The company of Broadway’s 2010 Tony Award-winning Best Musical Memphis had their audience singing and dancing in the aisles more than usual recently as 1,100 underserved kids from public schools and AIDS service organizations across New York City collectively jumped to their feet and surprised the cast by performing the choreography during the show’s finale, “Steal Your Rock ‘N’ Roll.”
The February 3 performance at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre, made possible by Francoise-Henry Bennahmias, president and chief executive officer of Audemars Piguet North America, was part of a $100,000 grant made to Broadway Cares/Equity Fight AIDS by Audemars Piguet, the famed Swiss watch company, in conjunction with the company’s sponsorship of the Red Carpet at the 2011 Tony Awards.
“Music has touched my life,” Bennahmias said, “and I hope that this special experience will foster a life-long love of music among these wonderful young people, too.”
Working closely with “Inspire Change” the initiative launched by the musical’s producers as outreach to under-served communities, the performance was co-hosted by Audemars Piguet, Tony Award Productions and Broadway Cares. It was the first Broadway show for many of the kids.
The students’ choreographed finale surprise for the cast came after a special workshop at their schools where students also explored the significance of the show’s themes of racial tension and tolerance in the 1950s.
The special performance included a presentation by Bennahmias, Memphis lead producer Sue Frost, Paul Libin, chairman of The Broadway League and president of BC/EFA, and Ted Chapin, president of the American Theatre Wing. Immediately after the show there was a Q&A session with the cast and David Bryan and Joe DiPietro, the Tony Award-winning composer and librettist of Memphis.
“The cast flipped out when they saw the whole audience stand up and dance!” Frost said. “It was absolutely incredible.”
Tom Viola, executive director of BC/EFA added: “The stories of personal courage in Memphis reflect the challenges these kids face each day. To see their lives portrayed on stage creates self-esteem that encourages young people to make healthy choices outside the classroom and in their community.”