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SOCIAL CLIMES

Good evening, starshine

March 09, 2003|Ann Conway | Times Staff Writer

"To hell with 'The Producers'! This is the highlight of my year, right here!"

With that, Jason Alexander -- who will star in the Broadway smash "The Producers" when it opens at the Pantages Theatre in May -- welcomed guests to "A Night at Sardi's," a benefit for the Alzheimer's Assn. that raked in nearly $1 million for research and patient services.

Performing onstage at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Alexander joined David Hyde Pierce, Eric McCormack, John Mahoney and Leeza Gibbons in selections from "Hair," the '60s tribal rock musical. And yep, some of them got naked -- in eye-popping naked suits, that is.

Talk about timing. "When we decided to present this musical, we had no intention of staging an antiwar protest," said gala chairwoman Laurie Burrows Grad, looking groovy in a vintage Bob Mackie gown and flower-powered Jimmy Choo wedgies. "That's not what we're about. But it's pretty timely."

Each year since 1992, the association has showcased celebrities who volunteer to perform in a classic musical. Grad's father, writer-director Abe Burrows -- creator of such Broadway hits as "Guys and Dolls" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" -- was the inspiration for the benefit, she said. "Before he died in 1985 of Alzheimer's disease, he couldn't write or speak. We created 'A Night at Sardi's' as a tribute to him."

Recognized at the Feb. 26 affair for their work on behalf of Alzheimer's awareness and education were Jeanne Phillips ("Dear Abby"), Steven Schachter, William H. Macy, Sharon Rhodes-Wickett and Al Rhodes-Wickett.

Pre-show time, McCormack said he was thrilled to make his debut appearance at the annual fund-raiser. "There are a few musicals that are absolutely key to my life, and 'Hair' is one of them. So I couldn't pass on a chance to sing it like I did in my bedroom 20 years ago." Comedy writer Bruce Vilanch updated the lyrics for the show's rendition of "Air." "It took a musical with nudity in it to get me involved," Vilanch joked, adding that "in the '60s, when 'Hair' was written, 'Air' was concerned with the environment. Now we have global warming and toxic waste. Then, they only had pollution."

Seated at tables topped with daisies and patches of green wheatgrass, guests -- among them Brooke Shields, Billy Crystal and Patti Davis -- dined on radicchio salad, breast of chicken and a trio of desserts, including a chocolate brownie. But not before a caveat from Grad: "There will be no mescaline in the salad, no hash brown potatoes, no 'shrooms," she deadpanned. "Alice B. Toklas will not be making brownies, and there will be no chicken in the pot or visa-versa."

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