On Monday, February 22, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS added a new and unique event to its calendar. Though many have seen the previous four editions of BROADWAY BACKWARDS, this was the first time BC/EFA produced this star-studded, gender-bending event, benefiting both BC/EFA and The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, this year at Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont.And it did live up to its tag-line, “The he-sang, she-sang event of the season!” With dazzling performances from an impressive line-up of stars boasting four Tony Awards and 20 Tony Award nominations and led by Director/Choreographer Robert Bartley and Musical Director Wayne Barker, BROADWAY BACKWARDS raised the roof and a record-breaking $186,780, nearly $20,000 more than the previous edition of the event.
Shortly after BROADWAY BACKWARDS got underway, while Florence Henderson was leading the ensemble in a rousing, over-the-top boy-boy/girl-girl rendition of the classic Music Man song, “Shipoopi,” a team of police stormed the Vivian Beaumont stage led by television and Broadway funny man, “Sergeant Richard Kind” who promptly announced that BROADWAY BACKWARDS 5 must “cease and desist” – explaining that men singing about men and women singing about women, “propagates same-sex marriage.” A key-stone cops-like chase and ensued resulting in Florence getting knocked out after being hit on the head by one of the officer’s billy clubs. And thus began Florence’s extended “BROADWAY BACKWARDS dream sequence” featuring many of the great songs of the legitimate stage… reinterpreted in a different, somewhat gayer context.
The Classics Reinterpreted
Hunter Ryan Herdlicka and Dan Butler teamed up in a “Come Up To My Place” from On the Town as a naive young sailor eager to see the sites of New York City and a cabby desperately in need of companionship.
Julia Murney, star of the Manhattan Theatre Club/Andrew Lippa The Wild Party, interpreting her co-star’s song from that musical, an aching and heartbreaking rendition of “What Is It About Her?”
Raul Esparza channeled Garland with a stunning and heart-wrenching “The Man That Got Away” from the film A Star is Born.
Famous for her Tony Award winning performance in Miss Saigon, but also as the voice of many Disney princesses, Lea Salonga’s vocally pure and emotionally devastating “Out There” by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz from the animated musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame left the audience craving more.
Len Cariou and Lee Roy Reams stopped the show with humorous, yet surprisingly sensitive rendition of “I Remember It Well” from the Lerner and Loewe classic Gigi. Ugly Betty and Encores! Girl Crazy star Becki Newton played a certain traveling saleslady visiting a small Iowa town wooing and, in this case, “outing” a certain prudish librarian, played by Barbara Angeline, in “Marion the Librarian.” Nick Adams, Timothy W. Bish and Adam Perry dreamed of someday leaving the Fandango Ballroom for a better life, dancing up a storm in the classic Sweet Charity number “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This.”
Mario Cantone proved himself a song and dance man alongside a chorus of hunky dancers with the show-stopping Kander and Ebb song “Where You Are” from Kiss of the Spider Woman. Host Florence Henderson showed that she is equally as agile, leading the female singing and dancing ensemble of 25 in the classic Guys and Dolls showstopper, “Luck Be A Lady”.
Other highlights included:
Douglas Sills’ “I Could Have Danced All Night” sung while literally being chased around the stage by a team of butlers and a bed on wheels; Bruce Vilanch and his three handsome young suitors, Ward Billeisen, Patrick O’Neill and Antuan Raimone jazzing it up with “Tom, Dick or Harry” from Kiss Me Kate; Gary Beach’s tribute to The Pajama Game and “I’m Not At All In Love;” Tonya Pinkins’ jazz-influenced interpretation of “Too Many Mornings” from Follies; Aaron Lazar’s passionate “As Long As He Needs Me;” Michele Lee’s touching and humorous story-telling combining “Secret Love” with “The Girl Next Door” interspersing a personal story of a childhood crush; Tony Goldwyn and the boys of BROADWAY BACKWARDS’ “Conga” from Wonderful Town; Robert Cuccioli, Ann Harada and Anthony and Will Nunziata discovering that strangely they all four dressed in the same “Paris Original” suit; and a return to the stage by Tony Award nominee Martine Allard with a sultry and powerful rendition of “Johanna” from Sweeney Todd.
In addition to the array of musical performances, there were a handful of surprises during BROADWAY BACKWARDS 5 including cameo appearances by Marion Ross, Eve Plumb, Valerie Harper, Seth Rudetsky and NY1’s Roma Torre – each leaving the audiences in stitches.
A Serious Message and a Finale to Remember
At the end of the evening, the creator, director and choreographer of BROADWAY BACKWARDS, Robert Bartley reminded us that, although we had a night to celebrate and enjoy featuring some of our favorite stars singing our favorite Broadway songs, we were at BROADWAY BACKWARDS for a very important reason – to raise much needed funds for BC/EFA and The Center. As a longtime volunteer for both organizations, Bartley discussed his own personal connection made while volunteering for the Center’s youth program.
In a stunning finale, 25 members of that program’s Youth Pride Chorus joined Broadway regular Tituss Burgess and the full BROADWAY BACKWARDS ensemble in a stunning arrangement of “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods spreading the important message that we must take care of our own, especially our community’s young people.
In addition to the 25 featured stars of BROADWAY BACKWARDS 5, more than 50 Broadway singers and dancers and the 25-person Youth Pride Chorus, there were hundreds more who helped during the weeks leading up to the event and backstage during the performance. A special thank you to our friends at Lincoln Center Theater and the company of South Pacific for making us feel so welcome in their home.
“The LGBT Center was one of the first organizations funded by BC/EFA’s National Grants Program as far back as 1988,” says Executive Director Tom Viola. “This new and exciting collaboration on BROADWAY BACKWARDS is yet one more way that BC/EFA can step up, and by sharing our resources and productions skills, fulfill our mission to fund the best efforts of those providing a wide variety of social services to many around many connected issues including the challenges of HIV/AIDS”
The enthusiasm, generosity and creativity from all involved was boundless and helped make BROADWAY BACKWARDS 5 the most successful edition yet!