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We've All Been Touched by TKTS A TDF gala celebrates 40 years of TKTS in Times Square and An essential man in TKTS history

By MARK BLANKENSHIP

We all know TKTS is a place to buy discounted theatre tickets, but in the 40 years since it was created, it's also become an emotional touchstone for New York theatre lovers. Ask anyone who cares about the arts in this city, and they'll almost certainly have a memory of TKTS.

That became obvious on Monday at TDF's gala, which celebrated 40 years of TKTS in Times Square and the remarkable career of Philip J. Smith, chairman and co-chief executive officer of the Shubert Organization. Along with his success as a Broadway producer, Smith has been vital to TKTS: He even helped find the trailer that housed the very first booth. As celebrities saluted him at the Edison Ballroom, they made it clear how much they valued his work.

The legendary actress Dame Zoe Caldwell recalled sending both of her sons to work at TKTS, and she said it was their first step in joining the Broadway family. The rest of her speech was just as personal, including a surprising, touching finale: Noting that Smith's favorite musical was My Fair Lady, she serenaded him with "Wouldn't It Be Loverly." It was electric to see one theatre legend honor another in the artistic language they shared.

Before that, Caldwell also delivered the night's most charming moment: She had forgotten her glasses at her table, and since she couldn't read her speech without them, she borrowed a pair from a man on the front row. (At least four people leapt to their feet to offer their eyewear, which proves that a Dame can still get respect in this town.)

More memorable moments came from Bernadette Peters, who flawlessly sang a trio of musical theatre standards; Hugh Jackman, who appeared in a pre-taped video tribute to Smith; and the cast of Forbidden Broadway, who debuted a new song about TDF. (You can watch it below.)

Tying everything together was host Douglas Carter Beane, the playwright who has two shows on Broadway this spring, (He wrote the new book for Cinderella, and his drama The Nance premieres in April.) Early in the night, Beane remembered telling his parents he wanted to work in the theatre.  Just to be sure, they told him, he needed to go to New York and see three shows. Soon enough, he was at TKTS, and by the end of that weekend, he was hooked on theatre forever.

Later, Beane joked that he was surrounded by young people, and he reminded the twenty-somethings what World War II was. At the end of the night, though, he told everyone they should find twenty-somethings wandering through Times Square and point them toward TKTS.

After all, Beane said, that's how young people can start their theatre habits, just like he did. It was a reminder that TKTS is still doing what it has done for 40 years: Making the theatre more accessible for everyone and helping countless people fall in love with the stage.

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Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor

Photos by Anita and Steve Shevett