The Public Theater held its annual gala Tuesday in New York, and raised $2.4 million toward its ongoing mission to both support emerging dramatic voices and to present top-flight productions of Shakespearean plays, free of charge to the public.
The gala, which took place at the Delacorte Theater and counted Anne Hathaway, Sting, Eliot Spitzer, Peter Dinklage, Jon Bon Jovi and Christine Baranski as guests, was immediately followed by a crackling performance of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” starring Sam Waterson (who has been working with the Public Theater since a 1963 production of “As You Like It”) as Prospero, and “Modern Family” actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson as the drunken jester Trinculo.
But before the performance, Patrick Willingham, executive director of the Public Theater, took time during the Gala to both thank the Public Theater’s artistic director Oskar Eustis and wife Laurie Eustis for their decade of hard work, as well as longtime supporters Anne Spitzer and the late Bernard Spitzer for their support of the organization and for helping them revitalize their Astor Place headquarters.
Willingham went on to brag about the great year the Public has been having: “Fun Home,” which was supported in its infancy by the Public, won five Tony Awards, including best musical, and the hip-hop musical “Hamilton,” also supported by the Public, has won nearly every dramatic award but a Tony (it won’t be eligible until next year’s event), including the New York Drama Critics and Obie Awards.
“I wasn’t even thinking about working on Broadway before ‘Hamilton.’ It was not a thing that was on my radar. I’m not somebody who feels at home easily,” said “Hamilton’s” Daveed Diggs. “I tend to feel like a fish out of water all the time, and Oskar and Laurie make it feel like home. I still go to (the Public) and take naps sometimes.”
“Their commitment to making theater for everybody is really important to all of us, because they managed to get so many kids into see (‘Hamilton’). The fact that they raffled off the first two rows of shows in a small theater, they’re not making tons of money,” he said.
After the dinner, playwright Tony Kushner spoke about his friendship with Oskar and Laurie Eustis. Kushner was the godfather to their son Jack Eustis, who passed away last year.
“It would be very easy for me to talk about what I admire in my best friend Oskar: his brains, his bravery, his big beautiful heart, his skills as a builder, his manly good looks, his beard, his unflagging devotion to the public good,” he said in his speech, adding that without his friend’s early support he would be something awful “like a Republican presidential candidate,” and then said “and nothing is easier than to tell you what I admire in my beloved Laurie: her brains, her bravery, her fierce, loyal, enveloping, nurturing love and… her democratic yet aristocratic, elegant, homespun, complex invention of her deliciously original self.
“Every time we go to the Public or come see what is going on on this most magnificent stage, we must remember that we are seeing what love produces.”
(Pictured: “Hamilton’s” Daveed Diggs and Lin-Manuel Miranda flank The Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis)