Origin earns its party night

Quinn Bernegger.

By Orla O’Sullivan

Showcasing European talent is Origin Theatre Company’s specialty, but it was a New York native who transfixed attendees at its annual gala this week.

Quinn Bernegger, a tenor from Cooperstown who was the first of the evening’s performers, noted he had traveled from Boston for a special person. “This one’s for you, Aunt Kathy.”

One bar into Bernegger’s rendition of “Bring Him Home” from “Les Misérables” attendees forgot about the other bar, the dinner buffet, the Park Avenue penthouse views and whatever conversations they might have been having.

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Experiencing tingles myself—not an effect music induces in me—I noticed that the woman behind me slapped her hand to her chest and, by the end of the song, had tears in her eyes.

“Are you Aunt Kathy, I asked?”

“No, but I might as well have been,” responded the woman, who identified herself as Cynthia Darlow, an actor who know Origin founder George Heslin of old. “George and I did “Juno and the Paycock” at The Roundabout [Theatre Company] years ago.”

Aunt Kathy, it transpired, was Kathryn Coughlin, one of this year’s main sponsors.

Her assessment of Bernegger—who will perform with Opera Saratoga this summer—was modestly understated: “I think he’s pretty good.”

Origin’s celebration of its 16th anniversary was held in the usual gala venue, the headquarters of Mutual of America.

Somewhat unusually recently, Tom Moran, the Fortune 500’s former chief executive attended.

Colm Meaney presenting to Phil Burke.

Moran paid tribute to his former company colleague and one of the night’s honorees, Ed Kenney. Along with his wife Brigid, Kenney received Origin’s Community Leaders Award, in recognition of his work during the Peace Process in Northern Ireland.

George Mitchell, the former Senator and a broker of The Good Friday Agreement, also attended.

Loretta Brennan Glucksman, grand marshal of this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, was first up in a standing ovation, following a video montage, praising the work of Ed and Brigid, a social worker. Moran was among those featured in the clip, as was one of the most recognizable faces in Irish broadcasting, RTE’s veteran news anchor, Anne Doyle.

At least as equally recognizable, Irish actor Colm Meaney was there to present the night’s other award: Artistic Leader. The Canadian recipient Phil Burke is best known for his role as Irish immigrant Mickey McGinnes on TV hit “Hell on Wheels.”

Veteran Meaney said he had really seen the development of the 36-year old actor’s work since they first worked together in 2011.

The live auction seemed subdued compared to last year’s special anniversary year, when a couple of attendees were coaxed into chipping in $5,000 apiece from the floor. Less than vigorous bidding was in spite of Patrick Tully, a professional auctioneer and vice president of the American Ireland Fund characteristically injecting as much life as possible into the proceedings.

There was also a silent auction early on.


Ed and Brigid Kenney accepting their award.

Anna McGillicuddy. Ireland’s deputy consul general, laughed as she noted in conversation that she had accidentally placed a bid—though fortunately not the one that would secure a baseball signed by Barack Obama.

The Emcee actor Carey Van Driest opened the evening by noting that she had also been emcee earlier in the day, The NBC Upfronts. “The ceremony with J Lo was a good warm-up for Origin’s gala,” quipped the former Best Actress winner in Origin’s 1st Irish festival.

The evening ended as it began—with music. Gala chair Uta Schmid Keyes surprised everyone by singing “99 Red Balloons” in German.

Heslin, who “recently celebrated a big birthday, with a zero,” as Schmid revealed, was among the first to dance along to Keyes’s impromptu song, arms in the air.

Having also passed the milestones of Origin’s 15th anniversary last year and 1st Irish’s 10th anniversary this year, he seemed to finally, fully let loose and enjoy his own party.