Alton Fitzgerald White, the star of the Broadway hit Ragtime has confirmed that he will perform at First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's Birthday Bash at the Ford Center, Oct. 25. The Clinton birthday gala is a fundraiser for Mrs. Clinton's New York Senate campaign. Rosie O'Donnell will host the event, which also stars Barbara Cook, James Naughton, Savion Glover, Lauren Bacall, Tom Wopat, the cast of Fosse and the Gay Men's Choir among others. (Nathan Lane, reported by the New York Post as attending, will not, owing to a scheduling conflict, a producer said.)
The Ford Center has confirmed that Ragtime will be dark Oct. 25, and that the Clinton Gala producers have booked the theatre. The theatre's book-rate for a one night rental averages $7,500 plus whatever union labor charges are involved.
"It is confirmed," said White's manager Rene Harriston. "Alton's closing the first act with his big song from Ragtime, "Make Them Hear You." Harriston told Playbill On-Line that White would be backed up by the Gay Men's Choir.
Booking White at a high-profile fundraiser for Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate Campaign has raised eyebrows on Broadway. Mrs. Clinton is already campaigning in the press against New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and Alton Fitzgerald White last week served the City of New York with a notice of claim in connection with his wrongful arrest by the NYPD July 16. Last summer, police arrested a group of men near White's home in Harlem. The Broadway star was mistakenly taken into custody by officers who were looking for "four Hispanic men with guns." The NYPD was allegedly told by White's building super that he was a Broadway star but went ahead and arrested him, apologizing later for the error. White, who missed shows and was humiliated by the incident, has demanded as much as $750,000 in damages and (more importantly, he says) substantive reform to the system, which he characterized as corrupted by "racial profiling" tactics.
Coincidentally, a New York Times Metro Section report (by Kevin Flynn, Oct. 8) detailed how the NYPD has just agreed to relinquish its re investigation of police misconduct. This means that the Civilian Complaint Review Board's investigations will be the only preliminary review prior to sanctions by the NYPD in cases of misconduct. Some critics say the change does not go far enough and that the NYPD can still thwart a given investigation, but the general consensus seemed to be that progress has been made in establishing greater civilian control of the process.
Alton Fitzgerald White, who has gone on record stating that the police who arrested him were wrong, had no comment on the new NYPD procedure at press time. The NYPD still has time left in its 30-day response period after receiving White's notice of claim.
White's manager said the popular Broadway star was focused less on the NYPD issue and more interested in his singing. "He's very excited and looking forward to meeting the First Lady," Harriston said.
At least some of the producers for the campaign gala have already had that honor. Producer Marty Bell told Playbill On-Line that he and Peter Stone had done the "Broadway for Bill" show in 1992 at the St. James, and had later produced the" Broadway Tent" on the Capitol Mall in 1992 as part of the Clinton Inauguration festivities. That event starred Barbara Cook, James Naughton, Savion Glover and Lauren Bacall, all of whom will perform on the same bill with White Oct. 25 at the Ford Center.
Asked about the political implications of asking White to do the Clinton gala, and whether or not it was his idea, Bell said, "I think we should all take credit for it."
Bell told Playbill On-Line that Ted Kennedy was booked for the fundraiser and that producer Fran Weissler had also been invited in.
"After the inauguration they invited us to the White House to do a Governor's Ball," Bell said. "They asked us to come back and do this show with Fran this time." Weissler and her husband Barry produce Annie, Get Your Gun, and Bell said that Tom Wopat and other cast members from that show would also participate in the fundraising gala, Oct. 25.
"Rosie O'Donnell will be hosting the whole show," Bell said. "Nathan Lane cannot do it, he has a conflict. We'll also have the cast of Fosse and several numbers from Broadway musicals." Bell indicated that there would be some poignant special material in the show's program and, when asked if any of it might have to do with Alton Fitzgerald White, he laughed and said, "I'd like to kind of leave it a surprise, and let people imagine."