Overcast skies provided the backdrop for the Public Theater’s lively and politically charged annual gala on Monday night at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, celebrating 50 years of musicals with a program titled “Hair to Hamilton.”
Performances from Broadway regulars including Anika Noni Rose and Phillipa Soo were peppered in between ensemble performances from “A Chorus Line” and “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” among others.
Public Theater Board chair Arielle Tepper Madover kicked off the show by sharing a few remarks to celebrate the legacy of philanthropist and early champion of the Public Theater LuEsther T. Mertz. The theater’s executive director Patrick Willingham followed to set the scene.
“Thank you for joining us on this night that threatened horrible weather, and instead is going to give us this lovely evening to enjoy this incredible show,” he said as associate artistic director Mandy Hackett shushed him from behind the podium.
Finally, artistic director Oskar Eustis set the mood just before the show began. “What the theater is, when it works right, is a machine for making community,” he said. “What you’re going to see tonight is a glimpse of these shows. What I hope it reminds you of is that all these shows had a purpose … We do them as our contribution to the civic dialogue.”
The show’s title was well-incorporated throughout the show. The music of “Hair” bookended the evening by kicking off the 90-minute show with “Aquarius” and accompanying the curtain call with “Let the Sunshine In.” “Hamilton,” too, came up several times including Brian d’Arcy James‘ hilarious rendition of “You’ll Be Back.” Brandon Victor Dixon, who currently plays Aaron Burr in the show on Broadway, elicited enthusiastic cheers for his performance of “Lost at Sea” from “Public Works’ The Odyssey.”
But perhaps the most on-the-nose (prosthetic, that is) performance came from John Lithgow, who altered the words to “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” from “The Pirates of Penzance” to be about former lieutenant general Michael Flynn.
The event raised $2.8 million for the Public Theater, making it the most successful gala to date. Before the show, guests snacked on vegan lo mein and sipped pink wine and gin drinks in a sectioned off lawn by the Delacorte.