It’s quite something to behold a bare-chested man jumping around in a cherry red kangaroo suit. As we entered the youthful domain of the New Victory Theater’s gala honoring the Australia Council for the Arts, there he was.
A hodgepodge of theater philanthropists and celebrities entered slowly behind us, passing not only kangaroo-man but an assembly of cast members from Melbourne’s Circus Oz, the current holiday show at the venue.
Liev Scrieber and Naomi Watts arrived with their opaquely blond brood. Sarah Jessica Parker sneaked largely unnoticed into a prime orchestra seat.
The spectacle finally got underway after a brief welcome from the New 42nd Street president Cora Cahan. Then the zany troupe of Circus Oz invaded the stage, flinging themselves into the air with gravity-defying acrobatics, dancing to hip-hop to their hearts’ content and zipping through short, klutzy comedy shticks.
After the show, guests shuffled in the chilly night air through the Times Square masses to the adjacent Liberty Theater. A handful of passersby were amazed to see the ever-so-petite SJP being joyfully escorted across the way by Ms. Cahan.
We chatted with event co-chair Adelina Wong Ettelson about the highs and lows of planning such an event this year. Her biggest headache? The boldface diaspora to Art Basel Miami Beach.
“Considering that there are so many things going on right now, we are so happy with the turnout,” she chirped, ironing out a crinkle in her gilded lace Valentino dress.
“We saw Liev and Naomi brought their kids,” Shindigger noted. “Did you?”
“Not brave enough,” laughed the mother of a two-and-a-half year-old and seven-and-a-half year-old.
We were surprised to see designer Isaac Mizrahi in attendance, as he darted past us to his table in the ballroom. Shindigger followed and asked him his favorite act from the circus. “The girl with the fabulous legs who juggled the balls and then juggled the table—that was very sick!” Mr. Mizrahi told us.
“Can you juggle?” we asked.
“No. I can’t juggle. I can barely walk. Are you kidding?” Neither can we, Shindigger thought, as another wine-clown presented us with more libations.
This might explain part of the reason we were so passionately drawn to the Persian rose hue of the scalloped-back Lanvin dress worn by gala co-chair Fiona Howe Rudin.
“Part of this is personal for me. I struggled in school a lot—I have ADHD—and I really found my voice through the arts. The arts really saved my life in a way,” she told us.
We were curious what this longtime New Yorker thought about all the gentrification in Times Square; the very space that the New Victory Theatre inhabits was once a burlesque and porno joint where Gypsy Rose Lee performed.
“My grandparents would never ever take me to 42nd Street or even Times Square,” Ms. Howe Rudin said. “I know from other board members that at the time, in the late ’80s, there were five to six felonies a day on 42nd Street. We can’t even, in today’s New York, remember how really dangerous a place this was and how different it is today.”
As master caterer William Curran’s crudités and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus starters were replaced with roasted meats and seared fish, Ms. Parker addressed the crowd.
“My family and I have been coming to the New Victory and the intimate performances spaces of the 42nd Street Studios for several years now,” she began.
“It was my mother, on the birth of her first grandchild, who became a subscriber. And with great fondness and vivid recollection of that, my own young children now mimic and recite moments and stories, and even lines—some to the point where you wish they would move on,” she said with a smile.
Meanwhile during the meal, Ms. Watts dished about her kids’ reaction to the show beforehand.
“I think they liked the humor and imaginative side of things,” she told The Observer.
“But I think some things went over their heads.”
Thestar of The Impossible also expressed excitement about upcoming projects. “The phone is ringing. As long as that’s happening, I feel blessed,” she said.
For a crowd full of parents with expectant children waiting at home, the night was late, and people gingerly began bidding each other “cheerio.”
They carried with them a few poignant words from Ms. Parker: “I was raised in a home where the arts were the most important part of our lives, and I want that very much for my own children.” She went on to explain that the challenge is a lack of resources, which is exactly what has brought such a philanthropic group of supporters to the gala.
“How amazing is it that in a city filled with cultural resources for adults, there is but one New Victory for kids and families? And how lucky for us and for New York City that’s it here?”
And how lucky for a bare-chested kangaroo that Shindigger stumbled out the door without making a drunken pass.
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