“Tonight we honor Peter Grad, who passed away suddenly last summer,” began David Hyde Pierce on Wednesday at the final “A Night at Sardi’s” benefit — founded by Laurie Burrows (daughter of playwright Abe Burrows) and her late husband Grad (an MTM Television executive) 23 years prior, to support the Alzheimer’s Association. “His example as a charitable and loving man inspires us and lives with any of us who ever came in contact with him. Many of his jokes live with us too, and for that, we will never forgive him.”
What will also clearly live on is the “A Night at Sardi’s” legacy, evidenced by the loyal alum from Peter Gallagher to Jason Alexander to Eric McCormack — “No one had ever heard of me when this first began!” McCormack said — who returned to reenact their favorite numbers, which helped to generate $28 million over the 23 years, for the show’s final performance at the Beverly Hilton. Tissue packets were provided.
“I can’t stop crying,” confessed a heartbroken Burrows, whose son Nick Grad (president of FX Networks) and brother James Burrows (the “amateur director,” joked Pierce of the man behind “Frasier,” “Will & Grace,” “Friends,” “Cheers” and “Taxi”) stepped in to co-chair the musical gala in Grad’s place. “My copious tears could have been more helpful in stopping the California drought than El Nino,” she continued, before telling her “sweet Peter,” who always poked fun at her lavish wardrobe in their opening address, to “rest well” — that she’d bought her dress on sale 20 years ago, and her jewels were borrowed.
“My parents had the most special dynamic… they looked at each other with stars in their eyes,” affirmed Nick Grad, also citing his parents’ annual opening bit (in which his father routinely made “a potentially sexual” comment about his mother, to his personal mortification). “I would give anything to hear that naughty, loving, embarrassing banter just one more time.”
“But as we all know, in both charity and in show business,” followed actress and upcoming Alzheimer’s book author Kimberly Williams-Paisley, whose mother has dementia, “the show must go on.” And so, it did — just one more time, with the torch afterwards being passed to Seth Rogen and Lauren Miller, who’ll continue the Alzheimer’s fundraising efforts via their Hilarity for Charity event. (“We had an actual torch backstage that I was going to pass to Seth Rogen, but he thought it was a gigantic doobie and smoked it,” Alexander quipped, before the eager alums kicked thing off.)
A dapper Joey McIntyre opened with a dazzling “Swonderful” from “Funny Face,” while his former “The McCarthys” co-stars Jack McGee and Tyler Ritter took the comedic root for a second year, performing “Loverly/A Little Bit of Luck” from “My Fair Lady.” “(McGee) actually has a beautiful voice,” noted Ritter, who’ll soon have a recurring role in sitcom “Young and Hungry.” “I’m not tone-deaf — that’s about as nice as I’ll be to myself,” he joked, selling himself rather short.
Disney Channel star Dove Cameron overtook the room with her surprisingly strong vocals in “Gimme, Gimme” from “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” before Sardi’s vet and oft-drag-dressed performer Steven Weber reprised “Trouble” — during which, “somewhere my dad will be smiling and singing along,” promised Nick Grad.
McCormack also brought back a favorite — “I Got Life” from “Hair,” which he debuted 13 years ago, and which started the trend of moving things offstage and “taking it into the audience.” (“The first year that I did that, I sat on the lap of Nick Grad,” McCormick proudly told Variety.)
McCormack and Weber later joined forces for a comical duet — in which the pair rewrote the lyrics of “Agony” (from “Into the Woods”) to bemoan their struggles of staying relevant in Hollywood (i.e., having once been considered “must-see TV”). Another big laugh-scoring hit was Barrett Foa’s “One Day More” from “Les Miserables” — which the “NCIS: Los Angeles” star performed in many voices (as if a whole ensemble), showing his many sides.
“The Big Bang Theory” cast has, for several years, been mainstays of the Sardi’s program, but this year, Kaley Cuoco also took the stage solo and dedicated a routine to Peter Grad (before chiming out about “tits and –ss” in her racy “A Chorus Line” number).
Gallagher, one of the very first Sardi’s performers at the inaugural show, had turned to Burrows after singing “Luck Be a Lady” 23 years ago, and said to her, “My mother has Alzheimer’s,” Burrows recalled. For his Sardi’s farewell, he reprised the vibrant “Guys and Dolls” tune. Honoree and Oscar-winning songwriter Keith Carradine, joined by his brother, sang another classic, “Look Around” from “Will Rogers Follies.”
Alexander, who last year opened the show with “Money” from “Cabaret” — “I blatantly said, ”Just give us money!’” he reminisced — directed “You’ll Be Back” from “Hamilton“ to Sardi’s founder Burrows (who told Variety that, while she’ll be assisting with Rogen’s event, she’s most definitely done with the beloved Broadway-themed fundraiser).
Still, when the cast of “The Big Bang Theory” colorfully closed the night with two numbers from “Grease” — chanting the words “we’ll always be together” as the entire Sardi’s ensemble joined them onstage — one could only hope.