Learn How Alice Ripley and Liz Callaway Helped Make the First Gay Wedding at 54 Below Happen

Playbill Pride   Learn How Alice Ripley and Liz Callaway Helped Make the First Gay Wedding at 54 Below Happen As part of Playbill's 30 Days of Pride, David Usdan and Howard Brenner, longtime theatre lovers and the first couple to be married at Broadway nightclub 54 Below, share the story of their big day, which took place 11 years after they first met at piano bar Marie's Crisis.

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Why did you choose 54 Below? Did you attend an event there that was really special for you?
In July of 2013, shortly after the Supreme Court found DOMA to be unconstitutional, we decided to get married. Before this, because we were a binational couple, we were unable to marry in the US and I was unable to stay in the US based on our relationship. We decided to get married, but everything felt very formal and legalistic. There had been no "traditional" proposal.

In early Aug 2013, we went to see Alice Ripley at 54 Below. We had been there many times before and loved the venue and the artists who play there. I had no idea that David had arranged with 54 Below & Alice Ripley to propose to me during her show that night. At some point towards the end of her set, Alice turned to her pianist and said, "Isn't this the time in the show where David has something to ask Howard?" David proposed to me in the glow of a huge spotlight. 150 people cheered and applauded and 54 Below served us champagne — right on cue. The next day we decided if we were going to get married anywhere, it had to be 54 Below. We emailed them and asked if this would be possible. They had never hosted a wedding before, but immediately said YES!

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Photo by Di Zhang

Are you theatre fans?
We are both lifelong theatre fans. We met at Marie's Crisis piano bar in the Village in 2003. I was on a trip from London to see Broadway shows. We found ourselves singing show tunes side by side, and the rest is history. We both studied theatre for our undergrads and have been avid theatregoers throughout our lives. In my former career I was a TV producer and worked on the BBC's coverage of The Laurence Olivier Awards for five consecutive years, producing the show twice.

What are some of your favorite shows?
We both love musical theatre and straight plays too. We love Bernstein, Sondheim, Schwartz and Jason Robert Brown. We were huge fans of Grey Gardens on Broadway, seeing the show multiple times. Right now, we are evangelical about Fun Home, which seems to have created a whole new genre in musical theatre. Amongst other musicals we love Gypsy, The Last Five Years, Company, Passion, Nine, Pippin, Parade, A Chorus Line etc. What role does theatre play in your life?
Theatre is one of the things we enjoy most that we do together. It's kind of a way of life for us. In our years of going backwards and forwards between NY and London, we delighted in the opportunity of seeing shows on both sides of the Atlantic.

Do you have any special memories from the day?
The whole day is now a special memory. We were surrounded by family and friends from London and New York. One of the special elements of our ceremony at 54 Below was Liz Callaway, who sang four of our favorite songs. She really added a special touch to the day for everyone ("Marry Me A Little," "Make Our Garden Grow," "My Heart Is So Full of You" and "Meadowlark").

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Photo by Di Zhang

What does gay marriage mean to you?
For us gay marriage means equality. We spent a long 11 years finding ways to be together on either side of the Atlantic. When we finally married on our 11th anniversary of meeting, we felt that we at last had a certain future. We hope that people all over the US and the rest of the world will someday also enjoy the same equality and freedom to marry.

What does Pride mean to you?
Pride is a chance to celebrate the LGBTQ community and to acknowledge the struggles people of minority sexualities go through. It's a chance to show gratitude for those who have fought for equal rights and to show the wider society how far we have come. It's also a chance to remember the gay lives lost in the Holocaust and beyond, to remember those who have suffered hate crimes and to stand proud in their memories.

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