06/08/2010 05:43 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

American Theater Wing Spring Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street

Tony nominees Linda Lavin, Chad Kimball, Montego Glover, Valeria Harper, Jan Maxwell, Stephen Kunkel, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Katie Finneran were among those walking the red carpet at Cipriani 42nd Street Monday night along with others of the theater community: Harry Connick, Jr., Tommy Tune, Liz Smith, Phyllis Newman, Pia Lindstrom, Jimmy Nederlander. The occasion: the annual American Theater Wing gala, celebrating the work of composer Frank Loesser, a prelude to the big Tony night coming up this Sunday.

Here is a glimpse of this tribute, a big night on its own: Memphis's Montego Glover said no to canapés, slight in a yellow gown, while her co-star Chad Kimball spoke laughingly of the wear and tear on his body in the demanding role as the young white D.J. who falls in love with the Memphis sound, and the black girl who performs the music like no other. Stephen McKinley Henderson, quietly forceful as Denzel Washington's best friend in Fences. Jan Maxwell, hilarious in the bedroom farce Lend Me a Tenor, complained of being asked the same questions by reporters. Or rather, had the same answers for reporters? Looped may have closed, but Valerie Harper is conveniently in town filming a movie, and Linda Lavin, lovely in an off the shoulder purple gown, was pleased when I said I took her side in the play Collected Stories. "You're a writer, aren't you?" she said, knowing that her role as the older novelist whose life story is taken as material by her young assistant resonates.

Praising Katie Finneran for her killer performance in Promises, Promises, I confessed I fell out of my chair. I love that, she said, I love the unpredictable ugly laugh. Glancing at her watch, "this real pro" disappeared before dinner because they had a performance making up for missing on Tony night. It was only 7:30, and Finneran was not to appear until the second act, leaving the rest of us to ponder, what does she do during Act I, while waiting to go on? Cornering the very tall Tommy Tune, I asked what his favorites were. "Next Fall for Best Original Play," he said, "because it made me think long after leaving the theater. And American Idiot for Best Musical, but those of us over 40 may need ear plugs."

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