NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Denzel Washington's star and smile lit up the New Brunswick night.
The Oscar-winning and Tony-winning actor talked about his dedication to his family, to his faith and to his craft as he accepted Crossroads Theatre Company’s inaugural Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee Living Legends Award on Saturday night.
So many descended on the State Theater to honor Washington - host David Alan Grier cracked wise, actors Courtney B. Vance and Phylicia Rashad praised his considerable acting skills and "This Is Us" star Susan Kelechi Watson spoke about how he has inspired her and a new generation of black actors.
Washington may be known for the lead roles in "Remember the Titans" and "Training Day," but on this night, he shared the lead role with the Crossroads Theatre Company itself.
"A Night With Crossroads" was also a night to celebrate Crossroads and the breadth of black experience it has brought to the stage for more than 40 years. As the only professional black theater company in the state and as one of just a handful in the region, it has always been a space for substantive, non-stereotypical productions.
The company is as vibrant and vital as ever. Crossroads moved into its new digs after being on the road for two years and tapped Broadway talent Nathaniel Stampley Jr. for the one-man show, "Robeson." Crossroads, along with George Street Playhouse, the American Repertory Ballet and the Mason Gross School of the Arts, have taken up residence in the new, $172 million New Brunswick Performing Arts Center.
Even with the focus on Washington, Crossroads Theatre Company threatened to steal the spotlight on Saturday night when co-founder Ricardo Khan announced that it would be reviving the associate artist program. It was perfect timing, too, since Dee was an associate artist here from 1992-95.
The first five associate artists will be:
Writer Richard Wright, whose "Autumn" and other works have been brought to life on the Crossroads stage.
Guy Davis, who appeared with his famous parents at Crossroads in 1995's "Two Hah-Hahs and a Homeboy."
Actress/writer Denise Nicholas, whose play "Buses" about civil rights leader Rosa Parks, was produced by Crossroads almost 30 years ago.
Abena Busia, a poet from Ghana and a former Crossroads board member.
Obie Award-winning director, Leah C. Gardiner, who directed “The Last Five Years” at Crossroads in 2012.
Khan said the idea was for these filmmakers to work with and mentor emerging black artists.
"We're really thrilled by what we think is going to happen in the future for Crossroads,” Khan said.
These are busy times for Producing Artistic Director Marshall Jones III and Crossroads, with "A Christmas Carol" slated to run Dec. 5-15 and "Freedom Rider" on tap for April.
But Washington had the final word during this black-tie, $7,500-a-ticket event. When he accepted the Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee Living Legends Award from Crossroads Board President and longtime friend Anthony P. Carter, Washington talked about his faith.
Still ruggedly handsome as ever as he closes in on 65, he was humble in accepting the award.
He talked about he had negotiated with God that if he were to win another Oscar, he would get up on stage, get down on a knee and pray. He didn't win that year nor the next.
The disappointment was tempered when his son John David, was nominated Golden Globe.
An emotional Washington went to the bathroom to compose himself and that's when he heard God tell him, "Now give me that knee!"