Center Theatre Group’s long history of supporting the LGBT community by producing and presenting work with LGBT themes and characters was honored at Lambda Legal’s West Coast Liberty Awards on June 2, 2016. Artistic Director Michael Ritchie accepted the award on the company’s behalf at a star-studded gala at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire.
From Terrence McNally’s 1990 The Lisbon Traviata and Tony Kushner's Angels in America (which was first fully produced in its entirety at the Mark Taper Forum in 1992) to last summer’s revival of Martin Sherman’s Bent, Center Theatre Group has been proud to share LGBT stories. A short video offered the gala audience a chance to look back at some production highlights before Ritchie accepted the award from actor Tom Berklund, who appeared in Bent.
Ritchie began by thanking Lambda Legal for its vital work as well as Elliott Sernel, who serves as a board member for both Center Theatre Group and Lambda Legal, for his commitment to and support of both institutions.
Then, Ritchie shared a recent remarkable moment in Center Theatre Group—and America’s—history: June 26, 2015, when the Supreme Court legalized the freedom to marry for all same-sex couples. That day, explained Ritchie, the two shows in rehearsal at Center Theatre Group just happened to have same-sex love stories at their core—Todd Almond’s rock musical Girlfriend and the dark Holocaust drama Bent. The timing was perfect and also serendipitous; there was no master plan to have two LGBT shows onstage at once, said Ritchie. Indeed, he would not have defined either story in precisely that way. “I believe that LGBT stories are historical stories, are love stories, are important stories, American stories, and most of all, are human stories,” he told the crowd. “They’re all of our stories. And the LGBT community is our community. Which is why it’s always come naturally to me to share their stories on our stages.”
In an interview with actor Daniel Franzese on the red carpet beforehand, Ritchie explained why this award was particularly special. “I’m in a business that gives out a lot of awards, maybe too many,” he said. “I was extremely touched because this award is about the importance of what we do, not the quality or entertainment value of what we do.”