BY ALICE YORK
The spirit of Shakespeare was alive and well at Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s GALA 2018, with humor, humility, fanfare, and great storytelling taking center stage that evening.
The city’s civic and artistic leaders gathered at the theater’s sun-filled Navy Pier location to toast the Bard’s enduring legacy, enjoying cocktails and mingling among artists in lavish costumes, followed by a three-course dinner by Host Committee sponsor Food for Thought. The Victorian garden theme featured lush floral arrangements by Pollen and striking visuals courtesy of MDR Creative Inc. all framed by the stunning skyline views.
The 500 attendees then filed into CST’s newest theater space, The Yard, lauded for its dynamic design, to honor three individuals who embody the storied playwright’s spirit through community engagement and artistic leadership with the annual Spirit of Shakespeare Awards. CST Artistic Director, Barbara Gaines, helped introduce this year’s Civic Honorees, Marilynn and Carl Thoma, both instrumental in the founding of the Theater and driving forces behind its evolution and growth. As civic leaders and philanthropists, their generosity has fostered myriad cultural organizations and artists across the country.
The 2018 Spirit of Shakespeare Artistic Honoree, John Lithgow, was recognized for his extensive career as a Tony, Emmy, and Golden Globe Award-winning actor. Lithgow, whose witty, personal stories of growing up in the world of Shakespearean theater had the audience in stitches, declared of the honor: “This not only gives me a chance to pay tribute to Chicago Shakespeare Theater, but also Chicago theater, period.”
The crown jewel of the evening, culminating the enchanting affair, was a one-night-only performance featuring Tony and Grammy Award-winner Heather Headley and The Voice all-star Chris Mann. In the star-studded concert, audiences were treated to selections including Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” sung by Headley, and duet performances of “Written in the Stars” from Aida and “For Good” from Wicked.
Best of all, this spectacular event raised an astounding $1.6 million through generous sponsorship, including Headline Sponsor, Thoma Bravo; community support; and a fast-paced paddle raise for Chicago Shakespeare in Classrooms and Communities initiatives, which include the Theater’s nationally-recognized education programs and free citywide Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks tour.
In honor of the festivities, Mayor Rahm Emanuel shared, “I want to thank Barbara Gaines, Criss Henderson, and the entire Chicago Shakespeare family for not only having a great celebration tonight here in the three theaters, but taking this beautiful artistic creation into our neighborhoods and into our parks all summer long for all our kids and families to enjoy.”