Friends of Tony Randall, many of whom have graced the Great White Way numerous times, filled the Majestic Theatre to pay tribute to the actor and Broadway producer, who died last May.
The theater, the home of ”The Phantom of the Opera,” was instilled more with spirit and laughter Tuesday than sadness. Speakers — including Harry Belafonte, Garry Marshall and Eli Wallach — shared personal stories with the audience.
Broadway actor James Naughton hosted the affair. Naughton began the ceremony by reading snippets from the official Tony Randall Day proclamation, issued earlier by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“I’m going to skip through the whereases and so forths,” he joked with the audience before reciting highlights.
Naughton’s wit and poise set the tone for the afternoon event, which was seasoned with songs from Randall’s performing friends.
Ben Vereen crooned “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries” to the audience. Before he began, the “Roots” star said the song’s title was a motto by which Randall lived each day.
When mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne strolled onto the stage, she warned the crowd she wasn’t going to perform opera — she now teaches it — but did sing “At the River,” a song she believed meant passing on to the other side was like meeting your friends on the other side of a river.
Naughton also apologized for not performing opera — albeit jokingly — because he’s not an opera singer. Naughton performed “Razzle Dazzle” from “Chicago,” a song he said Randall’s wife, Heather Harlan, told him that Randall would perform for her during cocktail hour in their home.
Remembering a gentlemanThe crowd welcomed Tony-winning Julie Harris — accompanied by Maria Tucci — with boisterous applause. Tucci, Randall’s last co-star in “Right You Are,” was brought to tears when speaking about the last time she saw Randall. Harris patted Tucci on the cheek when the tears arrived.
“He said, ‘See you Tuesday,”’ Tucci told the crowd.
Many of the speakers touched upon how happy Randall was during the last years of his life, commenting he was a devoted family man. Randall and Harlan had two children, Julia and Jefferson.
Others spoke about his commitment to the theater. In 1991, Randall founded the National Actors Theatre with the intent of bringing serious theater with serious actors to the masses. “The Crucible,” NAT’s first production, starred Martin Sheen and Michael York. Under Randall’s artistic direction, NAT produced 19 plays including, “The Gin Game,” “Inherit the Wind” and “The Persians.”
The tribute ended — appropriately — with Jack Klugman, who starred with Randall on stage and on television in “The Odd Couple,” Randall’s most well-known work, as well as other theatrical productions such as “The Sunshine Boys” and “Three Men on a Horse.”
Klugman said he hoped in the near future there would be a theater in New York called the Tony Randall Theater.