Another Entertaining and Educational Panel celebrating the
Work of Director/Choreographer Michael Kidd
DO40’s Michael Kidd event received rave reviews from the audience as they filed out of the St. Luke’s Theater Monday, April 6th. A first-rate moderator with dancing credentials up the you-know-what, a hostess with the most-ess whose stories cracked up the audience, a movie legend reunited with her Brides and a panel of member gypsies unparalleled in DO40 history!
Grover Dale’s first (almost) show was Li’l Abner, and from the gut busting dancing stories to his last night in the show with Tony Mordente (an anecdote not to be included here!), he was right on the mark. He got the most out of the panelists and tore up the stage with host Carol Lawrence, star of Kidd’s Subways are for Sleeping. Panelist and D40 member Carolyn Kirsch had the audience hysterical when she told of how she was fired “over the radio” during Breakfast at Tiffany’s – while brushing her hair! Shirley Nelson Holst and Teak Lewis talked technique and about what a great guy Michael was. Judy Dunford McGrath was very diplomatic about Tiffany’s – but made sure to separate the choreography from the catastrophe!
The movie segment of the program highlighted two legendary divas. One an understudy and ingénue for the ages, and one a movie star. Iva Withers was Vivian Blaine’s understudy in Guys and Dolls (1950!) and also appeared in the move (we watched the clip!). And the wonderful Jane Powell spoke with Grover about her work with Michael in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Then the reunion. Norma Doggett Bezwick and Virginia Gibson, two original Brides came on stage and told tales of how they got the job (“this isn’t just a chorus job!” said Virginia to her agent!). Norma luckily auditioned to be Gwen Verdon’s understudy in the Broadway company of Can-Can, but did not do it; Michael remembered her and flew her to LA to do Brides. Story after story, and film clip after film clip -- the audience’s attention never faltered.
There were 10 movie clips beginning with a dance montage from Kidd’s early shows, Li’l Abner, Guys and Dolls, The Bandwagon, STAR! and Michael himself dancing with Gene Kelly and Dan Dailey in It’s Always Fair Weather. We saw the man dance and watched his choreography, and then heard about it – from the horses’ mouths! An abundant feast for the eyes, ears and heart.
Of course, what brought all this together was Shelah Hackett Kidd, introduced early in the show by DO40 president John Sefakis and then by Gower near the end of the show to read a letter from Julie Andrews (before a clip from her movie with Michael, STAR! Shelah danced for Michael and assisted him in many of his Broadway shows and movies. No one knew him better. She was elegant and witty, and charming and disarming at the same time. DO40 was so pleased she accepted our invitation to fly in from LA.
There were reunions galore in the audience! Of course, it had been so many years that Barbara Mordente couldn’t recognize Shirley Nelson until prexy John Sefakis put them together! Johnny Nola, Gene Gavin, Jerry Ames and more DO40 members bumped into old acquaintances in every aisle of the theater! The New York Times was there. Dickie Moore came with the missus! People lined up to take pictures of each other! It was old home week and yet, more than that. It was truly what DO40 does best: present the history, the legacy and the lives of its members in a way that entertains and pays it forward to the next generation. And, as always, a copy of the program will be donated to the Jerome Robbins Dance Collection at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Next Fall’s panel will be a tough challenge. The synchronicity of the Kidd event was unbelievable. The line-up changed, the venue did as well, and yet DO40 kept focused on the task at hand – to tell the stories of their lives as only they can.
Bravo to the tech people, who saved the day with great video projection and stage management. Thanks to Media at Large (Shashi Balooja, Ed French, Gordon) and our fab Stage Manager for the last few panels, Lee O’Connor. Special thanks to Ed Gaynes for his support and the use of his theater for this event. It’s a great space for the type of event that we do. To all the volunteers, our Board of Directors and savvy crew – thanks for making the evening such an unforgettable event!