by Melissa Griegel
Photos by Melissa Griegel Photography http://griegelphoto.zenfolio.com
The York Theatre Company’s 28th Annual Oscar Hammerstein Award Gala was a love-fest exalting the incredibly talented André de Shields (Hadestown). He was named this year’s winner of the 2019 Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theatre. Producer Riki Kane Larimer (Cagney) was honored with the The York Theatre Company Founders’ Award.
The festivities took place at the Edison Ballroom and included a silent and live auction to benefit The York. The highlight of the live auction was two tickets to Hadestown and dinner with André de Shields, plus a professional photo taken with André. The cocktail party and auctions were followed with dinner and a concert honoring Mr. de Shields and included hits from some of the musicals he has starred in during the last 50 years.
André was striking on the red carpet with his zebra-striped tails, matching shoes, and red accents. Host Charlayne Woodard (Ain’t Misbehavin’) looked equally fashionable in her red dress that nicely complemented André.
York’s Producing Artistic Director James Morgan presented Riki Kane Larimer with the Founders’ Award. Riki is the Vice President of the Board of Directors at The York Theatre and produced the widely-acclaimed production of Cagney starring Robert Creighton. Robert Creighton performed a medley in her honor along with Melissa Schott, Jessica Wokenfuss, and Edward Talve.
André de Sheilds is the “triple-crown winner” of the 2019 Broadway awards season. Playing Hermes in Hadestown, André was bestowed with the Best Featured Actor in a Musical by the Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk, and Tony Awards. He was also awarded the Richard Seff Award by the Actors’ Equity Foundation.
Still working eight shows a week on Broadway, André’s career spans 50 years with shows like The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Emmy Award), Play On!, The Full Monty, Hair, and André de Shields’ Harlem Nocturne.
Students from Marymount College serenaded the audience with “Aquarius” from Hair, and students from the Musical Theatre Training Program sang an “OH Dream Medley.” Tyneshia Hill and the Boys and Girls Choir of Harlem Alumni Ensemble eased on down the aisles to the stage singing “Ease on Down the Road” from The Wiz. Rounding out the young performers was nine-year-old Kylie Kuloka (The King and I, National Tour) who sang “Believe in Yourself” on stage to André.
Several performers graced the stage to sing assorted songs from The Wiz including Darius de Haas, Ekele Ukegbu, and Charlayne Woodard. Ain’t Misbehavin’ was treated to vocals by Tony Perry, Dawn Driver, Malvinna Rose, Anita Welsch, and Ron Lucas. David Yazbek, Patrick Wilson, and John Ellison Conlee brought a little humor to the evening with “Big Ass Rock” from The Full Monty and “Breeze Off the River”.
Larry Owens, Jeffry Denman, Marc Shaiman, Freida Williams, and Ben Vereen rounded out the performances with songs that had meaning from André’s career. Ben Vereen wheeled out on stage with a broken leg and asked André to sign his cast. André good-naturedly complied.
Michael Unger served as this year’s Gala Director and Eric Svejcar as the Gala Music Director. York Theatre Company Board Members present included James Morgan, Evans Haile, David McCoy, and Joan Ross Sorkin.
After seeing a montage of André’s career, watching André receive a key to the city of Baltimore (his hometown), and seeing a congratulatory video of his current Hadestown castmates, Teresa Eyring presented André with his Achievement Award.
André credited his success to hard work, believing in himself, and being completely dedicated to his craft. He reminded people that everyone is unique and has their own assets to bring to the table and that they should remain true to themselves and work hard and you will be rewarded. He is a class act. If you haven’t done this already, go see him in Hadestown. You’ll be glad you did!