With Yale’s most famous alumni appearing on campus this year for the Tercentennial, the Yale School of Drama, the Dramatic Association and the undergraduate theater programs did not want to be excluded from the celebration.
On Nov. 13, Yale’s prominent artistic alumni collaborated with undergraduates to put on a show of their own, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Dramat, Yale’s undergraduate dramatic association, and the 75th anniversary of the School of Drama. The result was “Stage Blue,” a cross-country, multimedia extravaganza and fund-raiser that featured receptions, performances, video montages and songs.
The event gave alumni and undergraduates a chance to mingle and glory in their common Yale theater experience.
“For [Yale students], theater is an imperative,” said former Dramat president Alex Timbers ’01 in an open message to the guests at the event.
Yale’s renown celebrity community — from Cole Porter ’13 to Edward Norton ’91 — has demonstrated the University’s historical commitment to the arts. Yale alumni have made an indelible impression on the theater and film communities after graduating. “Stage Blue” was a compilation of their finest achievements and was witnessed by over a thousand viewers.
The performance, “I Get a Kick Out of Blue,” the theatrical centerpiece of the Stage Blue event, opened simultaneously in New York and Los Angeles, with elements of both shows telecasted to the other. About 400 undergraduates gathered in the University Theater to watch the festivities, which included a performance by the cast of the Dramat main stage 1981 musical, Stephen Sondheim’s, “Merrily We Roll Along.”
Honorary chairman Sam Waterston ’62 said in his introduction, “Tonight our goal is to amaze you.” Along with his fellow chairwomen, actresses Jodie Foster ’85 and Meryl Streep DRA ’75, Waterston organized the event not only as a fund-raiser, but also to honor Yale’s great tradition of theater.
Many performances saw the alumni incorporate the Yale experience into their work.
Streep performed a scene from “Mrs. Sorken,” by playwright Christopher Durang DRA ’74, who also performed “Invocation,” a song from an adaptation of “The Frogs.”
“Frankly, it was just flattering to be included,” said Durang. “It’s a nice feeling if people are reading or performing your work.”
Durang collaborated with actress Sigourney Weaver to perform a scene from “Das Lusitania Songspiel,” a Bertolt Brecht parody that they cowrote.
“We didn’t actually do that act at Yale,” Durang said. “We did it a couple of years later in New York City, but it was inspired by the Brecht stuff we saw at Yale and also by the Yale Cabaret style.”
The Cabaret played a large part in Durang’s years at Yale, and “Stage Blue” allowed him to recreate the Cabaret style before his fellow graduates.
Timbers, a Brecht fan, said the segment was a hit with students and cited the scene as one of his favorite moments of the night.
Alumni and students attended a reception before the event and were often seated together throughout the actual performance. The undergraduate addition to the event, the song “Our Time” from “Merrily,” gave many students the chance to strut their stuff before the alumni, who responded with thunderous applause for the closing act.
“One man who introduced himself and complimented my performance took out his wallet and said ‘Listen, let me give you my card’ — I almost fainted,” said Rich Silverstein ’02, a lead in “Merrily.”
Silverstein and the 19 other cast members also had the chance to rehearse with Stage Blue director Richard Maltby Jr. DRA ’62, who won a Tony award for “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and share experiences with the alumni, including a somewhat nerve-wracking rehearsal.
“It was really interesting to see these professionals work — some were clueless and had to run ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ 10 times before learning their dance steps, [while] others were totally smooth and could walk in and rock the house in one try,” said Silverstein.
Like the undergraduates, Durang said he was a bit nervous during rehearsal.
“I’ve only been on a Broadway size stage a couple times in my life,” he said. “It’s exciting because it’s big enough that with the spotlight you just feel out in the netherworld a little bit.”
But with three days of rehearsal, the production came off without a hitch. Broadway producer Joey Parnes ’77 told Silverstein the student performance was the perfect way to close the show.
For some, the memorable night was far from over when the show ended. While many of the performers took a train home, Silverstein and a few other students stayed in the city.
“We had just performed on Broadway to thunderous applause,” he said. “We couldn’t leave, we had to walk around Times Square and let it last.”