If it were snowing, this would be really wonderful," said one of the reporters milling about the Times Square TKTS booth Dec. 11. But it wasn't snowing. A light-to-medium rain fell as spectators, lined the perimeter of the midtown Manhattan discount tickets booth to see the Third Annual Broadway Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony.
At 5:40 PM, a representative of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which sponsors the ceremony along with TDF and the Times Square Business Development Service, got things underway by introducing Randall, founder of the National Actors Theatre. Randall, with bushy gray hair and askew brown eyebrows -- he was still in Scrooge makeup from the Wednesday matinee of A Christmas Carol -- spoke with gravity and feeling about the true reason behind the lighting: to commemorate those the theatre community has lost to AIDS. Randall added that two years ago, Randall's N.A.T. lost its stage manager, Glen Gardelli, to the disease.
Not only was the tree bedecked with red ribbons, but for the first time, names of living supporters of the AIDS cause joined its victims on each red bow -- 387 names in all. A plaque was also designed to remember the occasion.
Neuwirth, wearing a Chicago hat, turned the switch and on went the tree's tiny lights, to a round of applause. Christmas miracle or not, you judge: just before the lighting, the rain let up. The holiday spirit didn't kick in, though, until five of Off-Broadway's Cowgirls took the stage: Betsy Howie, Jackie Sanders, Mary Ehlinger, Lori Fischer and Amie Church. Though they must have been kind of down themselves -- Cowgirls announced a closing notice for Jan. 5, 1997 -- their caroling didn't show it. Joined by a few younger cast members, and an audience that warmed to the singalong despite the return of the rain, the caroling Cowgirls (singing a cappella) finished up the event with "We Wish You A Merry Christmas."
According to presenters TDF, BC/EFA and the Times Square Business Development Service, "The Broadway Holiday Tree is lit in honor of those we love, remembrance of those we've lost, and in celebration of the joy of the season." That's the spirit.
--By David Lefkowitz