Stars of Broadway and Off-Broadway converge on the Westside Theatre Nov. 5 for a unique benefit for Only Make Believe, the non-profit organization that brings theatre games to hospitalized children.
The evening's host will be Ian McKellen (Dance of Death), who will perform pieces from Shakespeare. Included in the show are Patrick Wilson, the future Curly of Oklahoma!, singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'"; Julia Murney, performing "Life of the Party" from The Wild Party; Brad Oscar singing a tune from The Producers; Jennifer Simard singing "Always a Bridesmaid" from I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change; the cast of Forever Plaid singing "Undecided"; Norm Lewis singing "Borrowed Time"; the Broadway Kids performing "Seasons of Love"; Darius de Haas singing "Family" from Dreamgirls; and Laura Benanti singing "Make Believe" from Show Boat.
Joe Di Pietro directs the evening. Seth Rudetsky is musical director.
The Only Make Believe program debuted in October 1999 at Rusk Institute's Pediatric Unit of the NYU Hospitals Center as a project of the James and Dena Hammerstein Foundation. Dena Hammerstein established Only Make Believe in memory of her husband, James (son of Oscar Hammerstein II, famed writer of many classic musicals, including Show Boat, which gave the world "Make Believe") — and his dedication to the theatre and her passion for helping children in need. The concept of Only Make Believe developed out of Dena Hammerstein's desire to introduce disadvantaged children living with chronic illnesses and disabilities to the magic of theatre.
Since trips to the theatre are too overwhelming for ailing children, it was decided to bring the theatre to them, helping to create a unique version of live theatre in which each child plays an integral part. "Only Make Believe was founded two years ago and has already provided hundreds of workshops to thousands of children in New York City medical facilities," according to a statement. "With a professional troupe of multi-racial, multi-ethnic actors, Only Make Believe actively engages the children in performance, treating them as collaborators in a theatrical experience. This is the key to the success of Only Make Believe: each child takes an active part in a cycle of fantastic and imaginative adventures. Each cycle consists of six one-hour workshops. The actors arrive at the facility armed with a trunk load of colorful costumes, props and backdrops, prepared to lead the children on an exciting theatrical journey. The stories are scripted in such a way as to help the children deal with their fears and problems, but are acted out with plenty of room for improvisation to encourage their participation and keep the experience fresh and fun. At the end of the cycle, the trunk is left behind as a gift to the facility, encouraging play even after the sessions are complete."
Benefit tickets are $45. The performance is 8 PM Nov. 5 at the Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43rd Street in Manhattan. For tickets or information, call (646) 336-1500.
The lyric to Oscar Hammerstein's "Make Believe" is fitting for the benefit occasion: "The game of just supposing is the sweetest game I know/Our dreams are more romantic than the world we see/And if the things we dream about don't happen to be so/That's just an unimportant technicality."
— By Kenneth Jones