Broadway Backwards Raises $329,000; Gender-Bending Tunes Featured Betty Buckley, Andrew Rannells, Robin De Jesús
By Michael Gioia
The seventh annual Broadway Backwards concert — featuring male singers performing songs traditionally sung by women and women singing tunes written for men — raised a record-breaking $329,000 to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (the Center). Playbill.com was there.
The 2012 Broadway Backwards star-studded benefit, which was held March 5 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, surpassed last year's previous record total of $281,243. Additionally, this year's one-night-only concert weaved through a storyline, which featured leading men—or, by Broadway Backwards standards, "leading ladies"—Robin De Jesús and Jason Michael Snow.
"It’s this mini-encapsulating moment of what [BC/EFA] is all about," Snow added at the Broadway Backwards after-party, held at John's on 44th Street. "We all sat down and shared our experiences—if [similar situations] had ever happened to us—and ended up with the script. It was beautiful."
When De Jesús left the Bronx, he began to explore the New York City nightlife, encountering characters like Bryan Batt, who refrained from hitting on the NYC newcomer—reminding himself of his "Life With Harold" (from The Full Monty); shady nightclub dancers at "Hernando's Hideaway" (from The Pajama Game); and Dan Butler, who preached the benefits of finding the proper "Boy Friend" (from The Boy Friend). Enter Book of Mormon's Snow.
"This is an entire evening devoted to the LGBT community, so you get to sit there as a gay man or a gay woman and [make] connections that you don't get to sometimes make in a Broadway theatre or concert," said Snow. "It's a really beautiful thing for the theatre community to say, 'This is a community for everyone.'"
The couple bonded on a park bench, enjoying a game of lesbian softball ("The Game" from Damn Yankees, highlighting Jenn Colella and Jackie Hoffman) and realized that love was in the air ("Tonight" from West Side Story, featuring Sierra Boggess and Elizabeth Stanley). Then, Snow revealed that his character was HIV-positive.
Though this year's Backwards concert touched upon heavy themes, the evening provided bouts of inspiration (show-stopping ballads from LaChanze, who sang "Go the Distance" from Hercules, and Shawna Hamic, who belted the La Cage anthem, "I Am What I Am"), light-hearted moments of hope (a duet of "It's Never Too Late To Fall in Love" from The Boy Friend with Jim Brochu and Harvey Evans) and jump-to-your-feet fun ("I Just Want to Dance" from Jerry Springer: The Opera, which featured Snow and Cicily Daniels).
After De Jesús realized that he had found "Something Wonderful" (from The King and I, sung by Len Cariou), the couple united for an "Old Fashioned Wedding" (from Annie Get Your Gun with Snow and De Jesús). Broadway favorite Betty Buckley brought down the house soon thereafter, wrapping up the De Jesús-Snow love story with a Sweeney Todd medley, which included "Not While I’m Around," "Johanna" and "My Friends."
"Anytime that people get together to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, it's important," Buckley told Playbill.com. "I felt really privileged to be a part of it."
Other highlights of the evening included "I Still Believe" from Miss Saigon, which featured Barrett Foa and Telly Leung; "What Did I Have That I Didn't Have" and "She Wasn't You / Come Back to Me" from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, sung by Mario Cantone and Jessie Mueller, respectively; and "The Music That Makes Me Dance" from Funny Girl, which featured Andrew Rannells.
"It's a night of pretend, and we're able to sing these songs you would never get to sing anywhere else," said Rannells. "To be able to sing 'The Music Makes Me Dance' with a full orchestra on a Broadway stage, it was very exciting."
Godspell's Leung summed up the night, explaining, "The whole concert is about looking at things in a different way and re-examining preconceptions of not only theatre music, but [also] preconceptions of 'alternative lifestyles.' Hopefully people walk away from the theatre and do that in their lives the way we re-examine the songs—re-examine our lives and how we see the world."
Creator Bartley again directed and choreographed, with musical direction by Mary-Mitchell Campbell. The creative team also included lighting designer Ryan O'Gara, costume designer Philip Heckman and co-choreographers Stephanie Klemons and Patrick O'Neill.
The complete set list for the evening follows:
"Wouldn't It Be Loverly" from My Fair Lady - Robin De Jesús
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