As digital photographs of international children — all of whom have benefitted from programs of ASTEP/Artists Striving to End Poverty — were displayed in a slide show against the plain white wall of a rehearsal room within Broadway's Foxwoods Theatre on Dec. 17, one could not help but think of the 20 children lost on Dec. 14 in Newtown, CT. The tone was set for a touching and poignant evening filled with holiday tunes and Broadway stars.
Upon arrival to Broadway's biggest house, concertgoers were directed to the Foxwoods stage door on 43rd Street, where they took an elevator four flights up and a set of stairs one flight down. On the third floor, patrons were greeted by an ASTEP volunteer, who welcomed them to Backstage for Christmas: A Holiday Cabaret.
Dogfight co-stars Lindsay Mendez and Derek Klena, dressed in shades of red and green, were among the first performers mingling in the rehearsal room, which had been dimly lit with white holiday lights and converted into a performance space: A grand piano and drum set were placed behind a proscenium that was made from a string of white lights, two red bows at the top and two bouquets of poinsettias at the bottom; a wreath hung in the background.
|photo by Monica Simoes|
As the "house lights" flickered, music director and orchestrator Mary-Mitchell Campbell, who is also the founder and executive director of ASTEP, made her way to the piano for an "overture" of the "Peanuts" theme song, and Broadway tenor Tituss Burgess took "center stage" for his performance of "Christmas Time is Here" from "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
"We're here tonight mostly to focus on the work that ASTEP is doing for Hurricane Sandy relief in the New York tri-state area for those who have been devastated by that storm," said Campbell, the evening's host, following Burgess' performance.
She then introduced Mendez and Klena, who made their way to the front of the room for their gender-swapped performance of the Frank Loesser tune "Baby, It's Cold Outside." (As Klena pleaded to leave, Mendez comically sang the title lyric.)
Performances continued with "The Glee Project" contestant Ali Stroker, who is a wheelchair user and was assisted onto the stage by fellow "Glee Project" member Dani Shay, for a take on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"; Klena's rendition of Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You," with backup vocals provided by Mendez and Campbell; and an original song from Burgess (originally written for Nikki Renée Daniels) entitled "What I Want for Christmas" ("I never sang it [in public], so this can really suck," said Burgess with a laugh).
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