Given at Joe's Pub in New York's Greenwich Village on the eve of World AIDS Day, the award salutes Viola's years of tireless fundraising at BC/EFA.
The Howard Ashman Award is named for the Oscar- and Grammy-winning lyricist of Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin who passed away in 1991 due to AIDS-related complications. According to GMHC, the award "honors a member of the Broadway community whose art and activism have made a difference in the fight against HIV and AIDS."
Actress Judith Light; Paul Libin, BC/EFA President and the Executive Vice-President of Jujamcyn Theaters; and Broadway producer/general manager Albert Poland served as honored guest speakers.
The star-studded, cabaret-style event was hosted by Sirius XM Radio personality, Seth Rudetsky, who introduced Broadway stars and celebrities including Tituss Burgess ("Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"), Adam Jacobs (Aladdin), Alix Korey (Fiddler on the Roof), and Jose Llana (The King and I) performing songs penned by Ashman, as well as current and Broadway classics under the musical direction of Broadway conductor and composer, Mary-Mitchell Campbell (Finding Neverland)." Playbill CEO and President Philip S. Birsh said, "I am so proud of my great friend and colleague Tom Viola was chosen to receive the Howard Ashman Award this year. He has brilliantly helmed Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS for for 18 years. His leadership combined with his innate sensitivities has built a fixture within our Broadway community. Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is the heart of our community and the organization would never have achieved it's current regard and success without the tireless efforts by our friend Tom Viola."
"We are so pleased to see Tom Viola receive the Howard Ashman Award," said Sarah Ashman Gillespie, sister of the late Howard Ashman. "Tom has been at the forefront of providing services for those with HIV and AIDS since 1988. He was there when there was little help and no hope."
GMHC CEO Kelsey Louie said, "Since the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, Tom Viola has been a vast beacon of hope and light through his longstanding, visionary leadership, activism, and philanthropy. During his tenure at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Tom has mobilized the Broadway and entertainment communities to raise hundreds of millions of dollars that provide essential, life-saving services for people living with HIV and AIDS and other critical health issues around the world. The GMHC family is so honored to celebrate and thank Tom with this year's Howard Ashman Award."
Actor/writer/producer/administrator Viola performed in dinner theatres and regional theatres until 1987 when he was hired by Actors Equity for what was to be a temporary assignment. This employment continued, with Viola eventually being assigned to work with the Union’s 75th Anniversary Committee, then as a special projects coordinator and assistant to then-president Colleen Dewhurst. Soon after the Equity Fights AIDS Committee was founded, Viola became administrative director.
In 1992 Viola oversaw the merger of Equity Fights AIDS with Broadway Cares, and the organization has been a separate not-for-profit ever since. Under his stewardship, BC/EFA has raised more than $285 million for essential services for people living with HIV and AIDS and other critical health issues nationwide. In 2010, Viola was awarded the Tony Honor in recognition of his leadership, activism, and advocacy.