Julie White was the master of ceremonies at the 11th annual Broadway Backwards, in which Broadway’s best united to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center by singing songs they normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to perform in a full-scale production.
Love filled the room (except when it came to the mention of Donald Trump). Each time White came on in between musical numbers with cue cards, she’d read a card that said, “Trump joke here,” but proclaimed that she didn’t feel it necessary to give the presidential candidate more airtime. “I just hate him so much,” she admitted to an audience that erupted in laughter and applause.
Anything goes at Broadway Backwards, where Broadway celebrated its diverse community on March 21 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre—and where it was perfectly okay for men to sing songs for women and vice versa. Kathleen Turner even made a special appearance, and the event raised a record-breaking $480.287.
Here’s what went down:
Kenita R. Miller channeled Cleopatra (and was surrounded by some of the most stunning women on Broadway) for a performance of “Too Darn Hot” from Kiss Me, Kate. Nick Adams and Dave August made shirtless cameos as the Egyptian king and his loyal servant, respectively (and the crowd went wild when they kissed at the end!).
“I’m a little bit sad,” Miller admitted afterwards, “because I’m like, ‘When am I going to ever get a chance to play Cleopatra again and be doing it with all these beautiful women around me?’ It was kind of surreal. I felt like a queen—and for such a good cause. It feels a little spoiling to be doused in all this gold and then get to be all extravagant and doing it for [BC/EFA], it makes it more than just jumping around in costume.”
Karen Mason performed “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” from My Fair Lady, an arrangement crafted specifically for her by late Brian Lasser, Mason’s music director for 16 years who died in ’92 from AIDS. “It really meant something to me to do it to raise money for the people who don’t seem to have the financial wherewithal,” Mason said.
Treat Williams, who played Danny Zuko in the Broadway production of Grease, sang “Frank Mills” from Hair. He was followed by Kinky Boots star Wayne Brady, who brought down the house with “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” from Footloose, including choreographed backup singers Philippe Arroyo and Lauren Wright.
Former spider-men Jake Odmark, Adam Roberts and Brandon Rubendall (a.k.a. Apollo Link) transformed “Gimme Gimme” from Thoroughly Modern Millie into an epic a cappella arrangement.
The first act closed on a strong (and sexy) note. First, Jay Armstrong Johnson danced and sang his way through “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (complete with a rhinestone lapel jacket) alongside Jamison Stern and a hunky Broadway ensemble (who tossed Johnson through the air throughout the number). The Color Purple’s Danielle Brooks finished with a show-stopping performance of Kinky Boots’ “Hold Me in Your Heart” (on the Kinky Boots stage).
The second act opened with a trip to the supermarket to check out grocery boy (and So You Think You Can Dance winner) Ricky Ubeda with “Can That Boy Foxtrot!” from Side by Side by Sondheim. Dave August, Ward Billeisen, Joshua Buscher-West, Peter Nelson, Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva and Jerry Gallagher were the men who fawned over Ubeda.
Solos in the second act included Brad Oscar’s performance of “That Dirty Old Man” from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Len Cariou’s performance of “The Party’s Over” from Bells Are Ringing.
There was more Millie with Tony Yazbeck’s performance of “Forget About the Boy” alongside Eddie Korbich and a tapping male ensemble.
Stopping the show with the most anticipated performance of the night was Chita Rivera, who took a trip back to Chicago (the musical she starred in as Velma Kelly when it opened in 1975) with “All I Care About is Love.” Her performance as Billy Flynn was accompanied by several dancers from the original 1996 Chicago revival cast, and her performance received a standing ovation.
Closing out the night were Tituss Burgess, who performed “The Story Goes On” from Baby, alongside Jonathan Hadley and Laura Michelle Kelly, who brought the show to an emotional close with “Everybody Says Don’t” from Anyone Can Whistle.