The 31st Annual Fred and Adele Astaire Awards, which honored today’s beacons of Broadway dance, kicked off on Monday as any tribute to theater should: champagne flowed freely, cocktail rings gleamed and camera bulbs flashed as Marge Champion graced the staircase
Only a few minutes into the show at NYU’s Skirball Center, Rodgers & Hammerstein president Ted Chapin, who was set to receive the Astaire Awards’ first ever Outstanding Achievement in the Preservation of Musical Theatre, was already blushing. Five women had just taken the proscenium stage, prepared to sing in tribute for the evening’s honoree. “I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love!” they crooned, paying homage to Mary Martin’s original number in South Pacific—an apt choice.
Some might deem Mr. Chapin’s recognition long overdue. Since his Rodgers & Hammerstein debut 30 years ago, Mr. Chapin has spearheaded efforts of restoration and remembrance throughout the industry. The Sound of Music and The King & I are just two of the 20-some award-winning revivals he’s pioneered across the globe, and R&H’s Cinderella is now poised to reach similar acclaim.
For Mr. Chapin, it’s this challenge—honoring the late theater mavens’ original visions while looking to modern themes—that makes the Astaire nod particularly rewarding.
“There’s a major role for revivals in advancing bold theater,” he told the Transom. “Don’t believe anyone who tells you they’re not important. They’re wrong.”
Monday night’s awards show performances were finely tuned toward Mr. Chapin’s appreciation of the past. Warren Carlyle choreographed his interpretation of Carousel’s iconic Pas de Deux while Randy Skinner led an electric rendition of 42nd Street’s “Audition.” Between saluting Mr. Chapin’s achievements and showcasing the life of Ms. Champion, preservation was alive and well at the Skirball Center.
Observer veteran Rex Reed reminisced about dancing with Fred Astaire one evening in Cannes, recalling how “Delly” (yes, Delly) looked on with glee. Harry Belafonte walked silently onstage to a standing ovation—it didn’t take a theater guru to understand that something special was happening.
Underlying it all was the undeniable theme that the past curates the present. And if the clips of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers playing throughout the event space were any indication, musical theater remains engrossed by a healthy dose of nostalgia. As for Ted Chapin, this state ensures that he won’t be out of work anytime soon.
“I’m not going to lie, I didn’t start out here with the gray hair I have now,” he laughed. “But I don’t feel old—it’s too special of a moment for Broadway for that. We brought back the magic of theater with Cinderella. And now it’s time for more.”