Nikki M. James, the Tony Award-winning Book of Mormon actress who will star in Broadway's upcoming revival of Les Misérables, took the stage at the Lucille Lortel Theater around 7:30 PM to introduce the Friends in Theater Company production of Ahrens and Flaherty's Once On This Island, which was staged to benefit Make-A-Wish Foundation of Metro New York and Western New York and grant 14-year-old Zachary's wish to see a Broadway show and attend "The Colbert Report."
Before James, whose nephew's wish was previously granted by Make-A-Wish, handed over the stage to Kenita R. Miller and company, she described Friends in Theater Company's mission — to bring together Broadway stars for a night of inspiration and hope — and admitted that its founder, Philip Accorso, was pacing backstage with tears in his eyes from excitement.
"It was probably the most magical night of my entire life," Accorso told Playbill.com following the performance. "I've just never been so proud of anything that I've ever worked on… We had Stephen Flaherty here, we had original cast member Gerry McIntyre, we had the Wish family, and we had a Wish survivor. I'm still on Cloud Nine."
Cloud Nine was where most of the cast and creative team sat following the one-night-only, minimalist production of Once On This Island, especially its star, Miller, who had a longstanding relationship with the musical, Friends in Theater Company and Accorso.
"I have history with this company since I was in high school — like a sophomore — and also with this show," explained Miller, who met Accorso on a beach. When he heard her sing, he asked her to audition for a local production of Once On This Island, and she landed the role of Ti Moune.
"Lynn and Stephen have been angels in my life, and this [is] one of the first musicals — as far as performing — that I was introduced to in high school. I actually met Phil on a beach singing, and [he said], 'We're doing Once On This Island.' It's all kind of surreal! And, now to be how many years later… Actually, this was my costume!" she said of the dress she wore to the benefit's downtown after party.
Miller, who captured the role of Ti Moune with innocence and grace, wore her heart on her sleeve from the beginning of the show. She received applause throughout the entirety of her first number, "Waiting For Life," and finished the song with tears in her eyes.
"Not to get corny or anything, but there's nothing like something that makes you connected to another human being, and I think that's kind of just inbred in this show, even if you're in the audience," she said. "I will always jump at the opportunity to connect with human beings, and that kind of spirit is really special."
Of the Make-A-Wish recipient, Zachary — who met the cast before curtain — she added, "That spirit, right there… [Meeting him] was really, really special. I had to kind of rein in [my emotion] because it will make your heart explode. It makes it really come to life — this person you've been thinking about and raising money for… To actually have them there and [see] everything you put into [the show] right there in your face, it [is] the spice of life — that essence of life."
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