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On the scene: Hollywood goes off-Broadway to pay tribute to Naked Angels

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Image Credit: Peter Kramer/AP ImagesActors of all kinds, from A-list movie stars and Broadway veterans to up-and-comers, turned up at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City on Valentine’s night to pay tribute to the Naked Angels’ 25th anniversary. The Naked Angels company has been nurturing the careers of theater types and encouraging provocative storytelling since 1986, and the stars showed up in droves to show their appreciation.

The night started out with a very crowded VIP cocktail reception. I spotted Edie Falco catching up with her Sopranos costar and recent Top Chef guest judge Lorraine Bracco — both were gorgeous and looked years younger than they did playing the leading ladies in Tony’s life. Old friends surrounded Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei, who came decked head to toe in Valentine’s Day colors, wearing a flattering blood-red suit that hugged her tiny frame. Liev Schreiber arrived in high spirits toward the end of the reception, looking his usual ruggedly handsome self.Everyone slowly made their way to their tables for a three-course meal and then the night’s entertainment — skits and songs (very) loosely based on the formation of the theater company — written, directed, and performed by members of the Naked Angels. The skits, refreshingly unpolished, played like a group of freewheeling theater students, the plots madcap and nonsensical: a be-togaed Steven Weber played Sophocles in one scene, Schreiber voiced God from the rafters, and the hilarious Richard Kind mugged his way through a silly song. Two highlights of the evening: a performance of “Tell Me Tomorrow,” a song by Justin Levine, the “annoyingly young” — as various people at my table described him — musical director of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and a drumline by the enormous Bergenfield High School marching band.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick were billed as the honorary co-chairs of the evening — emphasis on honorary. We had been warned that SJP would arrive late, due to her filming schedule, but she was nowhere to be seen all night. Broderick fulfilled his hosting duties, but in true Bueller fashion: He had pre-taped scenes from bed, (I’m pretty sure) feigning a 105-degree fever.

While SJP was a no-show, there were several Friends of Carrie in attendance. Patrick Breen, forever known as Mr. Good on Paper, Bad in Bed, spoke to me passionately about Naked Angels and the future of theater. Ron Rifkin, the theater heavyweight who played Carrie’s lecherous Vogue editor, made his rounds during dinner and even stopped at “the kids’ table” where I was sitting to say hello. An affable Evan Handler told me the night was like “a high school reunion, only with people you chose to be with.” Handler is returning to HBO to play Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, in Too Big to Fail and will start filming Season 5 of Californication in April. As for Sex and the City, he’d be “surprised” if there were a third movie. “But then again, no one kept me up to date with one and two,” he said.

Image Credit: Peter Kramer/AP ImagesWhile many of the established stars turned out for old time’s sake, I also met Ben Chase, a 23-year-old actor at the very beginning of his Naked Angels journey. He’s done regional theater and also played one of Anne Hathaway’s servants in Alice in Wonderland. (Unfortunately, his scene was cut.) Also the development and marketing assistant for Naked Angels, he seems to typify what the troupe is all about. “Naked Angels is helping me, as a young actor, find my position in the theater world,” he said.

In time, Chase might develop into one of the organizations most distinguished members. But he wouldn’t be the first star or even the first Oscar winner to recognize Naked Angels for its nurturing spirit. After the skits, I caught up with a very giddy Tomei. “Naked Angels is all about heart! And spirit! And spunk!” she shouted over the impressive vocal stylings of Gina Gershon. “Naked Angels totally formed me!”

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