"In a town where the world 'genius' is bandied about so easily, it is truly an honor to stand in the presence of an actual genius," said "Desperate Housewives" producer Marc Cherry, glancing toward Sondheim, as he chatted with guests. "The most disarming thing about Stephen is that he never behaves as the legendary talent he is."
The evening benefited ASCAP's "Children Will Listen" program, which Marilyn Bergman conceived five years ago to expose youngsters to theater. She recalled one busload entering as a rambunctious bunch and then sitting transfixed through the Sondheim musical "Sunday in the Park With George." She said, "If it's a life-altering experience for one of these kids, then it's worthwhile."
Sondheim said he encourages young people to write for the theater and founded Young Playwrights Inc., a competition for writers under age 18. "One winner was 8 years old," he said.
As guests gathered together, Bergman talked of the master composer's ability to evoke tears with his music.
"What makes me cry is education and teaching," Sondheim said. Also present were Herb Alpert and his wife, Lani Hall; noted TV-theme composer Dan Foliart; Darcie Denkert and Dean Stolber of MGM on Stage; and Michael Kerker, ASCAP's director of musical theater.
Earlier that day, P.S. Arts staged its signature event, "Express Yourself," which attracted 1,500 arts enthusiasts, about half under age 13, to Santa Monica's Barker Hangar, netting nearly $550,000 for arts education in underserved public schools.
Laurie David, author of "The Family Dinner," said she originally created the event because "it made no sense that in Los Angeles, the heart of the entertainment industry, that the arts were disappearing from the schools."
Board member Lisa Kudrow said, "If you want to have innovators, this is exactly what's needed. You can't do math sheets all day — you need to exercise the creative part of your mind too."
Bringing along children were actors Kudrow, Camryn Manheim, Cuba Gooding Jr., Marcia Cross, Debi Mazar, Billy Miller and Lisa Rinna. Carla Sands, Stephanie Winokur, Liane Weintraub, Shannan Swanson and Carleen Cappelletti were also in attendance.
There were 27 art booths offering doll-making, bead-stringing, teepee-painting and more. Hairdressers, makeup artists and stylists at the E! Channel's booth made youngsters "red carpet ready" with updos, tiaras, boas, bracelets and statuettes they decorated themselves.
"What I love about this event is that it says what we're about," said Maria Bell, event co-chair and co-executive producer of "The Young and the Restless." Target and the Bell family were major sponsors.
It's hard to imagine that any sweet tooth went unsatisfied, with cupcakes, hot cakes, banana splits and muffins served, in addition to hot dogs, hamburgers, salads and sushi.
"Don't get any more junk," Debi Mazar cautioned, as her children darted down the aisle.