Le Conte Avenue was bopping the other night as they celebrated one of the season’s most delightful evenings – the annual Backstage at the Geffen fundraiser. Every year, some of the world’s most sought after stars take the stage for an informal celebration of all things theater.
The gala kicked off under the heat lamps outside, where a six-piece jazz combo played above the rafters and guests could check out the new Geffen expansion next door. The place was decked out with massive arrangements of white tulips, hydrangea and Casablanca lilies. Beau Bridges and the Smothers Brothers posed for snaps as servers made the rounds with endive ratatouille cups, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears and rolls of grilled eggplant. An extremely pregnant Gena Davis said a few hellos before heading for a side entrance. The Oscar winner waddled backstage in a clingy black mini dress, flashy fishnet stockings, and definitely made an impression.
“Look at those stilettos,” gasped producer Sandy Varo. “How does she do that?”
Regulars like Ginny Mancini were all abuzz about the big changes about to take place. Beginning this month, the Geffen closes its intricately carved doors for 15 months in order to make way for much needed improvements like better bathrooms, parking and stage space. In the meantime, performances will take place at the nearby Brentwood Theater. Director Gil Cates was unfazed about maintaining his support base during the transition.
“Oh, I’m not worried,” he said with the wave of a hand. “Good theater is good theater.”
After a light supper of penne pasta, grilled artichokes and Greek salad, we headed inside. The performance kicked off with Sharon Lawrence belting out the Broadway classic, “Cabaret.” She was followed by laugh-out-loud snippets and anecdotes from Christine Lahti, Beau Bridges, Annette Bening, Debbie Allen and Gina Davis. Mega-talent Tom Hanks wrapped it all up with a heartfelt and humorous tribute to actor Karl Malden.
“When I was growing up he was everywhere,” Hanks said. “Every movie had Karl Malden in it. Every time you turned on TV, Karl Malden was there shaking his fist. He was the scariest, most intense human being I had ever seen. As an actor, if you wanted to be intense, you wanted to be Karl Malden.”
Malden received a standing ovation from his fans in the audience and his peers on the stage. He had words of thanks for his pals and words of praise for the Geffen and its future.
“This is going to be an international theater,” Malden said. “I know every actor will want to work at the Geffen, and I intend to be here to see it happen.”
You can bet your American Express card he probably will.