News & Politics

A Night Out: Arena Stage Benefit

The play’s cast takes a bow.

What: Arena Stage’s 16th Annual Benefit for Community Engagement, which included dinner and a play featuring a star-studded cast of politicians, celebrities, and athletes

Where: Dinner at the Crystal Gateway Marriott; play following at Arena Stage’s temporary Crystal City location

When: Monday, April 14, 6 to 10 PM

Ticket price: $450 for dinner and show, $200 for show only

Attire: “Business or sporty”—and most opted for the business look

Who: Three hundred people turned out to see James Magruder’s sports-meets-arts Cinderella riff, Play On!, which was stocked with a most unlikely cast: Washington Mystics president Sheila Johnson and her husband, Arlington judge William Newman; former pro-tennis player Kathy Kemper; DC Council members Jack Evans and Carol Schwartz; Project Runway’s Tim Gunn; DC United’s Ben Olsen; DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton; Virginia governor Tim Kaine; and many more. Arena Stage also brought in a few real actors, including Sister, Sister’s Tim Reid, and filled in holes with some of its own go-to talent, such as Tim Getman and Tara Giordano from the cast of theater’s current Arthur Miller repertory.

All photos by Chris Leaman.

Play synopsis: Bear with us. The musical comedy follows the unlikely romance of Olympic pentathlete Duke Deltoid (Tim Getman) and uncoordinated, nonathletic theater enthusiast Ellen Muse (Tara Giordano). Duke loses his pentathlete partner when the sport drops the traditional shot-put event in favor of a new competition: spoken-word salsa (yes, really). Duke, with the help of his trainer/spokeswoman, Delia Nike (Sheila Johnson), announces he’ll be holding tryouts to find a new partner for the summer Olympics. Catching wind of the tryouts, Ellen wishes she could partner with dreamy Duke but thinks she’s too klutzy to stand a chance against her hyperathletic sister, Pat-Mary (Channel 4 sports reporter Lindsay Czarniak). Ellen launches into a self-deprecating song, “If I Could Only Throw a Ball” (to the tune of The Wizard of Oz’s “If I Only Had a Brain”), only to be interrupted by a mysterious voice (William Newman) telling her buck up and start training—she’s going to try out for the pentathlon. During her first training run at Hains Point, Ellen twists her ankle and is nursed back to health by none other than Duke. The next time she sees Duke is at the tryouts, when she’s magically transformed into a Spandex-clad, spoken-word salsa diva—thanks to Tim Gunn, who pulls together her costume and gives her the confidence to compete. Duke doesn’t recognize Ellen (she’s using the alias Stella Fourstars), but he’s inspired by her performance and wants her to be his partner. Suddenly, at the prompting of the mysterious voice, she runs away from the tryouts and leaves behind a single sequined tennis shoe (sound familiar?). Duke spends the rest of the play—which somehow twists and turns through a Senate hearing on performance-enhancing drugs—searching for his muse until he finally finds her at the theater. The pair kiss and live happily ever after.

Best dance: Sheila Johnson and hubby William Newman. The couple brought down the house with their surprisingly coordinated groove near the end of the play. We think they must have practiced at home.
Best actor playing himself: Tim Gunn. We half expected Heidi Klum to make an appearance.

Most surprising talent: Tim Kaine on the harmonica. The governor has some serious chops—who knew?

Most enthusiastic: Lindsay Czarniak. Though she had only a handful of lines, Czarniak pulled them off with a lot of spunk—and jumping around.

Funniest moment: Tim Reid playing a fire-and-brimstone preacher. The actor even got the sweating and spitting down pat.

Funniest line: During the Hains Point scene, Duke tells Ellen she needs to buy new running shoes. “Take my advice,” he says, “go to Fleet Feet—1841 Columbia Road, Northwest—and get a cross trainer.” Too soon, Mr. Fenty? (Background: A week ago, local blogs posted a DC Republican Committee press release, in which the mayor got flack for wearing a running jersey from Fleet Feet—his parents’ store—in a DC tourism ad. The group accused the mayor of promoting his family’s business on the taxpayer’s dime, and called the ad “unethical and in bad taste.”)