A cast of talented philanthropists—and a certain Steven Spielberg—turn the spotlight on The Phoenix Theatre Company’s centennial milestone and annual Applause! Gala.
From left: Nan Howlett, Maja Langbein and Sandy Magruder have teamed up as chairs of the Applause! Gala.
There has been no shortage of fanfare for The Phoenix Theatre Company as it celebrates its 100th year of serving the community in myriad ways, but Producing Artistic Director Michael Barnard says when the curtains rise at its annual Applause! Gala fundraiser Oct. 19, partygoers will be dazzled: “We promise a gala like no other, including celebrity appearances and fabulous entertainment celebrating the past century of performances and Phoenix history. It will be our most lavish celebration ever.”
For an entire year, gala chairs Nan and C.A. Howlett of Scottsdale, and Maja and John Langbein, and Sandy and Mac Magruder of Paradise Valley have been diligently planning the soiree for the recently rebranded organization. (Phoenix’s first permanent theater company was known as The Phoenix Players in 1920 until it became Phoenix Little Theatre in 1924 and then emerged as The Phoenix Theatre in 1993.) In addition to a cocktail reception, dinner under the stars, dancing and live music, and the aforementioned entertainment, guests can also expect a live auction with once-in-a-lifetime experience packages. Steven Spielberg, who showed his first movie, Firelight, on the Mainstage at The Phoenix Theatre when he was in high school, will be appearing digitally.
Barnard, who began working with the organization in 1979 as its first full-time production manager, says fundraisers like the Applause! Gala have helped The Phoenix Theatre become one of the largest professional producing theaters in the Southwest, but more capital can help its Mainstage get the technology it needs for Broadway-ready projects. Its 2019-20 season is still quite impressive, however, featuring 10 shows, plus its annual Festival of New American Theatre. “This is a season with something for literally everyone, from recent Broadway hits (Kinky Boots, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) to classic titles like The Sound of Music and The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” Barnard says. The centerpiece will be Americano!, a brand-new musical about a Mexican-born and Phoenix-raised Dreamer. It was developed entirely within The Phoenix Theatre’s new works program.
Nan, who recalls attending performances at Phoenix Little Theatre with her grandmother, says it is a privilege for her and her husband to give back to an organization that has done so much for the city: “It was founded by community leaders and philanthropists who shared a passion for the arts and understood the important role that arts play in developing strong communities, a belief we share! I have a great appreciation for the amazing work that happens on The Phoenix Theatre Company’s stage. And I also greatly value the work that the theater does in our community, [especially through] Partners That Heal and the Youth Summer Camp. It’s a remarkable organization, and it’s having an impact on our community, the region and arts across the country.” Oct. 19, 5:30pm, tickets from $1,000, 1825 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602.889.5288
Photography by: Faith Decker/Manley Films/rose + moser + allyn