On May 3, the Friends of Niagara University Theatre celebrated 50 years of NU Theatre and the contributions of the theatre program’s late co-founder, Brother Augustine Towey, C.M., Ph.D., when they hosted the 29th annual Friends of Niagara University Theatre Gala. Nearly 150 people attended, including Broadway legend John Kander, a Tony, Emmy and Grammy Award-winning composer and recipient of an honorary degree from Niagara University.
The festive event included a matinee of Curtains at the Leary Theatre, followed by a cocktail reception, dinner and silent and live auction at the Niagara Falls Country Club in Lewiston. Silent auction items included theatre tickets, gift certificates to area stores, restaurants, galleries and businesses, fine artwork and photos, entertainment and sports-related memorabilia, gift baskets, and much more.
Professional auctioneer Christopher Blake donated his time and expertise to preside over an exciting live auction, which included a Broadway trip with a posh hotel stay, travel certificate and backstage Broadway tour; tickets to a New York Yankees game in Toronto; a Buffalo sports lover’s package, with something for Bisons, Bills and Sabres fans; a Canadian theatre package; a Dimino Tops supermarket spree; the cameo role for next year’s gala musical, Guys and Dolls, and more.
A touching highlight of the evening was the unveiling of a beautiful oil portrait of Brother Augustine, which was painted by renowned Western New York portrait artist George Palmer. The painting was unveiled by Brother Augustine’s sisters, Anne Towey and Brenda Romanski, and was commissioned by the Friends of Niagara University Theatre. It will be displayed in a prominent place in the lobby of the Elizabeth Ann Clune Center for Theatre this summer. Palmer is the artist responsible for the stunning portraits on display at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre.
Following tradition, Dr. Sharon Watkinson and Steven Braddock presented several outstanding supporters of Niagara University Theatre with the Spirit of NU Theatre Award at the end of the evening. Honorees included Elizabeth Ann Clune and alumni Frederick J. Heuer, Vincent A. Russo, and Armand Schultz.
NU alumnus John T. Overbeck served as this year’s gala chair. Overbeck is a faculty fellow in NU’s College of Business Administration. He previously served in a number of executive sales positions for IBM for over 30 years. A longtime supporter of NU Theatre, Overbeck has also acted on its stage in a number of its productions, including That Championship Season, The Death of a Salesman, Fiddler on the Roof, and Our Town, to name a few.
Auction committee co-chairs included Friends board members Maria Arena of Clarence, Pamela LeCuyer of Getzville, Margaret Lacki of Grand Island, and Adair M. Saviola of Buffalo. Arena is board secretary and decorations chair of the event, and Saviola is board president. Dinner committee chair was Friends’ board vice president, Russell Papia, of Williamsville.
Funds raised from the annual gala will benefit the theater program and its students, from needed equipment and supplies to workshops and mentoring by guest artists with such professional credits as the Broadway stage, television shows and films.
For more information about next year’s gala – set for May 2, 2015 – please contact Jennifer Stahlman at 716.286.8483.
Article by Ann Heuer, office & media coordinator, NU Theatre.