The opening Gala and Awards Ceremony for the Women’s Theatre Festival was tons of fun! The successful three-part evening, entitled In Tribute To Phenomenal Women, (which must be why I was invited!,) was held at the Electric Lodge in always-interesting Venice. It was great to see so many people dressed-up for an event in laid-back LA.

(L to R) Ted Lange, Margaret Avery, Freda Payne.  Photo by Billy Bennight.

(L to R) Ted Lange, Margaret Avery, Freda Payne. Photo by Billy Bennight.

The festivities began with a lovely, and delicious, buffet reception in the venue’s giant party room, which I never even knew was there! We had yummy salad with mandarin oranges, vegetarian potstickers, very tasty chicken curry, and what my pal deemed “melt-in-your-mouth” fish.

Then we moved upstairs to the theatre for the body of the evening. In all, five awards were handed-out with most of the recipients on-hand. (Sadly, Lainie Kazan had broken her ankle that day, and Elaine Stritch is no longer on this level of life.)

The Love Boat‘s Ted Lange and singer Freda Payne, of Band of Gold fame, hosted, and really kept the evening moving along. Those two looked really great.  But speakers George Chakiris and Margaret Avery looked amazing! (More on them later.)

Each woman was introduced with her credits read, and then a brief presentation combining videos and stills was shown on a big screen right before each acceptance speech. That all helped us know the person, if we weren’t already familiar with their work.

Alice Tuan accepting her award. Photo by Billy Bennight.

Alice Tuan accepting her award. Photo by Billy Bennight.

The first “winner” was writer Alice Tuan, who received the Rainbow Award. She was darling, and started the proceedings off great! Very enthusiastic woman.

As the evening went on, I became a real fan of two people. Ted Lange gave his all to his hosting duties. He was charming and supportive, and kept it moving along. I was never very aware of him before, (because I haven’t seen many Love Boats, and didn’t know his other work,) but now I can’t stop quoting him!  He cracked me up quite a few times.

And I became a major fan of the gorgeous Margaret Avery! She looks literally fifty years younger than she is! And I do mean literally. When she got up to accept, I thought she was her own daughter, because they showed her in The Color Purple, and that was thirty years ago; she looks younger now! No fooling. I’ve never seen anything like it. She proudly told us that she’s seventy-two, and we all gasped. I spoke to her later, and she looks as young up-close. (And I didn’t see any signs of plastic work.) After I first saw her, all I could think of for the rest of the night is, “I’ll have what she’s having.” I want to do whatever she does, but I think that ship has sailed.

And Margaret’s speech was funny and charming, as well. And her shoes were to die for!!! What a woman!

George Chakiris, who looks even better than this in person!  Photo by Billy Bennight.

George Chakiris, who looks even better than this in person! Photo by Billy Bennight.

Still-handsome George Chakiris accepted the award for the late Elaine Stritch. His love and admiration for her permeated his speech. He had so much material on her, he could have shared his amusing stories for the next twelve hours!

I spoke with him before and after the show, and loved him! Since I’ve seen him in the film of West Side Story so many times over the years, I felt comfortable sharing this with him, as we took pictures together: “Every time I see you, I want to cut someone.” I was so glad he laughed at that! Not everyone would have gotten it.

And—this is unbelievable—the man is eighty-years-old! He seriously doesn’t look a day over fifty! That big head of hair is all is own. It’s truly amazing. (After George spoke, Ted Lange told him, “You must be part black because you look great, too.” That’s because we all know that black people age so much better than white ones do, and Ted had made some similar comments to Margaret Avery and Freda Payne earlier, to much knowing laughter and applause.)

Two monologs were mixed-in amongst the quintet of awards, and they were both wonderful. That was a smart move on the part of the organizers of the event, because, knowing antsy LA audiences as I do, I have a feeling that several people would would have left after the awards portion, if the evening had been scheduled in two halves. This way, I’m sure everyone was glad to have had the opportunity to see the work of there two marvelous actresses.

I’m not a fan of acting monologs, but this pair was exceptional. These two women deserve to call themselves actresses. Clarissa Ross and Jovelyn Richards were both very secure, and confidence-inspiring. Not actress-y at all. They held everyone’s attention all the way through.

Photo by Billy Bennight.

Photo by Billy Bennight.

When the monologs had been performed and all the awards handed out, it was announced that it was the birthday of Adilah Barnes, the organizer of the festival. They presented her with a beautiful vegan cake, and we all sang. It was a fun audience.

Afterwards, the assemblage adjourned back into the party room for cake and goodie bags. I can’t imagine any part of any theatre festival being more fun than this one!

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  1. Wonderful write-up, Karen! Wish I had been there. I’ve worked with both Ted Lange and Freda Payne early on and they’re both terrific. As you know, Ted will speak at IWOSC (Independent Writers of Southern California, on May 18, and he wrote, produced and is directing a play that opens May 16 at Theatre/Theater in LA.

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