It was a quintessentially March evening. Though the sun was shining bright, the breeze added enough of a chilling twinge that guests shivered as they checked their coats at Avery Fisher Hall. The troupe was gathering for the New York Philharmonic’s spring gala, and given the ambiguous weather, their outfits bespoke the seasonal purgatory.
Some donned bright patterned frocks, deciding to ring in the season with open, if goose-bumped, arms, while assorted grand-dames entered in full fur coats. Half of the gentlemen had dusted off their Easter ties, but the rest chose more subdued neckwear hues. Overall, the group’s collective attire oscillated undecidedly somewhere on the spectrum between lion and lamb.
The Observer walked up the stairs toward cocktail hour directly behind a bronzed and conspicuously trim Alec Baldwin, and his yogi belle, Hilaria Thomas. Where had they been basking, we asked. “We went to Florida for the weekend. It was unusual, because I’m not much of a Florida person,” Mr. Baldwin said. “We had three days, or two and a half days …” he began. “Of paradise!” Ms. Thomas interjected, finishing his sentence with an adoring, eyelash-fluttering gaze.
“We would exercise in the morning and then lay by the pool all day,” Mr. Baldwin admitted. “And then exercise at night,” Ms. Thomas added. The Observer blushed. “Yeah, we had a lot of exercise.”
Spring, it seems, will be a busy season for Mr. Baldwin and Ms. Thomas. “We have a lot of crazy travel,” he said, listing trips to Rome, and of course Cannes, which he pronounced with that added syllabic affectation on the “a.” “A partner and I—the film director Jimmy Toback—he and I are going to shoot a film at Cannes, about Cannes.” How meta! “It is somewhat meta,” Mr. Baldwin agreed.
A friend approached. “You look great! You’re like Dirk Bogarde. I mean that as a compliment,” Mr. Baldwin said, clarifying for good measure.
Not everyone in the room shared Mr. Baldwin’s escapist tendencies, however. Karen LeFrak, wearing a daffodil-yellow Carolina Herrera cocktail dress, said that she is looking forward to spending time cityside this spring. “It’s just beautiful! We’re so lucky,” she said, describing New York in full bloom. Social outings will take a backseat to grandmotherly duties this season, she explained. Ms. LeFrak intends to spend her time “not out and about, just playing with my grandson. Seeing the world all over through his eyes is pretty special,” she gushed, with a proud twinkle in her own eye.
We were briefly introduced to Jo Loesser, the widow of legendary show-tunesman Frank Loesser. The evening’s concert would honor her late husband’s vast repertoire, with selections from his most ubiquitous hits (“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and “Luck Be a Lady” not the least among them), not to mention his lesser-known numbers. “I hope dinner is good,” Ms. Loesser said with characteristic pluck (combined with a healthy dose of irreverence). “Because I know the concert will be good.”
Soon, attendants were ringing preshow bells, gently shepherding guests into the concert hall. The philharmonic proceeded to accompany a series of cross-generational hits, familiar to older guests as original Broadway shows, better known to others as songs sung on Glee. The audience cheered as Mad Men star Robert Morse took the stage, reprising the role of J. Pierrepont Finch, for which he won a Tony in 1962.
The songs, which constitute a significant portion of Broadway’s classic canon, were beautifully nostalgic, gently evoking the heyday of the Great White Way. Full of innuendo and postwar chauvinism (“A lady doesn’t wander all over the room, and blow on some other guy’s dice,”), Mr. Loesser’s wit and clever subversion crossed beyond the fourth wall and through that most troublesome diaphane, time.
Ms. Loesser herself took the stage, singing “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year,” to the crowd’s delight.
After the show, gala attendees found their seats on the Grand Promenade while concertgoers filed out.
Searching for our table, we ran into Liz Peek, who raved about the concert. “I thought it was charming and good fun,” she offered, wrapping her shawl tightly around her, the leonine aspect of March having seemingly prevailed after sunset. Like Mr. Baldwin, Ms. Peek had recently returned from the Sunshine State, and was dismayed by the cold snap in New York.
“We kind of expected to come back to 80 degrees, so this is a little disappointing,” she confessed. “We’re going to go back down to Florida again, but I hope by then we won’t really need to go to Florida.” In the meantime, Ms. Peek has serious horticultural concerns. “I’m actually quite worried about my garden, because I hear they’re expecting quite a freeze out in the country, the suburbs.”
Settling at our table, The Observer found ourselves seated in between Ms. Loesser and her son-in-law, actor and director Don Stephenson. Ms. Loesser’s daughter, Emily Loesser, was seated across the table with their two young daughters, Fiona and Hallie.
“I didn’t know Granny could sing like that!” Fiona exclaimed gleefully as she picked at the “Bushel and a Peck” first course.
Indeed, when Ms. Loesser took her seat, the table erupted in praise. Asked if she was nervous before her performance, Ms. Loesser laughed. “I couldn’t stop my leg shaking backstage, but then I thought, ‘Are you going to make an ass of yourself or are you going to get it over with?’”
“I need a drink!” she soon whispered in our ear. “I have to see my psychiatrist tomorrow, but that’s not until 11:15!” Obligingly rising from her seat when gestured to another table, Ms. Loesser leaned in our direction once more. “Oh, shit. I have to go over there, but I really don’t want to.”
Soon, Mr. Baldwin appeared at our table. “I’ll be your agent,” he offered to Ms. Loesser’s granddaughters, much to their delight. Fiona, however, soon looked at her father. “Daddy, what’s an agent?” she asked.
Guests began to file out, kissing and congratulating Ms. Loesser on the performance. Ted Sperling, the evening’s conductor, offered some final thoughts on Loesser’s continuing legacy.
“I think Frank Loesser is a great candidate to be appealing to young people, because his music is so of the people. Somebody said he just knows how to set ordinary speech to music. He’s not highfalutin or fancy, it’s just straight forward and gritty and personal and New York-y.”
As three generations of New Yorkers walked out into the below-freezing temperatures, many were left wondering whether spring would be a little late this year after all.