Emotional Ballads and Interpretive Dance at Broadway Hurricane Relief

News   Emotional Ballads and Interpretive Dance at Broadway Hurricane Relief Broadway's Celebrity Benefit for Hurricane Relief, on Sept. 25, inundated its audience with dozens of recognizable stage and film actors, ranging from veterans such as Ben Vereen, Liza Minnelli, Susan Lucci, Rue McClanahan, and Bernadette Peters to new talents like Julia Murney, Cheyenne Jackson, and Megan Hilty. The three-hour, two-act, one-night only event was produced by the cast and creative team of Wicked and took place at the Gershwin Theatre.

From Left: Bryan Batt and Ben Vereen at Broadway's Celebrity Benefit for Hurricane Relief.
From Left: Bryan Batt and Ben Vereen at Broadway's Celebrity Benefit for Hurricane Relief. Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Early in the evening, it was announced that over $200,000 had been raised to benefit Second Harvest and Quilts for Kids, two organizations working directly with Katrina victims. Later, three quilts featuring the signatures of every performer in the show were auctioned at $6,000 a piece. Towards the end of the evening, Phylicia Rashad made a speech praising the efforts of "ordinary people" who became extraordinary through their relief efforts, and introduced three families affected by the Katrina aftermath. Moments later, Tony-winning actress Adriane Lenox took the stage and sang "Ordinary People."

Bryan Batt and three other actors from New Orleans opened the event, singing a ballad that set forth a hopeful, idealistic mood. Similarly, Julia Murney later sang "It's Amazing the Things That Float," about a refugee who must leave her home by boat, but ultimately rediscovers herself in the process. One might have assumed that the song was written just after the Katrina crisis, but it actually comes from Peter Mills' 1993 musical The Flood, which centered on the flooding of the Mississippi River.

A number of emotional choral anthems followed from the casts of Rent ("Seasons of Love"), Hairspray ("I Know Where I've Been"), Avenue Q ("For Now"), All Shook Up ("If I Could Dream"), Mamma Mia! ("Beautiful City," Godspell), and The Light in the Piazza (Migratory V," Myths and Hymns). Other Broadway standards included "You"ll Never Alone," performed by Shuler Hensley; "But Not for Me," performed by Patrick Wilson; "I'll Cover You," performed by Idina Menzel; and "New York, New York," performed by Liza Minnelli.

However, a number of other actors delivered more bizarre, yet entertaining performances. Most memorable was the cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee's overtly political piece of interpretive dance that criticized the Bush administration's response to the Katrina aftermath. Upon learning of the hurricane (personified onstage by three cast members dressed in black), Bush (played by Dan Fogler) ignored the news and continued to skip around the stage. Likewise, Condoleezza Rice (played by Derrick Baskin) chose to take in a performance of Broadway's Spamalot rather than deal with the problem. In the end, all the chaos led to the unveiling of a sign with "Hillary '08" printed on it.

Other unusual choices included Ben Vereen's original take on the Cats anthem "Memory," which he recited as if it were an introspective monologue. Bill Irwin relied on his talent in physical comedy to deliver his own version of "The Seven Ages of Man" in baggy clown pants. And in place of "Adelaide's Lament," Megan Hilty, who is currently starring in Wicked as Glinda, sang "The Alto's Lament." Other performers and presenters at the event included Brian d'Arcy James ("When I Reach The Place Called Home"), Bebe Neuwirth ("And the World Goes Round"), Judy Kuhn ("Finding Home"), Shoshanna Bean ("Coronet Man"), Elizabeth Parkinson, Michael Tucker, Jai Rodriguez, Isabel Keating, Denis O'Hare, Jed Bernstein, Felicia Finley, Daniel Sunjata, Frederick Weller, Nicole Sutherland, Carole Shelley, Christopher Sieber, David Hyde Pierce, Patrick Quinn, Rosie Perez, Keith Roberts, Phyllis Newman, and the Broadway Inspirational Voices.

To learn more about Second Harvest or Quilts for Kids, visit www.secondharvest.org and www.quiltsforkids.org.

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