The evening began with an invocation by Bishop Gene Robinson followed by a tribute in song to the young, gay Laramie, Wyoming, native who died in 1998 after being severely beaten. Lauper (accompanied by piano and violin) sang "Above the Clouds" after telling the crowd at New York City's Town Hall she was participating for Judy Shepard: "As a mom, I'm here to support another mom."
Tipper Gore welcomed the audience and introduced a short video presentation about Matthew Shepard and his story. She then brought out Matthew's mother Judy, who is also the executive director of the Shepard Foundation. Shepard then handed the stage over to the evening's main event, an abridged reading of The Laramie Project.
Original cast members John McAdams and Kelli Simpkins were joined by stars of the HBO Films version: Terry Kinney, James Murtaugh and Joshua Jackson as well as Stockard Channing, Judith Light, Mary Beth Piel, Cyndi Lauper, Stephanie March, Peter Hermann, Chad Allen, Brian Kerwin, Robert Desiderio and Van Hansis. The actors — seated in two rows behind music stands that held their scripts — played multiple roles. The dialogue was also relayed in sign language by two interpreters downstage right.
Following the performance — which at various times invoked tears, laughter, applause and a palpable silence — Moises Kaufman (the director who wrote the Laramie Project with members of the Tectonic Theater Project) was presented the Making A Difference Award by Judy Shepard. The director-creator brought out a number of his collaborators, including Leigh Fondakowski, Stephen Belber, Stephen Wangh, Kelli Simpkins, Mercedes Herrero, Grant James Vargas, John McAdams, Andy Paris and Jeffrey LaHoste.
Accepting the honor, Kaufman joked about growing up Latino, gay and Jewish noting, "Where else do I belong, if not in New York?" He then turned the focus to the fact that in the eight years since Matthew Shepard's death, no hate crime legislation has yet been passed by any state. He mentioned there has been no resolution to the ongoing threat of gay bashing, citing three recent incidents — two in New York and one involving a youth in Oakland, CA, just a week before a nearby high school production of The Laramie Project had raised its curtain. Kaufman noted the prospect of a more accepting future, reporting the contrast in a study that showed seven out of ten people over 40 years old were against same-sex marriage, while the statistics were reverse for those under 40.
The evening concluded with a live auction and an outpouring of support as audience members bid upon two large package items (from furniture names Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams and from RSVP Vacations) or filled out donation forms (including stars like All Shook Up's Cheyenne Jackson and chef Bobby Flay).
Lauper then returned to the stage to end the evening with a rendition of her hit "True Colors."