On Monday, March 30, 2015 at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, the Amas Musical Theatre Company, under the artistic leadership of Donna Trinkoff, celebrated its star-studded 46th Anniversary Gala/Benefit. Amas is a non-traditional, ethnically diverse, not-for-profit theatre company, founded in 1968 by the late Rosetta LeNoire. The name of the Company, Amas, the Latin word for “you love” describes just how the attendees lovingly found the evening’s program. In the lobby, the Affair began with a champagne reception and a silent auction of a variety of items: scarfs, jewelry, weekend getaways, among many, many, other items.
From the lobby, patrons and benefactors moved into the theater proper where they entertained by Peter Filichia’s engaging introductions and his loving trip-down-memory-lane: describing Ms. LeNoire’s inspiration for establishing Amas in 1968. Filichia poignantly noted that without Rosetta LeNoire’s vision and pioneering efforts of “color-blind casting in the Arts”—the best performer gets the role regardless of race or color—one of the night’s 2015 Rosie Award recipients, Norm Lewis, would never have been cast in the leading role of Broadway’s Phantom.
A riotous live auction with Bob Keefe took place, followed by a sneak preview performance from the Amas Academy Teens’ upcoming production of FAME. All of what I’ve written, so far, was just the beginning of the evening. The main event was a benefit performance/concert starring two-time Tony Award nominee Vivian Reed. This ageless Diva’s repertoire included Jazz, Soul, Pop, Blues, Classical, Ballads, Sondheim and Arias. Ms. Vivian worked the stage and meandered through the audience. She strutted her stuff and the audience responded numerous times jumping to their feet. The love offered was duly returned by Vivian as she called special shout outs to playwright Mikki Grant (Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope) and other luminaries sitting in the audience.
That was just half of the night’s offerings!
Ms. Reed, following her performance, had the honor of bestowing the coveted 2015 Rosie Award on two of Broadway’s brightest black stars—one from the past and the other from the present. Musical director/arranger Danny Holgate for his past contributions: (Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope, Bubbling Brown Sugar and Amas’ 1976 Tony Award-nominated Best Musical Eubie). Vivian Reed graciously presented Mr. Holgate his award at his seat with great deference to his contributions to the Arts in general; to the Amas Theatre; in particular, to Vivian’s career; and to his obvious physical fragility. Ms Vivian then introduced Norm Lewis (The Phantom of the Opera, Porgy & Bess, Les Miserables, The Little Mermaid, Side Show among others) and called him to the stage.”
The humble and gracious Lewis, in his brief acceptance speech, expressed how the Arts had helped him to navigate his youth. He also mused about the potential difference an Amas Theatre could have made in his life and others living in Eatonville, Florida, his hometown. Following his acceptance speech, Lewis presented the 2015 Honoree and Scholarship Award Recipient Award to Sheika Murray. There is a tradition at Amas of giving back and paying it forward. Amas is one of the oldest non-profit theaters still operating in New York City.
A buffet dinner and silent auction ended the evening, but not the Benefit Affair. You can visit Amas’ website amasmusical.org and click donate/volunteer to make a contribution and help to keep excellence in the arts through our youth alive and thriving.