Broadway Backwards, the once-a-year celebration of the LGBT community, brought down the house March 18, 2013, while raising a record-setting $347,060 to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center.
The sold-out show left the audience cheering after unforgettable performances by Tony Award winners Len Cariou, Judy Kaye, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Karen Ziemba, and a stirring recreation from Dreamgirls by Tituss Burgess. This year's show included a recurring story about a man on a personal journey, ultimately finding love in an unexpected place. Featured throughout the show were Tony nominee Tony Sheldon and Jim Brochu with special appearances by five-time Emmy Award winner Doris Roberts and four-time Tony nominee and five-time Emmy nominee Victor Garber.
The eighth annual edition of Broadway Backwards, produced by Broadway Cares, was presented this year in the historic Palace Theatre, now celebrating its 100th anniversary and currently home to the hit revival Annie. It featured an immensely talented 80-person cast and live orchestra performing the great songs of musical theatre with a twist: women sang songs originally written for men and men sang songs written for women.
Burgess raised the roof with his explosive rendition of "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" from Dreamgirls. The audience leapt to its feet with approval for the heartbreaking anthem. To set up this iconic song, made famous on stage by Jennifer Holiday and on film by Jennifer Hudson, Burgess was joined by Jamie Cepero, Steven Cutts, Miles Johnson, Rashad Naylor, Brandon Pearson and Dennis Stowe as Lorelle, James Thunder Earley, Curtis, Michelle, CC and Deena, respectively.
Brian Stokes Mitchell left the capacity crowd breathless after an intimate rendition of the Gershwin standard "The Man I Love," originally sung on Broadway in Lady, Be Good, then in Strike Up the Band. Basked in soft white spotlights, Mitchell captivated the audience with his take on the classic, adding to the moment by playing an interlude on a melodica.
Memorable solos by Tony winner Len Cariou, five-time Tony nominee Jan Maxwell, Academy Award winner and four-time Tony nominee Estelle Parsons and Australian stage veteran Anthony Warlow showed how accomplished performers can interpret songs to make an impact.
"A Weekend in the Country" from the Stephen Sondheim classic A Little Night Music transformed into a trip to the Hamptons by a bevy of Broadway men including Ward Billeisen, Jake Boyd, Mo Brady, Tony nominee Daniel Breaker, Robert Creighton and Kyle Dean Massey.
Tony winner Karen Ziemba led a dozen tap-dancing ladies celebrating her upcoming nuptials in a Broadway Backwards' take on Lerner and Loewe's "Go Home with Bonnie Jean" from Brigadoon. The number included an appearance by Eve Plumb as the barkeeper who won Ziemba's affection.
Tony nominee Josh Young, surrounded by a dozen hunky Broadway dancers, tapped the powers of Jekyll & Hyde to "Bring on the Men," in a steamy and seductive performance.
Avenue Q star Howie Michael Smith dreamed for a life in the suburbs with a scruffy Mr. Right in "Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm" from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
Two-time Tony winner Judy Kaye wooed Tony nominee Anita Gillette with the promise of "Three Sunny Rooms" from the short-lived '80s musical Rags. Tony nominee Malcolm Gets and Emmy Award-winning comedian/writer Bruce Vilanch comically envied each other's lives in Kander and Ebb's "The Grass Is Always Greener" from Woman of the Year.
High school junior Noah St. John shared his original spoken word poem honoring his two moms. St. John recently gained national fame after winning the top storytelling performance prize from NPR's "Snap Judgment" for the inspirational poetry.
As two yuppie workaholics-turned new parents, John Bolton and Jose Llana battled over who's turn it was to tend to their baby in "Fandango" from Closer Than Ever, while Ashley Brown and Stacey Oristano danced around the sometimes awkward morning-after "stay-don't stay" debate in "Barcelona" from Company.
Former Paul Taylor Dance Company principal dancers Patrick Corbin and David Grenke performed a moving contemporary pas de deux, choreographed by Grenke, that explored the emotional intensity of one man deeply mourning the loss of his partner.
Stephanie J. Block led the ensemble in an inspirational finale of "Our Time" from Merrily We Roll Along, appropriately capping off the evening's celebration with the call-to-action: "It's our time, breathe it in: Worlds to change and worlds to win."
Prior to the evening's finale, Robert DeFrank, vice president of human resources at Lifetime Networks, joined Backwards' creator, director and choreographer Robert Bartley onstage to present a check from Lifetime, the evening’s presenting sponsor, in the amount of $50,000 to Broadway Cares and the Center.
The evening's creative team included music supervisor Mary-Mitchell Campbell, music director by Tim Rosser, co-choreographer Amy Jones, additional music directors Laura Berquist, Mat Eisenstein, Brad Haak and James Sampliner, lighting designer Paul Miller, costume designer Ryan Moller and sound designer Lucas Indelicato. Matthew DiCarlo served as production stage manager, leading a team of 20 first-class stage managers.
This year's fundraising total of $347,060 surpassed the previous record of $329,000, set last year.
Broadway Backwards began as a grassroots concert performed at the Center in 2006. In subsequent years, the event grew quickly, performing Off-Broadway and in Broadway theaters the last four years. The one-night-only event continues to grow in popularity and success as well, supporting the work of Broadway Cares and the Center. Last year's record-breaking $329,000 topped the previous year's total of more than $281,200.
View the program from Broadway Backwards.
Photos by Danny Roberts and Stephen Sorokoff