Sleeping On the Street and Singing For a Cause, Broadway Stars Shine at Philanthropy

News   Sleeping On the Street and Singing For a Cause, Broadway Stars Shine at Philanthropy Adriane Lenox and Billy Porter open up to Playbill.com about the philanthropic efforts they engage in when they are offstage.

Adriane Lenox
Adriane Lenox Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

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Tony Award winner Adriane Lenox is a woman on a mission.

In between rehearsals for her latest role in Huntington Theatre Company's upcoming production of Todd Kreidler's theatrical adaptation of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and shooting episodes of NBC's breakout series "The Black List," the theatre veteran — who last appeared on Broadway in After Midnight — was raising money for a worthy cause.

Along with many other Broadway performers — including fellow Tony Award winners Audra McDonald, Chuck Cooper and Newsies star Capathia Jenkins — Lenox helped bring awareness and raise funds for the Covenant House's second annual Sleep Out: Broadway Edition event. Held Aug. 17 near Times Square, the Sunday night gathering was an effort to raise funds to provide goods, clothing and shelter for the homeless youth in New York City.

The Memphis native, who didn't sleep over this year as she did last year, became involved with the non-profit homelessness organization through her church, Salem Missionary Baptist Church, where Covenant House is on its list of charities. "Last year I heard about this Sleep Out feature that they have with the Broadway community and I figured instead of just giving money, why not be a physical presence as well?" Lenox told Playbill.com about the initiative, which raises money through online pledges and donations. "It was a wonderful experience meeting and talking to some of the kids and hearing about how they ended up homeless and how finding Covenant House has been such a blessing to them.

"These sleep out [events] show the kids that people who have a choice to sleep in the comfort of their own beds in their own homes are willing to show solidarity and get a cardboard box and sleep on the street," she added. "I raised over $3,000 because it's important for the shelter to have resources to help them do all the things they do to help kids."

Billy Porter
Billy Porter Photo by Monica Simoes

According to a spokesperson, artists who secured pledges for the Aug. 17 event raised close to $250,000 for Covenant House, besting last year's total of $136,000. And donations are still coming in.

"The Broadway community has wrapped their arms around our kids and our cause," Covenant House President Kevin Ryan said in a statement. "These stars not only slept on the streets and raised money that will help us save lives... they took the time to sit with our kids, get to know them. When our kids start to believe someone cares, there is no limit to what they can achieve." (Click here to help support this effort.)

Kinky Boots star Billy Porter is another Tony Award winner who doesn't mind lending his name (and voice) to worthwhile philanthropic endeavors.

The Broadway veteran was recently announced to be a part of the growing line up for the Uprising of Love: A Benefit Concert for Global Equality taking place Sept. 15 at Broadway's Gershwin Theatre. The event, also featuring appearances by Sting, Patti Lupone, LaVerne Cox and the cast of Witness Uganda, will support the United Nations Free & Equal campaign in calling for equal rights globally for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals.

Throughout his career of more than 20 years, Porter has championed many organizations and causes along these lines. He told Playbill.com: "The ones that I really are in constant contact with is Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, The Actors Fund and the Empire State Pride Agenda. Those are sort of the three I work with and those are generally sort of the main ones. Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS started out essentially to help with the HIV epidemic, The Actors Fund has just been around for 100 years and they help us out when we're down and out for a myriad of reasons, and basically it helped me when I was in my low period so I always give back to them. And then politically, it's the Empire State Pride Agenda because they do a lot of the on-the-ground political lobbying for LGBT rights. So those are sort of my focuses." (To help support this effort, visit prideagenda.org.)

Bette Midler
Bette Midler Photo by Richard Termine

Other Broadway notables and performers have donated their time and efforts to raising money for worthwhile causes as well:

Bette Midler, last seen on Broadway in 2013's I'll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers, founded the non-profit New York Restoration Project in 1995 with the mission to transform open space in under-resourced communities to create a greener, more sustainable New York City. The organization has acquired over 50 community gardens in underserved communities and rehabbed nearly half of them — most recently the Willis Avenue Community Garden in the Bronx. (To help support this effort, nyrp.org)

Sheryl Lee Ralph, who immortalized the role of Deena Jones in the original Broadway production of Dreamgirls, founded The DIVA Foundation in 1990 focusing on raising HIV/AIDS awareness, erasing the stigma and discrimination, and lowering the HIV infection rate especially as it pertains to women, girls and young people. Ralph's annual celebrity-packed fundraising concert Divas Simply Singing, which is currently in its 24th year, is the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit in the country. "By simply daring to care in a time when that was not the thing to do, we have consistently raised millions in love, hugs and awareness," she told Playbill.com about the non-profit organization whose acronym stands for Driving Infectious Viruses Away. (Click here to help support this effort.)

Idina Menzel, currently raising the roof on Broadway in If/Then, established A Broader Way Foundation in 2010 with then-husband Taye Diggs with the mission to offer underprivileged girls an outlet through arts-centered programming. Their inaugural program was a 10-day performing arts camp in 2011, which welcomed 31 young girls from the New York City metro area. Violet and Fun Home's Jeanine Tesori has served as Creative Director for Camp BroaderWay. Last year, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award winner Whoopi Goldberg hosted a all-star karaoke concert at The Cutting Room to help raise funds for the organization. (To help support this effort, visit abroaderway.org.)

Valisia LeKae, nominated for a Tony Award for her starring role as Diana Ross in Motown, became the national spokesperson for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) shortly after being diagnosed with the disease last year. "It's another way for me to use my voice and be an advocate for this disease," she said. "I want to talk about it. I just want people to be aware." Through its national programs and local chapter initiatives, the organization's goal since its inception in 1995 is to make more people aware of the early symptoms of ovarian cancer. (To help support this effort, visit ovarian.org.) "It is always important to remember there by the grace of God go I," Lenox stated about the importance of artists and performers giving back. Giving a nod to Miley Cyrus' 2014 MTV Video Music Awards acceptance speech, where a homeless teen went onstage to accept the award for the former Disney star turned pop princess, she added: "I was glad to see Miley Cyrus make the point of using a national platform to do exactly what Covenant House is doing. It not only informs but encourages people to act."

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