RECAP: ZACH’s Topfer Theatre Grand Opening Weekend
Believe it or not, just a few years ago the hope for another performing arts facility in the Riverside Drive corridor was most likely going to be a dream delayed. However, after many years of fundraising through a public/private partnership, Austin’s longstanding community playhouse, ZACH Theatre, pulled it off in grand style with a weekend full of opening celebrations launching the 430-seat Topfer Theatre. Boldface names abounded, and to paraphrase our good friend at Out & About, the room was filled with “billions of dollars” in net worth. Not bad for the little theater that could!
The festivities began on Thursday evening with a $1,000/plate dinner catered by the Four Seasons that included a “who’s who” of Austin’s philanthropic, arts, tech, media, business, and political worlds. The black-tie crowd ascended the blue carpeted steps for a cocktail hour in the theater lobby, while performers in fantastical and colorful attire greeted those assembled. Although many interesting conversations were overheard, the Topfer itself was the talk of the night. Spotted among the revelers were the entire Topfer clan, Mary and Rusty Tally (literally off the plane from Colorado), Richard Hartgrove and Gary Cooper, Ann Butler, Teresa and Joe Long, Eloise and John Paul Dejoria, James Armstrong and Larry Connelly, Becky Beaver and John Duncan, Karen Hawkins, and too many others to name. Suffice to say, if you can think of a boldface name with Austin ties, they were in attendance.
After dinner, guests moved into the Topfer for a performance by Broadway legend and Tony winner (not to mention a personal favorite in “The Jerk,”) Bernadette Peters. Peters wowed the crowd in her shimmering violet gown and signature ginger curls. She looked ethereal, sounded angelic, and gave a few gentlemen a surprise when she slinked offstage and into the audience for a little private serenading. Once the performance was over, everyone (with Peters in tow) moved back to the tent where the dinner was held to conclude the evening with toasts and more mingling.
If Thursday night was all about chic glamor, part two of the celebration weekend (on a rainy Saturday, no less) was really about a party! The tent – custom-made for ZACH, and freshly-minted as the Bobbi Topfer Pavilion – had been completely re-vamped by Mandarin Flower Co. and felt more like one had been transported to another place in time. DJ Manny provided playful tunes that got the markedly laid-back guests moving, the geniuses at Ilios Lighting Design once again projected a playful ambiance, and food stations from Lucky J’s Chicken and Waffles, 34th St. Cafe, Hey Cupcake and others gave everyone an opportunity to steel themselves for another long evening.
As if Bernadette Peters weren’t enough, Tony-winning actor Brian Stokes Mitchell was Saturday’s headliner. Mitchell gave a rousing christening to the space with a bawdy, but powerful, performance of Broadway hits, including a brief preview of his forthcoming album. After a few songs from Ragtime, the first musical set to grace the Topfer stage, Mitchell spoke of “consecrating” the space and wished the ZACH patrons a “future Tony” for regional theater. To say he had the crowd over the moon would be an understatement.
Once again, party goers transitioned from the theater to the tent and ended the evening with a dance party like we hadn’t seen since…well, since ZACH’s Red, Hot, and Soul event last spring! Can you tell these folks like to have a good time? Seeing top socials cut loose on the dance floor to everything from Cumbia to old-school Hip Hop (BBD, anyone?) to disco and Gaga is a sight to be seen. What a fun crowd…and what a grand way to open what is sure to become another jewel in the crown of Austin performance spaces.
A quick note on the Thursday night valet situation: big praise to organizers for bringing a tech-savvy valet company into the mix. We texted the number of our ticket to the number provided, and by the time we made it out the front door the car was waiting. Not an easy feat for a crowd nearing 500. Kudos to all!