Malibu Seen

THE PLAY’S THE THING

It was a celebration of all things theater as the Geffen Playhouse held its annual Backstage at the Geffen fundraiser. Legendary locals Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews co-hosted the intimate evening, which offered an insider’s look at the behind-the-scenes doings you don’t hear about and the unscripted theater moments you don’t get to see.

Many Geffen vets turned out for the festivities. Beautiful Roma Downey, in a turquoise-green sequined cocktail dress dazzled everyone as she walked the red carpet. Roma won rave reviews for her performance in last season’s “A Picasso” and brought along daughter Reilly as her special date. The aspiring 11-year old actress already has some serious theater cred of her own. She starred as Alice in last year’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” and will soon step into the lead role of Elphaba in “Wicked” at the Magicopolis Theater.

The sweet smell of spring was in the air at the VIP cocktail reception. The Geffen gates were festooned with apple blossoms, fragrant hyacinth and giant proteas, while the outdoor starfish pond was sprinkled with pink and yellow rose petals. A jazzy trio played snappy American standards while servers made the rounds with crispy duck tacos and ahi tuna tartare.

Eli Broad was still beaming with pride over his recently opened Broad Contemporary Art Museum. “We are thrilled with the way it turned out,” he raved to Malibu Seen. “L.A. is absolutely going to become a center of contemporary art. People are going to come here from all over the world.” But as this night belonged to the theater, we asked him to name his favorite Geffen play. Ever-wise Eli issued the correct spousal response saying,” you’ll have to ask my wife.”

Soon it was show time. Producing Director Gil Cates welcomed the Saint Paddy’s Day crowd noting that theater people and the Irish have much in common. “Theater people are full of Blarney, full of tall tales and always looking for a pot of gold.” Gil also spoke about the things that make live theater unlike any other form of entertainment. “Once we see it, it is gone forever,” he observed. “The moment is enshrined only in our memories.”

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He told the audience to prepare for a special evening of shared stories from the performers themselves. Anything was fair game as long as it was “legal, forgiven or past the statute of limitations.”

Roma regaled the gathering with stories of her early days on Broadway. Imagine her delight when the great Rex Harrison asked if she wanted to star in a revival of “The Circle.” “Why yes,” was her reply. “Where do I sign?” Roma was over the moon, that is, until she discovered that “The Circle, was a dreary old play that no one had any business reviving at all.” Sharon Lawrence recalled her days as a Kit Kat Girl in “Cabaret.” Her unplanned theater moment came when she fell right off the stage and into the lap of a napping man.

There were honors in store for two big names in the entertainment biz. Annette Bening and Robert Iger were feted for their many cultural contributions and their love of theater. “Non-profit theater is where I watched my first play,” Annette said. “It’s where I started and I feel so grateful.”

Dick Van Dyke even broke out with a little bit of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” It was a trip down memory lane, which put a smile on the face of his Mary Poppins co-star.

The evening of stories, salutes and song raised $575,000 for the Geffen’s education and outreach programs. It’s a record breaker that double’s last year’s take. Bravo!

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