If you ever dreamed of hearing Lorna Luft (daughter of Judy Garland) sing in person, then you would have had that dream come true at the 14th Annual Tony Awards Benefit.
If you closed your eyes, you would have imagined that it was Judy herself singing “You Made Me Love You” to guest of honor Brian Stokes Mitchell at the June 13th event presented by The Actors Fund, which was just one of the highlights of the night.
The purpose of the evening was to recognize Stokes Mitchell with the Julie Harris Award in regards to his theatrical accomplishments, as well as for his leadership as Chairman of the Board of The Actors Fund. Stokes Mitchell’s television acting career began with a seven-year stint on “Trapper John, MD.” He also appeared on “Ugly Betty,” “Crossing Jordan,” “Frasier”, “PBS Great Performances,” and as one of the voices in “The Prince of Egypt.” His Broadway career includes lead roles in “Man of La Mancha,” “Kiss Me, Kate,” “Ragtime,” “King Hedley II,” and “Mail.” (He has a Tony Award and a Theatre World Award)
The gala event, which took place at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles, was produced and written by David Rambo (“CSI” writer/producer) and Marc Cherry (“Desperate Housewives” creator.). Notable guests included Orson Bean, Ken Howard, Scott Bakula, Holland Taylor, Theodore Bikel, Adam Arkin, Michelle Lee, Doris Roberts and Rip Torn.
The evening began with Event Host Tommy Tune, (star of the film “The Boyfriend,” and also a major headliner on Broadway), giving some tips he learned from Cary Grant:
“A gentleman of 40 should never show his elbows, and a gentleman of 50 should take up a new activity every year. I decided to take Grant’s advice about taking up a new activity, so I made a visit to the Actors Home.”
Tune related that he was so overwhelmed by his experience at the home, that he made a phone call to Carol Channing about it.
“What is this feeling, you give and you get back more, I asked Carol? She said, ‘Yes, Tommy, that’s the way it works,’” said Tune, in a perfect imitation of Channing.
After a special tribute to the late Lynn Redgrave, with film clips to the theme of “Georgy Girl,” Scott Bakula got up to speak.
“Last summer, I had the great honor of preparing ‘Guys and Dolls,’ with Stokes at the Hollywood Bowl,” said Bakula.
“Stokes was calm and cool; he had to pretend that he was attracted to Jessica Biel and the chorus girls fainted when he sang. We had three performances and he knocked it out of the Bowl.”
Annette Bening then arrived up at the podium to say a few words about Stokes Mitchell and to present him with the award.
“Brian and I went to the same high school in San Diego – we had a dance class together, where we had to choreograph a song. Brian choreographed the dance and taught it to me – he did all the work and we both got the credit,” explained Bening, adding that Stokes Mitchell followed this example in his life.
After some film clips showing Stokes Mitchell in “White Shadow,” “Trapper John, MD,” and “Ragtime,” Stokes Mitchell spoke about his first time going to the Tony Awards (where he was also a nominee) in 1998.
Because Stokes Mitchell and his wife were late getting to their seats in Radio City Music Hall, there were no more programs to be had. After speaking regretfully about this fact to his wife, he was interrupted by a voice in the dark.
“I heard a voice say, ‘I have a program, you can have it,’ and there was an arm sticking out,” related Stokes Mitchell.
The giver turned out to be Annette Bening, who he had not seen since high school.
Now Bening is involved with the Actors Fund as well, as a result of Stokes Mitchell calling and asking for her assistance.
“I’m lucky because he called me. A lot of us want to help, and sometimes it takes someone to ask,” said Bening.
www.actorsfund.org – The Actors Fund is a nationwide human services organization that helps all professionals in performing arts and entertainment.