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Center Theatre Has a Ball--at Last

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Among the events canceled because of last spring’s riots, the Center Theatre Group’s 25th anniversary ball was by far the biggest. Although it was quickly rescheduled, some wondered whether the CTG could regroup and reassemble an evening with the same fanfare and panache.

Last Thursday night, the show finally went on--and the answer turned out to be a definite yes.

“We’ve been waiting in the wings for quite a long time,” said honorary co-chairman Nancy Livingston. The evening’s chairs were Joan Burns, Phyllis Hennigan and Deborah Tellefsen. Lew Wasserman served as honorary chairman.

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“I never thought we could get it all together again,” said the evening’s honoree, CTG Artistic Director Gordon Davidson, as he watched the crowd stream into the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton.

It was a night for reminiscence. “At my first audition for Gordon, I was a kid,” recalled actor Bruce Davison. “I went all out and cried about how I was broke. Gordon said, ‘Don’t worry. My wife supported me for years.’ And then he didn’t give me the part.”

That very supportive wife, publicist Judi Davidson, was there with the extended Davidson family: son Adam; daughter Rachel; Gordon’s mother, Alice, and his brother, Bob.

Before the show, Carol Burnett confided: “I’ve never worked with Gordon before. I guess I’m using tonight as an audition.”

After dinner, Burnett performed songs and comedy (and, yes, a Tarzan yell) with several artists who have appeared on Music Center stages: Obba Babatunde, Dorian Harewood, Andrea Marcovicci and B. D. Wong.

The three theaters at the Music Center--the Ahmanson Theatre, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Mark Taper Forum--were represented by guests Caroline Ahmanson, Otis and Bettina Chandler and an entire table of Mark Taper’s grandchildren. Robert Fryer, former artistic director of the Ahmanson Theatre, spoke, as did CTG Board President Lawrence Ramer.

Frank Langella, who was in the Taper’s first production, “The Devils,” reminisced about the controversial and explicit drama, which drew pickets and negative editorials in 1967. “On opening night,” said Langella, “we were into the second act, and I saw Gov. and Mrs. Reagan heading up the aisle for the door.”

Other actors who spoke briefly about their association with the Music Center included Kathy Bates, John Glover, James Greene, Earl Holliman, Hope Lange, Ron Leibman and Jessica Walter, Michael Learned, Hal Linden, Norman Lloyd, Penelope Ann Miller, Lois Nettleton and Brock Peters.

Other CTG benefactors and supporters in the audience of about 650 were Chairman of the Board David Haft and his wife, Roberta; Armand and Harriet Deutsch; James Doolittle; Roger and Joanne Kozberg; Stephen and Judith Krantz; Norman and Lyn Lear; Gregory and Veronique Peck; Jimmy and Gloria Stewart, and Felisa Vanoff.

Gordon Davidson was introduced by Otis Chandler, who presented him with a Robert Graham sculpture. Accepting it, Davidson apologized to his wife for “25 years of divided attention,” and spoke of the Music Center as “not a melting pot, but a fusion” of Los Angeles’ diversity.

That diversity was only one of the changes in the L.A. theatrical world that was visible during the evening. At the tables, talk turned to cuts in arts funding, and many of the guests wore red lapel ribbons in memory of theater colleagues lost to AIDS.


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