The stars in Hartford were inside Monday night.
They were at Hartford Stage where its 50th anniversary celebration continued with a who’s who of past artists reading vignettes from their Hartford roles and reminiscing about the city and the theater that gave them opportunity, welcoming audiences and cherished memories.
“”I have never been more happy that I am in this building,” said an exuberant Richard Thomas, who gave impassioned readings from Tennessee Williams’ “A Distant Country Called Youth” and William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” plays he had done under former stage artistic directors Mark Lamos and Michael Wilson. “I can’t tell you how much this building and the people here meant to me.”
Thomas, am accomplished stage actor who is best known for his role as ‘John Boy’ Walton on the television series “The Waltons,” was just one of many actors who turned out for the Hartford Stage retrospect that offered a glimpse of the stage’s 50 years of theater history.
“Oh to get that role was so exciting to me,” recalled actress Dana Ivey who read from Sophocles “Antigone,” the production she starred in when Hartford Stage was located on Kinsley Street in the late 60s. “I was in my late 20s and I was so excited to get that job,” she said. “It will always be a special memory.”
“I remember when Jacques came home and said he wanted to establish the theater,” recalled Hartford Stage founder Jacques Cartier’s wife Diana Cartier, as she shared the story of how her Yale School of Drama graduate husband decided to start the theater in 1963. “I said ‘go for it’ and whatever the saying was then and pushed him to do it,” she said as she and her husband fielded congratulations from guests. “I am tremendously happy for the theater’s success.”
Following the performance at the theater, guests headed over to the Hartford Hilton for an after party that included an impressive anniversary themed cake and lots of star power including well-known set designer Karl Eigsti, actors Seret Scott, David Patrick Kelly, Kate MacCluggage, Bill Raymond and Lisa O’Hare.
And there were the heartfelt perspectives of the value of theater and the longevity of Hartford Stage from those who should know.
“Hartford Stage is the one institution that nips this city together,” said Michael Price, longtime executive director at the Goodspeed in East Haddam, celebrating its own 50th anniversary this year. “It is the essence of what an arts institution should be.”