IN THE COMPANY OF FRIENDS:
The Dancers and Creative
Continuing our string of hit panels, DO40’s Gower Champion event blew the roof off the St. Luke’s Theater, Monday, March 31st. The stars were literally aligned, and everyone who was anyone in the Gower firmament was there. When DO40 president John Sefakis asked those in the audience to stand if they had ever been in a Gower show during the curtain call, dozens stood up, half of them already in tears from what they had witnessed on stage. The “youngsters” met the mature dancers onstage and everyone won. Don Percassi discussed a Broadway show he was in and suddenly he realized the star he was supporting was 91 year old Iva Withers, another panelist seated across the stage from him. He ran over and hugged her – a realization that events that happened over 40 years could still bring people together. Marge Champion, from 1948’s Lend an Ear with Gower, to Karin Baker, Gower’s assistant, on his last show, 42nd Street – and a dozen more panelists in between represented all the great Gower shows of the Golden Age of Broadway – Bye Bye Birdie, Carnival, Hello, Dolly, Sugar, Rockabye Hamlet and some that were not so successful… but who cared! They all loved what they were doing and adored their director and choreographer. And the memories kept flowing.
The panels were divided into the “dancers” and the “creative talents” involved in Gower’s shows. Many of these dancers crossed over between the two categories, of course. And to moderate the event, who else but David Hartman. David Hartman? Get outta here!! David Hartman from Good Morning America and the Walking Tours series on Thirteen/WNET? Yep. Who knew he was in the original company of Hello, Dolly! As Rudolph the waiter! (this writer didn’t!). David graciously flew up with his wife, Mary from their home in North Carolina to support his dancer/friends, especially Nicole Barth, long time DO40 member and dancer in many Gower shows (Carnival, Hello, Dolly!, Sugar).
Then on to Panel 2, with Karin Baker (42nd Street), Nicole Barth (Carnival, Hello, Dolly! Sugar), Gene Bayliss (Make a Wish, Carnival, Bye Bye Birdie), Marge Champion (Lend an Ear, Make a Wish, Hello, Dolly!), Ed Kresley (Bye Bye Birdie, Hello, Dolly!), Bert Michaels (Sugar, Mack & Mabel) and Tony Stevens (Rockabye Hamlet). David Hartman ended the panel with his touching remarks from Gower’s memorial service in 1980. Not a dry eye in the house, as they say… And the finale, contrary to Ms. Channing’s wishes (it was NOT from Hello Dolly!) was 42nd Street – “Lullaby of Broadway,” recreated by Gower Dance Assistant, Karin Baker.
DO40 President John Sefakis, Marge Champion,
Ed Kresley and Nicole Barth
Intermission and the end of the show were like another event altogether! Dancers reunited with other dancers, Legends and leading Broadway show folk mixing with gypsies (Donald Saddler, June Havoc, Lonny Price, Harvey Evans). Special thanks to Ed Gaynes, who donated his theater for the evening, and everyone who donated their time and talent to this wonderful enterprise, especially Richard Skipper as Carol Channing, the great David Hartman, and the lovely and loquacious Marge Champion. As is always the case with Dancers Over 40 events, the “stars” are really the “dancers,” whom we salute time after time, and who share their history, their legacy and their lives with the rest of us so that their knowledge can educate the next generation of dancers. All of these panels are filmed and donated to the Jerome Robbins Dance Collection at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts.
DO40 is happy to link with other organizations to ensure every dancer has all the information they need to continue a happy, productive and creative life. Some organizations assist financially, some transition dancers to other occupations, some provide health benefits and options. Dancers Over 40 is here to guide them through all of that… but also to tend to their Souls. It was a joyous event, where everyone was so proud to be in their profession and so proud to still say, “Yes, I’M A DANCER.”
The Two Marges
Ed Gaynes, Producer at the St. Luke’s Theater, DO40 Member DenisePence, DO40 Board Member Richard Korthaze and Nancy Dalton
Johnny Nola and Iva Withers
Karin Baker and Tony Stevens
Tony Stevens, Marge Champion, moderator David Hartman and Nicole Barth
All Carol, All the Time - Mr. Richard Skipper
Carol and the Dancer/Panelists whooping it up!
After the Show: Members Tapper Jerry Ames, Board Member George Marcy,
Annette Macdonald and Tom Sinibaldi (also our DO40 webmaster)
After the Show: DO40 President John Sefakis
After the Show: Richard Skipper with John Anthony Gilvey, author of "Before the Parade Passes By: Gower Champion and the Glorious American Musical"