At its exquisite 3rd annual Legends Gala, the Granada Theatre honored philanthropists Ann Towbes and Michael Towbes (in memoriam), opera star Marilyn Horne, and the Music Academy of the West. While also a fundraiser, the event’s focus was on paying tribute to these legends.
The evening began with a reception in the first and second floor lobbies and in the elegant Founders Room. A brief power outage had event organizers a bit nervous, but a generator kept the reception hopping and power was quickly restored. After the reception, the 240 guests at this black tie affair entered the theater on their journey to the dining venue, which was none other than the Granada stage itself. To accommodate so much seating on stage, a platform was placed over the first few rows of theatre seats. The stunning Alhambra backdrop of the Spanish countryside framed the rear of the space, magenta and gold table linens and flowers graced the round tables, and dim, violet lighting permeated the space. It was a scene of grand and refined elegance.
A round, elevated platform in the center of the space served as one stage, which made for an intimate theater-in-the-round experience. Andrew Firestone effortlessly rose to the challenge of hosting in all directions, aided by a giant video screen projecting the always charming “Bachelor” throughout the space. Firestone thanked all in attendance and noted that it is “only because of the generosity of the people in this room that the Granada is open to everyone in the community” to experience world class performances.
Between dinner courses, guests were entertained by amazing performers, starting with 2017 Teen Star winner Nolan Montgomery and finalist Nicole Trujillo, who brilliantly performed Phantom of the Opera’s “All I Ask of You.” Mexican mezzo-soprano star Cassandra Zoe Velasco delighted the guests with “Una Voce Poco Fa” from The Barber of Seville. Pianist Micah McLaurin performed a Liszt and Rachmaninoff piece. The highlight for many was the performance by State Street Ballet dancers Mauricio Vera and Deise Mendonça. These So You Think You Can Dance finalists enthralled the audience with a mesmerizing dance that fused bachata, samba and rumba.
Marilyn Horne, the Vocal Program Director at the Music Academy of the West, is known the world over for her dazzling mezzo-soprano coloratura and her revival of forgotten Rossini, Handel, Vivaldi, and Bellini operas. Horne’s daughter, Angela Houle, introduced her, noting how the time her mother has spent at the Music Academy of the West sharing her wisdom and inspiration to singers and musicians has been so special to her. In accepting the award, Horne remarked how as she has gotten older, she has been given the “legend” honor many times, but this is the nicest one yet.
In presenting the award to the Music Academy of the West (MAW), Ed Birch likened MAW to the Energizer Bunny, “it is everywhere and it never stops, it involves hundreds of dedicated volunteers, who cheerfully” give of their time. Birch recognized MAW as being in the top tier of classical musical training programs in the world and called President and CEO Scott Reed dynamic, charismatic, and the epitome in all ways of truly great leadership.
In accepting the award, Reed shared his experience in the audience at the New York Philharmonic concert at La Playa Stadium last summer, where there were 7,000 people behind him. He noticed it was very quiet because everyone was completely captivated by the classical music. “Art and culture truly do define the community, they bring the community together, and Santa Barbara is a utopia of culture and community.” He extended his thankfulness to the supporters “for investing in the arts and education and making Santa Barbara such an extremely special place.”
Hal Conklin had the privilege of sharing some of the contributions of Anne and Michael Towbes. Conklin explained how Anne throughout her life and Michael while he was living wanted all people, regardless of income or social status, to be able to come to the theater and wanted to ensure that future generations in Santa Barbara would have a rich cultural life. He noted how when the Towbes began sharing their passion, resources always began flowing from others as well. Michael was involved in every aspect of the Granada’s $100 million plus renovation and Anne “was the heart and soul that gave it love.”
In accepting the award on behalf of Michael and herself, Anne remarked with a big smile, “we were a good team and it sure was fun being in partnership with him.” She quoted her friend Joan Rutkowski, who stated that “Michael was the very essence of compassion, duty, and graciousness. All over Santa Barbara, he was the symbol of selfless humanity, a pragmatic doer, a dreamer of dreams that no one else dare dream…. “ In concluding, Anne sweetly shared that “Michael will always be my Mr. Wonderful.” Anne and Michael’s fan club, which included everyone in attendance, rose for an extended ovation.
The Granada Theatre is part of the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts, which also includes its Historic Theatre District partners, the Lobero Theatre and the New Vic Theatre and its eight resident companies: CAMA, Music Academy of the West, Opera Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Choral Society, Santa Barbara Symphony, State Street Ballet, Theater League and UCSB Arts & Lectures.
For more information about the Granada Theatre, go to granadasb.org.
By Gail Arnold