Angela Lansbury, the great star of stage, film, and television, was honored April 12 with the first annual Stephen Sondheim Award, given by Virginia's Signature Theatre at a black-tie Gala Benefit at the Embassy of Italy. The Sondheim Award, established by Signature last year in the name of America's most influential contemporary musical theater writer and composer, was presented to the actress by Mr. Sondheim himself.
The presentation followed a dinner and tribute performance to Ms. Lansbury by Broadway stars Victor Garber, Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley, and Washington favorite Sherri L. Edelen, staged by Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, co-founder of Signature Theatre. Signature, the 2009 recipient of the Tony Award® for Regional Theatre, is internationally renowned for its productions of Sondheim works.
When Ms. Lansbury's award was announced Mr. Sondheim stated, "Angela Lansbury's first appearance on the musical stage was in a show called Anyone Can Whistle, for which I wrote the score. That appearance was a gift to the musical theater, although perhaps not such a gift to her, since the show only ran for nine performances. I am thrilled that Signature Theatre is helping me make it up to her by giving her the first Stephen Sondheim Award."
More than 350 guests attended the black-tie dinner and tribute raising $350,000 in support of artistic, education, and outreach programs of Signature Theatre. The Gala exceeded the company's goal and is the most successful fundraising gala in the Theatre's history. The Gala was chaired by C. Daniel and Juliann Clemente with Honorary Hosts actors Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bernadette Peters, and Michael Cerveris; philanthropists Helen Henderson and Ted and Mary Jo Shen; political leaders Italian Ambassador Giulio Terzi, Virginia Senator Jim Webb and Mrs. Webb, and Virginia Congressman James Moran and LuAnn Bennett; and Platinum Level Sponsors Bonnie and Kenneth Feld.
Signature Theatre also recognized an exciting emerging artist Patrick Thomas Cragin, with the 2010 Sondheim Award Gala "Young Artist Citation." The encouragement of an exceptionally talented young person in the field of musical theater was made part of "The Stephen Sondheim Award" at the request of Mr. Sondheim, who has been generous throughout his career in giving his time and insights to young artists. Mr. Cragin, a senior at The Catholic University of America, has appeared on Signature's stage as an understudy in two productions, Giant and Show Boat, as well as on various stages throughout the Washington area. After graduation he plans to relocate to New York City and make his career as a performer in musical theater. Signature presented him with a certificate and a round trip train ticket to New York for his next audition, and will continue to support his efforts.
Music for the tribute included songs significant to both Ms. Lansbury and Mr. Sondheim. Sherri L. Edelen sang the Styne/Sondheim song "Some People" from Gypsy and George and Ira Gershwin's "A Foggy Day (in London Town)" which was Ms. Lansbury's first audition song for Mr. Sondheim. Jason Danieley sang "Not While I'm Around" from Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, Victor Garber sang "Anyone Can Whistle" and Marin Mazzie sang "There Won't Be Trumpets" also from Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle. Patrick Thomas Cragin sang "Younger Than Springtime" from Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. Oscar Hammerstein II was one of Mr. Sondheim's mentors.