Theater tradition dictates that the show must go on, and so it did on June 17, when Queens Theatre held “The 2013 Gala, A Movable Musical Feast,” a major fundraising event, despite the lack of an executive director.
“I’m very excited,” said Frances Resheske, co-chair of the event and long-time president of the theater’s board of directors, as the evening of food, drink and entertainment came to a conclusion.
The event, which paid special tribute to Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and two-time Emmy Award-winning actor/writer Robert Wuhl, whose play “Hit Lit” had its world premiere at the theater in March, featured performers ranging from Broadway’s Tsidii Le Loka to singer and instrumentalist Lora-Faye.
“It’s our big fundraiser. We met our goal,” Resheske said. As she looked around at the crowd, she added, “There are so many young people here, many of them first-timers who I hope will come back.”
Resheske, who grew up in Queens, said she has seen the theater grow from a small community theater to the multiple-theater complex it is today.
“I’d like to see it continue to grow as a diverse performing arts center. I’d like to expand our audience,” she said.
The event’s other co-chair, Gary Kesner, who also serves as vice-president of the theater’s board, was optimistic about the theater’s future.
“It’s on a great trajectory,” he said. “We want to see all three performing spaces being utilized and a theater that’s never dark.”
He called the gala “a fabulous evening. We raised lots of money for the theater. The audience saw a diversity of performances that represents the multiculturalism of Queens.”
The entertainment kicked into high gear with the unmistakable off-stage sound of Le Loka’s voice, chanting the opening strains of the anthem she sang as the original Rafiki in Broadway’s “The Lion King.”
After emerging in the spotlight, in addition to “Circle of Life,” she sang her own composition, “Beyond the Isle,” inspired by a trip back to her native South Africa, and paid a musical tribute to American blues.
“I live in Queens,” she told the enthusiastic crowd. Of the theater, she said, “I’m very proud of this home, which is so important to us. The privilege of having a home like this is extremely important to me, to you, and to all those growing up in this community.”
Colombian native Edmar Castaneda displayed his virtuosity in an extended harp solo, while dancers Paul and Lulu whirled effortlessly about the stage in several numbers. Lora-Faye and her back-up band brought the eclectic performance to its conclusion.
The theater’s vast lobby served as the focal point during the early part of the evening, as attendees made their way to the buffet tables. During the event many of the guests were drawn to the theater’s more intimate cabaret space, where they could listen to the pre-show piano stylings of Argentinian Frank Valiente.
Inside the main stage theater, named in honor of former borough president Claire Shulman, who was in attendance, Resheske presented a plaque to Wuhl, the evening’s first honoree. Wuhl called his experience at the theater several months ago “one of the really terrific times of my life.” His play, he said, “is moving on now to a borough beginning with M, but it started here.” He said that Ray Cullom, the theater’s executive director until several weeks ago, “read the play and put it on the schedule.”
Kesner handled Van Bramer’s tribute, saying, “Jimmy has a long history of recognizing the critical role of all cultures. He respects diversity.”
The search is under way to replace Cullom, who helmed the theater for two years. He has taken a similar position as executive director at the Zorlu Center for the Performing Arts, which is set to open in the fall in Istanbul, Turkey.
Willy Mosquera, a long-time employee of the Queens Theatre who currently serves as its house manager, sees the transition as providing possibilities for “a new beginning. Our audiences love to see good theater, good dance, a lot of music concerts, comedians, tribute acts.”
The gala’s co-chairs indicate that future plans include expanding the theater’s education programming to bring dance, music and acting into Queens schools with a particular emphasis on English language learners. They plan to include more after-school programs and in-house performance classes.