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Out & About: Two wow-factor parties open Topfer Theatre

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com
Christina and Louis Messina at the grand opening of the Topfer Theatre

Wow. Wow. Wow.

Austin social and theater history was made on Thursday night. The Topfer Theatre opened grandly with an intimate concert from stage star Bernadette Peters and a Broadway-sized onstage orchestra.

So Austin’s oldest theater company launched its newest theater building with its most significant show to date.

And what a space to hear a diva belt, croon and trill Broadway tunes, especially those of her idol, composer Stephen Sondheim. (She starred in “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Into the Woods” and “Follies,” along with Sondheim tributes.)

Looking fabulous beyond her years in a sparkling, form-fitting gown, Peters hit a few slightly rough vocal patches, revived style patter and mispronounced the name of the theater, but otherwise blew the lid off the acoustically sensitive room.

Much earlier, the evening began grandly with a black-tie procession past costumed performers, up a purple carpet to the classy, modern lobby, which could just barely fit in the formally attired guests (tickets: $1,000 apiece).

They then descended to the especially acquired sailcloth tent that swoops up into a dramatic interior. Zach plans to rent the plaza tent when not otherwise in use. Marquee Events will take it up and down when need be and maintain it.

Inside the translucent expanses we beheld the purple-tinged visions of party dreamer Bobbi Topfer and her eager team, which included veteran planner Victoria Hentrich and florist David Kurio , who attached dainty orchids to long, transparent rods. (The tent was christened that night in Bobbi’s honor.)

The tables buzzed with top Austin socials. Few big names were missing. (I stopped counting cumulative net worth at several billion dollars.) Most dressed in restrained but stylish Austin fashion, although a few Dallas or Houston types flashed big jewels, bigger hair and even bigger gowns. One even trimmed in fur. (Very bizarre.)

After a splendid dinner, the guests trotted back to the Topfer for the concert, then later trickled to the tent again for dessert and another sparkly toast.

Can’t tell you if the valet parking worked out, because I didn’t drive. Oh so sweet to live within walking distance of the Topfer, ACL Live, Long Center and the Paramount, along with the rest of downtown. Living for it. …

If Peters broke in the theater, Brian Stokes Mitchell consecrated it two nights later. The second Broadway star to sing during the grand opening weekend talked about the sacred nature of theaters and tailored his concert more closely to the occasion than did Peters.

While top backers returned for a second night of revelry — many of them packing the first of two concerts on Saturday — this crowd as a whole proved younger, noisier and more casual. The “Bobbi” tent was cleared of most low dinner tables and turned into a glowing dance hall. Additional music was performed by local bands on the Kleberg Stage next door.

Frito pies helped the festive spirit — as a healing City Council Member Bill Spelman agreed. Early in the evening, people had already begun to dance. I’m sure by the witching hour the place was writhing with grand opening frenzy.

A baritone with an astonishing range, Mitchell, like Peters, sang show tunes, several of them keyed to the Zach “Dream” theme. Of course, there was “The Impossible Dream,” but also “Wheels of a Dream,” performed with the Zach cast of “Ragtime.” That show catapulted Mitchell to stardom and it will serve as the first full musical on the Topfer stage.

It was all smiles, cheers and tears for the second grand opening. A dream come true.