A Night Out: Arena Stage Benefit
Where: Dinner at Emerald City, a makeshift space in an empty office building; play at Arena Stage.
When: Monday, March 16, 6 to 9 PM.
Ticket price: $250 for the event, $35 for the show only
Attire: Business casual for the guests, with the occasional Wizard of Oz-themed character at the dinner reception.
Scene: The eighth floor of an empty office space was converted into an Emerald City wonderland for the preshow dinner and auction. Decor included emerald-green drapes, confetti, a rainbow, and a yellow brick road. Plentiful small plates and hors d’oeuvres were offered from Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Jaleo, and Main Event Caterers. Wine and Champagne were supplied by the very attentive bartenders and servers.
Who: About 400 people came to see the Honorable William T. Newman Jr. narrate the quirky musical revue starring Channel 4 sports reporter Lindsay Czarniak as Dorothy. Other cast members included Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton as Glinda the good witch, DC councilmembers Jack Evans and Tommy Wells, Congressman Howard Coble, and the talented Arena Stage performers E. Faye Butler, Marva Hicks, Natasha Yvette Williams, Diego Pietro, and Brad Oscar.
Play synopsis: Somewhere beyond the Potomac, Dorothy (Czarniak), a down-and-out-girl from Sixth and Maine, is trying to find her way back home after a twister inadvertently drops her in Virginia. She’s lost in the endless tunnels of Crystal City, and Metro is too confusing for her to figure out, despite the advice from the talking yellow bricks (played by child actors) to take the Yellow Line to L’Enfant Plaza. Dorothy encounters Virginiakins (Pietro and Oscar), travels over steep Capitol Hills and thick Foggy Bottoms, and braves the economy, recession, and budget—oh, my. The play was interspersed with sometimes beautiful, sometimes bizarre musical numbers, some of which were meant to entice audience members to open their wallets and donate to Arena Stage. (The economy, recession, and budget—oh, my—must have had some effect on theatergoers: Most seemed to keep their purse strings closed. The same was true for the evening’s auction.) Dorothy eventually makes her way to the Wizard (Wells), who tells her to click her heels 20 million times to get home. The only problem is that Dorothy doesn’t have her ruby slippers anymore: They were taken from her when she was mugged and suffered a beatdown. No matter, all she has to do is believe, according to yet another musical number. We’re not entirely sure how Dorothy did end up back home, but it was in a blaze of song and dance.
Most inspirational moment: Before the show, the Robert Prosky American Artist Award was given posthumously to Robert Alexander, the founder and for 30 years artistic director of Living Stage, Arena’s community-outreach theater company. His son, Taro Alexander, accepted the award and energetically implored the audience to never stop children from singing, dancing, and imagining. His impassioned speech brought tears to the audience’s eyes and a standing ovation.
Funniest line: The good witch, Glinda (Norton), welcomes Dorothy to Virginia, a land, unlike DC, she quips, that has full representation. Norton’s real-life commitment to garner DC full voting rights in Congress gave this line even more punch.
Strangest moment: Of all the odd musical numbers, the one we understood the least was Diego Pietro dressed up as Annie, singing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.” Sure, it made us and Dorothy want to sing along, but we’re not sure why.
Boldface names: 2 out of 5
Swankiness: 3 out of 5
Food and drink: 3 out of 5
Exclusivity: 3 out of 5
Total score: 11 out of 20