Last week was super eventful…and then this week I head to Italy on the Playbill cruise! Let’s go back to last Monday; it was the second annual Voices for the Voiceless: Stars for Foster Kids concert on Broadway. This is a show James and I put up to raise money for “You Gotta Believe” which helps older foster kids find families. Once a kid isn’t a toddler, it’s extremely difficult to find a permanent home. Most go to various foster or group homes and, at 21, they age out of care…and then 50 percent of them become homeless or imprisoned. We do this concert to raise money as well as simply raise awareness that these kids need adults in their lives. You don’t have to literally adopt a child…you can just mentor them, or even just connect with them once. So many speak of a teacher that supported them at one point when they were young and what a difference it made. They just need someone reliable to help them navigate growing up. Anyhoo, the concert began with that amazing overture to Chicago. When it hit the classic “All That Jazz” vamp, the curtain went up and Chita was standing center stage! I was playing and conducting so I couldn’t really watch her perform. It wasn’t until after when I watched the video that I saw that she was hauling out some amazing moves. I don’t mean a well-placed shoulder roll…I mean full sass. Talk about “still got it!” Watch! And, before you do, please note how she calls “All That Jazz” by it’s nickname on the red carpet. I love how she says that James and I wanted her to sing “Jazz.”
I think it’s so cool when original artists call their signature songs by the song’s nickname. They’re not trying to sound cool or inside, it’s literally the name they call it. Like after I first performed with Patti LuPone and we had debated doing “Buenos Aires:” Right after the final song of the show, she turned to me and said “Do you wanna do B.A.”? I love knowing that’s what she calls the song!
There were so many fantastic music performances: Gloria Gaynor singing “I Will Survive” (original key!), Gerry Polci from The Four Seasons singing “Oh, What A Night” (original key!), Liz Callaway’s stunningly beautiful version of “Moon River,” Megan Hilty singing Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman’s gorgeous “Second Hand White Baby Grand” from Smash and Tony Yazbeck showing his full triple threatness with “All I Need Is the Girl.”
Plus, we had amazing comics: Alec Mapa talked about how he and his husband adopted a five-year-old from Compton, Los Angeles around five years ago. Alec said they used to have a really nice bathroom. “It was a gay guys bathroom. It was basically a spa at the Four Seasons. Now… it’s like a port-o-potty at Mardis Gras.” The other comic was Caroline Rhea who is also a parent and hilarious. She told everyone that she had her daughter at 44. “Which is weird because I’m now 38.” She also mentioned getting around in the city and said that Uber is basically like ordering your own abduction. Yes!
The format of the show is that a celebrity who is connected to foster care speaks, and they end by talking about the song that meant something to them when they were younger. Well, the last speaker of the show was Rosie Perez. Wowza. I’ve never had to play piano/conduct with tears running down my face. Seriously! Rosie spoke in such an honest way, it was like nothing I’ve seen before onstage. If you don’t know her story, you must read her autobiography, which is fantastic.
When she came out, Rosie told the audience that she never wanted people to know about her childhood. She said that when you’re a foster kid…when you grow up unwanted…you feel like a dented can. And she never wanted anyone to see the dents. Her story happened because her mom cheated on her husband and became pregnant. She couldn’t bring Rosie home because another man was her father. So Rosie’s mom brought her to Rosie’s aunt, her biological’s father’s sister. Her mother said she was going to pick something up from the local bodega and didn’t come back for years. Rosie wound up having a wonderful childhood for that time. Her aunt loved and and treated her like a little princess. Her mom came back when Rosie was three. When she saw how attached Rosie was to her aunt, she got jealous and told the aunt she was taking Rosie back. She snatched Rosie out of her arms and Rosie’s aunt was so devastated that she went into cardiac arrest. However, instead of taking Rosie back, her mother placed her in an upstate Catholic children’s home for orphans or unwanted children. On Rosie’s first day there, she was beaten. Rosie wallowed there for years. Her aunt recovered from her heart issues and tried to get her back, but because Rosie biological dad’s name wasn’t on the birth certificate, her aunt had no legal authority. Rosie told us that she would sometimes spend weekends at her mother’s apartment, which she hated because her mother was mentally ill. When she was 12, a family member tried to sexually assault her. Rosie told her mother, who punished her and made her scrub the floor with a toothbrush. Rosie went back upstate and had a kind of nervous breakdown. She smashed everything in her room and then hid in the closet. She heard the adults looking for her and calling the police, but she didn’t reveal herself. She admitted to the audience on Monday that, after years of abuse, it was the first time she considered suicide. While in the closet, she thought of the trip she was able to take with the other girls in the home. They saw The Wiz on Broadway and Rosie had became obsessed with the song “Home.” She sat in the closet singing it to herself. When she got to the lyric “If you’re listening God…” she saw that there was a light coming through a slat in the closet door. It prompted her to speak to God, and she decided to give him “one last chance.” She came out of the closet and revealed herself…and was, of course, beaten. But one week later, a girl approached her at school and said that her mom wanted to take in Rosie as a foster kid! She was out of that horrible place. That song, “Home,” gave her the strength to live, and she was eventually reunited with her aunt.
After she spoke, Stephanie Mills came out and sang the song Rosie sang in that closet all those years ago. Rosie stayed onstage during the song, and Stephanie called her over. Seeing the two of them hold hands, knowing what that song did for Rosie and how Stephanie was a lifeline even though they didn’t know each other, was so emotional. And then, on top of it all, Stephanie sounded amazing (yes, same key!). Watch!
Chita Rivera, Darren Criss and More at Voices For The Voiceless
I talked to Stephanie on SiriusXM about The Wiz, and she told me that she had been rejected so many times as a kid auditioning, that she didn’t want to try out for anything anymore. As a matter of fact, her mother took her to The Wiz audition with Stephanie literally in tears! After two call backs, however, she got the part of Dorothy and did the show for the entire run. Well, almost. She only missed because they insisted she take a vacation. So for the entire five year run, she missed one week! TOTAL! Stephanie talked about how the show wasn’t doing well when it first came to New York, but it was kept alive by having various church groups come. Then, it became a huge hit because of it’s commercial. Watch!
The other big event last week was the launch of the Disaster! CD, which you can get here.
Steve Sorrentino set it up for us at Barnes & Noble and it was packed! Kerry Butler sang “I Am Woman” with Ryan Devers as little Lisa, I sang “Mockingbird” with Rachel York, Lacretta Nicole sang “Knock On Wood” and Rachel York performed “I Will Survive.”
The finale was Jennifer Simard doing “Never Can Say Goodbye.” Talk about #StillGotIt!
Ciao, everyone. Next column…from Italy!