Whoopi Goldberg dropped in from the ceiling and exited through the floor; Brian d’Arcy James belted out a song Jason Robert Brown wrote for the event and Tracie Bennett brought back Judy Garland to the Guthrie Theater stage.
The performances were the highlights (along with Greta Oglesby’s turn from “Caroline or Change”) of the Guthrie’s “Fête 50,” the centerpiece of a weekend celebration of the theater’s 50th anniversary. Fundraising dinners and the show brought out the famous, the well-to-do and the passionate supporters of the Guthrie, which opened in 1963. Everyone was invited to a free open house at the theater on Sunday.
Vincent Kartheiser, once a kid actor from Apple Valley who is now among the stars of TV’s “Mad Men,” was on hand early in the evening, posing for a photo with his fiancée, actor Alexis Bledel. Kartheiser is in town rehearsing for “Pride and Prejudice,” which opens July 12. Was he working Saturday or just out for the evening?
“A little of each,” he said.
Walter Mondale and his wife, Joan, recalled opening night of “Hamlet” in 1963. Joanne Von Blon, whose husband, Philip, was crucial to the theater’s founding, remembered that night too.
“I fell in love with George Grizzard [who played Hamlet].” she said. “He asked me to dance and his jitterbugging was beyond my ability.”
Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theater, flew in from New York for the event.
“This theater is where I fell in love with theater,” said the Minnesota native. “It’s very emotional for me that this is still the flagship for every theater in the country.”
Guthrie Director Joe Dowling credited the Twin Cities for the theater’s 50 years.
“It’s a testament to this community,” Dowling said before heading up to dinner. “It doesn’t happen in every city.”
Mayor R.T. Rybak, who was splitting his time between events Saturday, echoed Dowling’s thoughts, but he gave credit to the Guthrie.
“There are a lot of reasons we’re a great arts city, but the Guthrie was the big bang that created so much theater, which spawned visual art, grass roots theater, performance art,” Rybak said. “The Guthrie gave us the confidence to strut our artistic stuff.”
Stars on stage
During the program, T.R. Knight, who was 5 when he first played Tiny Tim in the 1978 “Christmas Carol,” introduced a video interview he did with actor Zoe Caldwell, who was in the theater’s original company.
“I feel like I should be a spectator,” Knight said before the show. “But it pleases me so much to be able to talk about one of my heroes.”
The Sunday open house featured performances, workshops, classes, face painting, music, tours, films, food and programs. At 11 a.m., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rybak and Dowling welcomed visitors.
The Guthrie has evolved both physically and psychically over these 50 years. From Tyrone Guthrie’s original notion of a seasonal company on one stage, the institution now operates year-round, with nearly 750 performances that reach an estimated audience of 420,000. Budgetwise, it is Minnesota’s second-largest performing arts company. In 1982, it received the Tony Award for regional theaters.
Marilyn Carlson Nelson, a former board member whose daughter, Wendy, is the current chair, said she feels the Guthrie “is always changing, but it is always the same.”
“Theater helps us to see ourselves from someone else’s eyes,” Nelson said.