Society / The Seen

Hamilton and Law & Order Stars Celebrate Houston’s Arts Love

A Dramatic Night to Remember

BY // 08.25.17
photography Vicky Pink

Guests at the Ensemble Theatre‘s “Live It, Love It, Celebrate” gala could be forgiven for being star struck on the glamorous evening that saluted two of the nation’s leading talents. In fact, honorees Grammy and Tony Award winner Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton) and Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner S. Epatha Merkerson (Law & Order and Chicago Med) both commented on the “outpouring of love” they received in the ballroom of the Hilton Americas Houston.

The generous attention to all of the seven honorees was headed by gala chairs Merele Yarborough and Jane-Page Crump, seconded only by The Ensemble’s artistic director Eileen Morris and executive director Janette Cosley.

Goldsberry, who got her childhood start in theater at a HITS summer camp in Houston, was honored with the Actress of the Year award. “I was not born here. I don’t live here. I don’t work here. And yet I call this my home,” she told the gathering of more than 600. “And I do because of the community here that fosters people that love the arts.” (She lived in Houston for several years as a youngster.)

When Merkerson took the stage, the familiar strains of the Law & Order theme resounded through the ballroom. Accepting the Lifetime Achievement award, the actress remarked, “I’m a poster child for the work you do. What you do for the theater, for young people, and for artists is to allow them to create. You nurture them. You challenge them.”

Alumnus of The Ensemble Theatre young performers program Nkrumah Gatling, a company member and lead understudy in Broadway’s Miss Saigon, took bows as Rising Star honoree while Houston Ballet’s first African-American principal dancer Lauren Anderson received the President’s Award. Native Houstonian, retired executive vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, Reginald Van Lee was presented the Global Citizen of the Arts award.

The evening was filled with song and dance, snippets from Ensemble Theatre productions and the music of Bobbi Humphrey on flute accompanied by Ensemble music director André Sims. Keeping the lively program on score were emcees Samika Knight of ABC 13 and Khambrell Marshall of KPRC 2. Serving as honorary chairs were Licia Green-Ellis and Rodney Ellis and Kelli Cohen Fein and Martin Fein.

The night before the gala, key players and top supporters gathered at Grill 51fifteen for a celebration dinner underwritten by Gaynell Drexler.

Who: Board president Alaina Benford, board chair Argentina James, Dina Alsowayel and Anthony Chase, Lora Clemmons, Brenda and John Chase, Shawntell and Keith McWilliams, Gayla and Donald Garner, Leisa Holland Nelson, Yolanda Adams and Ronnie McBride, Judi McGee, Melanie Lawson and John Guess Jr., State Sen. Borris Miles, and City Council members Dwight Boykins, Larry Green and Jerry Davis.

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