By Sandi Durell . . .

It was a fortuitous happening when the Boathouse special events space ended its run in Central Park! Why? It opened up the opportunity to find a new location for one of the favorite off-Broadway stage companies to seek a new celebratory space for their Annual Benefit which occurred on May 23, 2023 at The Players in Gramercy Park. The Players is an extraordinary theater club evidenced by the numerous portraits of the man who started it all – Edwin Booth. So many famous theatrical greats are present on the walls of this great institution. It reeks of the unique history you can read about here.

Helmed by the much loved and well-respected founder and Artistic Director Frances Hill, Urban Stages is the incubator for new plays and musicals, along with its added programs that reach into the cabaret community ala Winter Rhythms Festival in more recent years. New President Tom Toce (a songwriter/cabaret producer) is moving the organization forward in this regard. Other programs include Outreach to tour city libraries and programs that celebrate diversity and champion women. In addition coming up is the 13th year of Summer Theater Camp for 12 to 16 year olds giving opportunity for the next generation of creative and performing artists to emerge.

Photo: Maryann Lopinto

The happy, fun-filled evening of Stories and Songs began at cocktail hour with Alex Rybeck on piano featuring Elizabeth Hayden-Passero, vocalist/actress-wearer of multi creative hats where every Great American Songbook song seemed to have been sung by Elizabeth. Brava!

Frances Hill – Trezana Beverley

Jim Brochu – Frances Hill

Three Photos Above by Maryann Lopinto

The Bill of Fare included not only a delicious dinner with accompanying wines at beautifully set tables, but varied entertainment artists: a video of the unique vocals of Karen Akers (Broadway –Grand Hotel, Nine and cabaret star); video presentation of Trezana Beverly as Eleanor Roosevelt in Eleanor & Alice together with Mary Bacon as her cousin Alice (Teddy’s eldest daughter) of fictionalized conversations spanning 1904-1962 from their latest production in 2023 (originally produced by Urban Stages, directed by Frances Hill in 2022). Special guest was Jim Brochu who garnered multi awards portraying Zero Mostel in Zero Hour across the United States and Canada. In 2014 he starred in Character Man at Urban Stages garnering nominations for both Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards. Talk about delivery and punchlines . . . he’s got it down to a T.

Two Photos Above by Maryann Lopinto

Songwriter/singer/storyteller John Forster had numerous tales to tell and songs to sing and some advice (learned during the pandemic) –“Don’t try to sing along on Zoom.” The variety of entertainment included multi-instrumentalist and educator Mary Spencer Knapp on accordian and Latin Grammy-nominated Peruvian singer Araceli Poma.  Lest we forget, the generosity of so many in attendance who support Urban Stages helping to raise more funds and more awareness with the Auction, led by TV Something for everyone – wine lovers, a beach weekend in R.I, an Original Song, an escape to Puerto Vallarta, Golf, Broadway seeing Life of Pi and Dinner or a week in Sausalito and more!

Enjoy the photos in the Slider by Theater Pizzazz photographer Cynthia Reitman!

Additional photos as noted by Maryann Lopinto including featured image