Moonlight Over Venice benefit for Westport Country Playhouse Sept. 9

 

by Keith Loria

 

For the Westport Country Playhouse’s annual gala, the planning committee wanted to do something different this year, so it moved the popular event to Saturday night, instead of the Monday of years past. So, on Sept. 9, the playhouse will be decked out for Moonlight Over Venice, which will evoke the romance and glamor of Italy on the canals.  

“It’s going to be a really memorable event,” said Athena Adamson, gala co-chair. “That theme will be seen everywhere — in the theater, in the tent — and we’re all very excited about and think it’s going to be a romantic evening and full of fun.”  

The headliner for this year will be Hamilton Tony nominee and Grammy winner Jonathan Groff.

“I love him so much. I saw him in Hamilton way back when and he’s a highly, charismatic and talented performer,” Adamson said. “He’s also such a wonderful guy. Matthew Morrison was supposed to be performing but had to back out due to scheduling, and Jonathan was happy to fill in.”

Jonathan Groff

Groff, who last appeared at Westport Country Playhouse in a Script in Hand play reading of Butterflies Are Free with Blythe Danner in 2010, said he is thrilled to be part of this year’s gala.

“We just finalized the set list and it’s going to be a really fun and eclectic group of songs,” Groff said. “I’ll sing a little Spring Awakening, I’ll sing a little Hamilton, and then there will be some surprises along the way.”

He promises that his performance in Westport will be unlike anything he’s done anywhere else.

“Whenever I do a concert, the thing I love is that it’s a moment in time with these specific people in a specific place, so it’s different than a musical where no matter what day of the week it is, you’re doing the same lines,” he said. “For a show like this, I try to make it really special for that group of people who will be at the show at that specific time.”

Groff is no stranger to performing at events like this, as he thinks it’s important to support theater.

The Westport Country Playhouse at 25 Powers Court, Westport. The benefit gala takes place outside under tents. — Robert Benson photo

“Westport is such a cultural landmark, both in the work they have done and the work they continue to do,” he said. “Regional theater is so important. I grew up in Lancaster, Pa., and there was a theater that was very similar to the Westport theater, which did these beautiful, Broadway-quality productions. That theater in Pennsylvania really changed my life and seeing shows there made me fall in love with acting. I really believe in the power of regional theater.”

Groff is known for so much more than just originating King George III in the Broadway juggernaut. He’s also the voice behind Frozen’s Kristoff, starred in Broadway’s Spring Awakening opposite Lea Michele, appeared on Glee as fan-favorite Jesse St. James, and played the lead role of Patrick on HBO’s Looking.

He’d love to be back on stage soon, but the problem is, Groff’s schedule has had him plenty busy. This October, he stars in the Netflix show, Mindhunter, based on the true crime novel, Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. The show follows Special Agent Holden Ford (Groff’s character) as he examines the most infamous serial killers in history.

Groff will also team with Younger star and fellow Broadway great Sutton Foster this December to film an upcoming Live from Lincoln Center special on PBS.

The 2016 gala’s theme was The Night They Invented Champagne: Celebrating Lerner & Loewe. — Steve Walter photo

“We’re in the planning stages and I’m really excited about that,” Groff said. “When I was growing up, I saw her in Thoroughly Modern Millie six times and met her at the stage door when I was in high school, so the opportunity to work with her is always exciting.”

He sees the gala as a great way to get back on stage in front of a live audience.

“I miss being on stage and that’s why this concert in Westport is a great opportunity for me to exercise all of my repressed desire to sing whenever I am doing a TV project,” he said. “I listen to a lot of music when I work on these other projects and I dream about singing and I’m looking forward to let it go so to speak.”

The benefit gala is the single-most important fundraiser for the playhouse all year.

“There’s huge support and [the gala] helps to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the playhouse,” Adamson said. “In addition, it helps for production costs for all our plays. It also helps our education programs, which is one of our big missions. It supports our wonderful internship program and outreach programs to public schools, enabling kids to come see the theater.”

The Playhouse Leadership Award will be presented to Ann Sheffer, whose roles serving the playhouse have ranged from usher to trustee. She headed the planning of the theater’s most recent major renovation project.

The night begins with a cocktail party at 5:45 p.m., followed by a 7 p.m. presentation of the Playhouse Leadership Award to Ann Sheffer. At 7:15 p.m. Groff will perform, followed by dinner at 8:30 p.m.  

“The Westport Playhouse is a real gem of Fairfield County and to have people come in and celebrate that is really important,” Adamson said.

After performing, Groff will mingle with the audience and spend time in the Venice setting. There will also be a silent auction on-going throughout the evening. Attire is festive; black tie and Venetian mask optional. Valet parking will be provided.   

Benefactor level tickets, at $2,500 per person, includes red carpet welcome, silent auction and cocktail party with special guests, highest priority seating at performance, and a post-performance dinner with the artists. Patron level, at $1,000 per person, includes red carpet welcome, silent auction and cocktail party with special guests, priority seating at performance, and post-performance dinner with the artists. Supporter tickets, $500 per person, includes red carpet welcome, silent auction and cocktail party with special guests, and ticket to the performance with preferred seating. Friend tickets, $250 per person, 
includes red carpet welcome, silent auction and cocktail party with special guests, and ticket to the performance. 

For more information or ticket purchases, call 203-571-1138 or visit westportplayhouse.org.