolation: A fun gift bag, printed with Target logos and filled with diva-style booty including a M.A.C. lipstick, Li-Lac chocolates and a feather boa.

--Chad Kaydo and Susan Silver

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