Wednesday 21 February 2018

Hanks as your host . . . it's the luck of the Irish

Tom Hanks alongside Maura Tierney in Lucky Guy.
Tom Hanks alongside Maura Tierney in Lucky Guy.
Charlotte Moore
Actor Vincent Dowling at Dublin's Customs House. Photo: Tony Gavin

Aedin Gormley

Tom Hanks recently received a Tony nomination for his Broadway debut in Nora Ephron's final play Lucky Guy. This Monday he should be taking his regular night off, but he will be back on stage at the Broadhurst Theatre in a different role.

Hanks will be hosting a gala night in aid of the New York-based Irish Repertory Theatre. This renowned company stages the works of Irish and Irish-American classic and contemporary playwrights.

The gala night is entitled Something Wonderful! The Songs of Rodgers & Hammerstein and will also feature Oscar-winner Shirley Jones, who starred in the screen versions of both Oklahoma and Carousel. I only wish I could be there.

So, how on earth do you get Tom Hanks to host your gala benefit night? A question I asked Charlotte Moore, co-founder and artistic director of The Irish Rep. It turns out that it was a final gesture for the theatre company from Vincent Dowling who passed away just a few weeks ago. Dowling had a long and distinguished association with the Abbey Theatre as an actor, director and artistic director. He is also the man credited with discovering Tom Hanks.

"We asked Vincent to deliver a letter to Tom Hanks asking him to host our gala, Vincent did and Tom said yes," said Charlotte. Simple as that!

Hanks worked in American theatre with Dowling for three years and had huge respect for him. He wrote the forward to Dowling's 2001 book Astride the Moon, saying: "Vincent's the reason I'm an actor. He gave me my first union job at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Ohio."

The Irish Rep, it has to be said, has always attracted big names for these gala nights. Charlotte tells me that its first host presenter was none other than Katherine Hepburn and more recent supporters have included Gabriel Byrne and Jeremy Irons. So Hanks is in good company.

This is a company too with a great reputation. It has been called "one of the finest theatre companies in America" by The Wall Street Journal and is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

The funds raised on Monday night are vital for the company. "It is huge – it pays for our year, so we have to be good."

Charlotte co-founded The Irish Rep with Ciarán O'Reilly, who is directing its summer production The Weir by Conor McPherson – a production that has not been seen professionally on Broadway for 14 years.

Charlotte recalls her first time to direct O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars when the company started.

"I didn't know what I was doing and what I was undertaking. They thought I was an upstart and didn't know what I was doing and they were right," she says.

However, she had a strong cast and an all-Irish one, which was rare, so the production got a lot of attention.

"A lot of people came including The New York Times and it sold out, so we said let's do another one and that was 150 plays ago and 25 years ago."

The theatre company's secret seems to be devotion to hard work and it has earned its loyal following. "It has taken a long time to build an audience. The audiences here are dedicated and when you just keep doing the good stuff they come back."

Tom Hanks will host Something Wonderful! The Songs of Rodgers & Hammerstein on Monday at the Broadhurst Theatre, NYC. The Weir by Conor McPherson runs until July 7 at The Irish Repertory Theatre NYC.

Aedín Gormley presents Movies and Musicals (Sat 1-4pm) and Sunday Matinée (Sun 1-4pm) on RTÉ lyric fm.

Irish Independent

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