Record crowd celebrates Neal Balkowitsch and Liesl Tommy, helps raise $1.275 million

Managing Director Michael Maso surprises guests with deed to Huntington Avenue Theatre

(BOSTON) – Huntington Theatre Company board and staff are celebrating the shattering of a fundraising record at the Spotlight Spectacular gala, Monday, May 7. Held at the Boston Center for the Arts Cyclorama, the gala brought in $1.275 million to support the Huntington’s operations for the fiscal year, including its broad range of education and community outreach programs.

More than 480 guests – the gala’s largest-ever crowd – honored Wimberly Award recipients including Tony Award-nominated director Liesl Tommy, who has directed several Huntington shows including the current production of Top Girls, and Huntington Trustee Neal Balkowitsch, CEO of Max Ultimate Food (which provided the event’s gourmet food). The event was co-chaired by Carol G. Deane, Maria and Daniel Gerrity, and Ann and John Hall.

During his remarks, Huntington Managing Director Michael Maso broke news that earlier in the day he had received the signed deed to the Huntington Avenue Theatre, which the company now owns outright after its separation from Boston University and the sale of surrounding buildings. The Huntington will renovate the historic theatre as part of an overhaul of the one-block stretch of Huntington Avenue.

“As of 2 hours ago, the deed to this historic theatre is ours!” Maso said. “It is now our job to restore this beautiful theatre to its former glory, not for the sake of architecture, but for the sake of art, for the sake of the people we serve in this community, for artists, and for audience members, and for the thousands of young people we serve and for whom we are gathered here tonight.”

After a cocktail reception, guests were seated for the dinner and the evening’s program. Eden Espinosa, Maurice E. Parent, and Patrick Varner kicked off the evening with a performance of “Old Friends” from the Huntington’s acclaimed production of Merrily We Roll Along. A spirited live auction led by Maso featured exciting trips and unique experiences and drew significant bids. Guests also donated more than $270,000 to sponsor the Huntington’s student matinees. All proceeds raised at the “Spotlight Spectacular” support the theatre, including award-winning education and community initiatives that reach more than 30,000 students and 6,000 community members annually.

The evening continued with presentation of the Gerard and Sherryl Cohen Awards for Excellence, which recognizes Huntington production and administrative staff members each year. This year’s recipients were Wardrobe Supervisor Christine Marr and Company Manager Jazzmin Bonner. During the presentation, Sherryl Cohen quoted staff members about Marr saying, “Christine works very well under pressure, tech is hard. Not completing a quick change in the allotted number of seconds is hard. Having to do it over and over until it is right is HARD. But she does it with grace and determination and will never let an actor see her frustration, ever.” Gerard Cohen continued saying, “As company manager, Jazz (Jazzmin Bonner) deals with a cast of characters! There isn’t a time where she doesn’t have their best interests at heart. Even in some of the more stressful times Jazz has done it with a smile and an attitude we should all strive for.”

Artistic Director Peter DuBois presented Liesl Tommy with the Huntington’s Wimberly Award. Tommy first attended the Huntington as a local high school student and has since returned four times to direct acclaimed classic plays including A Raisin in the Sun and the current production of Top Girls. Tommy was unable to attend the event due to a health issue, but sent a video message thanking the Huntington, saying, “I’ve never felt more confident and more valued than when I work at the Huntington. The trust that has been placed in me allows me to do the best work I possibly can. Some of the productions that I am most proud of in my career have been at the Huntington as I have felt so free to be a true interpretive artist.”

Gala co-chair Carol Deane presented the second Wimberly Award to Neal Balkowitsch. In accepting, Balkowitsch spoke passionately about the impact the Huntington had on the South End neighborhood when it built the Calderwood Pavilion: “I watched the Calderwood revitalize our neighborhood, and I know that the Huntington Avenue project will do the same for the Avenue of the Arts and the many deserving young people across the Greater Boston area who are waiting to be introduced to theatre.”

After dinner Eden Espinosa returned to treat guests to “Ring Them Bells!” a number made famous by Liza Minnelli. Yvette Freeman Hartley sang “Ain’t Misbehavin’” as a tribute to Liesl Tommy, and Maurice E. Parent and Patrick Varner sang “I’m Nothing Without You” from the musical City of Angels as a tribute to Neal Balkowitsch.

Event design was by Rafanelli Events, lighting and sound design by High Output, rentals were provided by Be Our Guest, event printing was donated by Noble Ford Productions, and the event was catered by MAX Ultimate Food.

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