Broadway Backwards Highlights: From "The Man I Love" to "Barcelona," Stars Gender-Bend Show Tunes

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19 Mar 2013

Ashley Brown
Ashley Brown
Photo by Jmmy Asnes

Brian Stokes Mitchell, Tony Sheldon, Estelle Parsons, Karen Ziemba, Judy Kaye, Malcolm Gets, Ashley Brown, Tituss Burgess, Anthony Warlow and more stars twisted classic songs into unexpected pretzels at the annual Broadway Backwards concert. Playbill was there.


On March 18, two days before spring officially arrives, the weather outside was frightful, but Broadway Backwards gingerly put its best foot forward anyway and managed — even in a blinding snowstorm! — to sell out the century-old Palace Theatre.

It was Annie's night off, so somebody stashed the Christmas tree and borrowed Daddy Warbucks' elegant living room and staircase for a hot-and-topical groom-and-groom union. This occasion, an increasingly common phenomenon, triggered a cluster of gender-bending show tunes — slugged "Wedding Medley," consisting of Cabaret's "Married," I Do! I Do!'s "My Cup Runneth Over" and The Drowsy Chaperone's "Love Is Always Lovely in the End." (This show is nothing if not well-researched.)

This annual fund-raising event — written, directed and choreographed by Robert Bartley (a triple somersault even Noel Coward never attempted) — is produced by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS to benefit BC/EFA and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center of New York City. Its objective, seriously said, allows "gays and lesbians [to] see their stories told through the great songs of musical theatre."

Then, less loftily — from a purely acting standpoint — it gives performers a clean, clear, guilt-free shot at songs that they would never, in the best of all possible worlds, get a chance to sing. A megawatt galaxy of stars turned out and tuned up for Edition No. 8.

It was the sort of show where Brian Stokes Mitchell sang about "The Man I Love" and seemed honestly to mean it; where Jan Maxwell held forth with heartfelt intelligence on "How To Handle a Woman"; where "A Weekend in the County" was party-planned within the giddy recesses of a gay gym; where an Irish-jigging Karen Ziemba went home with Bonnie Jean; where Bruce Vilanch and a buttoned-down Malcolm Gets compared their respective lives and concluded "The Grass Is Always Greener" (the Kander-and-Ebb showstopper that won Tonys for Lauren Bacall and the late, great Marilyn Cooper in exactly the same place, the Palace); where Judy Kaye lured Anita Gillette to "Three Sunny Rooms"; where 85-year-old Estelle Parsons recalled the waiting game she played when she "was a young man courting the girls" in "September Song"; where a stewardess was delayed from flying off to "Barcelona" by an overheated Mary Poppins (the Broadway original, Ashley Brown).


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