You could barely move backstage at the Ahmanson Theatre on Saturday night. Turn right and you'd bang into Matthew Broderick, turn left and you'd slam into Edward James Olmos, and Louis Gossett Jr. was behind. Meanwhile, Jennifer Hudson was onstage belting out the soulful finale of the Center Theatre Group's 50th anniversary celebration.
The dozens of actors and actresses, including Alfred Molina, Phylicia Rashad and Tzi Ma, were getting ready to take the stage for the evening's curtain call. It was a stage most of them were intimately acquainted with. The performers had highlighted each decade of Center Theatre Group's history through the memories, monologues and songs of those who lived it.
Broderick re-created a scene from "Brighton Beach Memoirs." Olmos did his opening bit from "Zoot Suit." Annette Bening helped to stitch together the final scene from Angels in America." Jimmy Smits performed a piece from "Children of a Lesser God." Culture Clash hammed up a portion of "Chavez Ravine." And that was just a sampling.
"There was 35 years of rust on it and we had a little line flub, but other than that it was perfect," Broderick said, taking a breather in the lobby after his monologue. "It was actually kind of thrilling to stand in the exact spot where I did that play, which was such an incredible time in my life."
Actor Davis Gaines nodded in agreement. "I spent two and a half years on that stage doing "The Phantom of the Opera,' and to stand up on there was pretty cool, just looking out."
Broderick added, "And when you see the amount of material that has come from this theater, it's amazing. These are some of the best works of our time."
This last thought seemed to be the consensus of those in attendance — more than 1,000 Los Angeles theater fans, including civic leaders such as former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and cultural heavy hitters like Yuval Sharon, artistic director of the critically lauded experimental opera company the Industry.
Sharon commented on how interesting he found the history outlined in the show — a highlight of which came early in the night in the form of a story told by actor Frank Langella. He spoke about what it was like to star in the first play staged by CTG in 1967, directed by the company's first artistic director, Gordon Davidson.
The show was "The Devils," by John Whiting, and it takes place in France in the early 1600s. It notably features crazed nuns, exorcisms, masturbation and torture.
"I became the very first actor to perform sexual intercourse on the Mark Taper Stage," Langella said, adding that during the scene, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy walked out.
"And thus began the exodus," Langella recalled as the audience howled with laughter.
"I played my final scene to a sea of abandoned furniture and Natalie Wood in the front row," Langella concluded. "The next day the newspaper reviews were devastating."
The company would not look back as it established itself nationally as an important producer of plays and a cultural leader for the city. Under the guidance of current Artistic Director Michael Ritchie, CTG looked forward. Two high school seniors, Aryana Williams and Shaila Essley, performed monologues as a testament to what is to come.
The evening ended with a ritzy dinner held under the stars in Grand Park and a splashy light show projected on the Art Deco tower of City Hall. Guests dined on endive tamales with quesillo, poblano chile and béchamel from chef Ray Garcia, and spiced yellowtail with pickled vegetables, basil coulis and soy-lime vinaigrette from Patina Restaurant Group chef Andreas Roller, among many culinary treats. The celebration raised about $4 million for CTG, representatives said.