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Gatsby on the Grand River

Local gala benefits area theater and historic mansion

Lavish parties, glamorous art deco and sumptuous style — all are trademarks of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famed millionaire Jay Gatsby, but they certainly aren’t confined to the Roaring ‘20s. To pave the way for Michigan State University Department of Theatre’s production of “The Great Gatsby,” which opens Friday, Oct. 13, MSU Friends of Theatre and Friends of Turner- Dodge House are hosting a charity gala at the mansion Friday. Guests can Charleston the night away while helping local theater.

Bob Andrews, president of the MSU Friends of Theatre and treasurer of the Turner-Dodge House board, said it’s the first time the two groups have worked together. The event will serve up a Gatsby-scale array of ’20s-themed activities, from appetizers, wine and desserts to live cast members from the “Great Gatsby,” live and in costume.

Gala-goers can also look forward to participatory events, with ballroom dancing on the mansion’s third-floor ballroom. “They will be doing dances from the period,” Andrews said. “If you want to join in, you can join in.” Cast members will also sing songs from the musical in the music room and perform vignettes where they act out a scene from the production.

Andrews offered assurance to connoisseurs of accuracy, that the event is designed to be as true to the period as possible.

“This will be a pretty authentic entertainment,” Andrews said. “Yes, we’d like people to come in costume, and we’ll actually be having a contest, so there will be a prize for the best costume.”

The proceeds from this event will be added to an endowment fund that was created by both organizations.

“We’re working on a $100,000 endowment,” Andrews said. “The income from that endowment will help sponsor the theater department. That’s going to be in perpetuity. We’re at the $70,000 level so far, so this will help us move toward that $100,000.”

According to Andrews, the design for the party was over one year in the making.

Several of the theater board members got the idea when they came to the Festival of Trees, an annual event at Turner-Dodge House. Visions of a “Downton Abbey”-style sit-down dinner with servants and other trappings began to dance in their heads as a major fundraiser for the two organizations. But Andrews said that the original idea proved to be a “very difficult goal because sit-down dinners are very expensive.”

Ironically, the luxurious ‘20s Gatsby lifestyle turned out to be more attainable. The financial viability of the event dovetailed perfectly with the theater department’s schedule.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and we’ll get into the spirit of the roaring ‘20s and a lot of flappers and all that,” Andrews said.


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