Hector Elizondo, Marissa Jaret Winokur Return to Garry Marshall Theatre for Founder's Gala

Aaron Batzdorff
Paula Wagner and Rick Nicita

The 2nd annual Founder’s Gala, held at the Garry Marshall Theatre, provided a space for reflection on and celebration of the legacy of filmmaker, writer, and theatre owner, Garry Marshall.

On what would have been the late Garry Marshall's 83rd birthday, the Garry Marshall Theatre on Tuesday opened its doors to the Hollywood and Broadway community to fundraise for its upcoming slate of shows.

Marshall, who was known for his heartwarming feel-good shows like Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days, and his work directing iconic rom-coms like Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride, opened the theater in 1997. The 130-seat stage, originally named the Falcon Theatre, was tucked into the quaint Toluca Lake area of Burbank, just minutes away from the majority of the major studios. Since its inception, the venue has established a reputation for its uplifting stories that were innovative, spontaneous and hilarious.

Marshall reportedly continued to make movie after movie so that he could keep the theater alive. When he died in the summer of 2016, his family had to rethink its format. His wife, Barbara Marshall, and daughter, Kathleen Marshall LaGambina, led the charge to transition the theater into a nonprofit organization.

“This was a privately owned theater that Garry supported," Barbara told The Hollywood Reporter. "He didn’t ever raise money for it, so when he died, we had to go for nonprofit status to keep it going, mainly because I don’t direct and I don’t write and I don’t star in any movies. He made his movies to support the theater.”

Renamed in honor of its creator, the Garry Marshall Theatre was reintroduced to the community in 2017 as a nonprofit organization.

To start off this year's gala, the GMT team brought some veterans back to perform. Tony winner Marissa Jaret Winokur and Broadway favorite Paul C. Vogt welcomed the crowd with a lively performance of one of their old Hairspray numbers. After that, the live auction portion of the night got underway. The big-ticket item was a VIP package to see Pretty Woman the Musical on Broadway.

That show, like the theater, was another aspiration of Garry’s. After he died, Mission: Impossible producer Paula Wagner took over production and brought that dream to life, and for that, the theater presented her its Founder’s Award.

Wagner told THR that the musical marries past and present by tweaking certain aspects of the film to make it more suitable for the modern-day #MeToo era. “We have incorporated all the best moments from the film that everybody loved, but at the same time given it a little more contemporary aspect vis à vis the female characters,” she said.

Wagner’s husband, longtime CAA agent Rick Nicita, was also presented a Founder’s Award for his longtime collaboration with Marshall. The two met when Nicita was at CAA and stuck together long after Nicita left in 2012. Lori Marshall, Garry’s eldest daughter, noted, “They never had a contract — they only had a handshake.”

The GMT also recognized playwright Josefina López for her work overseeing the recent stage production of Real Women Have Curves. The effort was celebrated for its commitment to diversity onstage and behind the scenes. The play, which was brought together by an all-female team, centers around the life of a young, undocumented, Latina teenager living in East Los Angeles.

Despite the fact that López wrote it over 30 years ago, the play proved to be more relevant than ever. “I guess I was way ahead because I was talking about intersectional feminism before it was cool to talk about," she told THR. "It’s so wonderful that 30 years later, people are finally listening. People finally care about women and undocumented people.”

López went on to explain the importance of diversity: “We’re just bored by the white-guy-saving-the-world story. How many times can we say the same story? We need to understand other people's experiences, so that we can learn other lessons.”

Marshall-LaGambina reaffirmed that diversity was important for the next chapter of the GMT. “We’re reaching more into the community as a nonprofit," she said. "We really wanted to expand and grow beyond my dad and the shows we did as the Falcon, which were our voices amongst his company's development. Now we’re really turning towards this community and the greater L.A. community. We really want to speak to those voices, and the diversity and the inclusion of who's in our real L.A. community right now.”

The gala was successful in raising funds for its next series of performances, which will include The Mountaintop, a story about Dr. Martin Luther King, and Pang Spa, a play about immigrants living in Koreatown.