An exhilarating and emotional evening of performances by Broadway’s best made for a poignant celebration of the 10th anniversary of Broadway Backwards, which revisited some of the most memorable numbers from past years.
The 2015 edition of the event, held March 9, raised a record $466,717 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center.
The sold-out show included 20 audience-pleasing numbers and multiple standing ovations for Tituss Burgess, Lena Hall, Florence Henderson, Norm Lewis, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Lillias White and more Broadway favorites, as well as a special appearance by 2014 Kennedy Center Honoree Lily Tomlin. The always hilarious Julie Halston and Rob McClure served as the evening’s jovial hosts.
Broadway Backwards is the annual celebration where gays and lesbians see their stories told through the great songs of musical theatre, sung by their favorite Broadway performers. It is produced by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and was presented again at the historic Al Hirschfeld Theatre, home to the Tony Award-winning Best Musical Kinky Boots.
This year’s edition of Broadway Backwards featured a spirited 66-person cast and an onstage orchestra of 13 performing some of the most memorable numbers from previous editions of the benefit.
The evening’s rousing finale featured Shawna M. Hamic and the full ensemble turning a gospel-fueled version of the La Cage Aux Folles anthem “I Am What I Am” into rallying cry for acceptance and equality for all. Hamic and the cast brought the audience to its feet for a thunderous ovation.
Tituss Burgess revived his crowd-pleasing 2013 performance of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls, again leaving the audience boisterously cheering his emotional, heartbreaking rendition. Burgess was joined by Charl Brown, Jaime Cepero, Steven Cutts, Brandon Pearson, Dennis Stowe and Curtis Wiley.
The “six merry murderesses” from Kander & Ebb’s Chicago were represented Backwards-style by a sexy, all-male sextet sharing the stories of their husbands’ untimely demise. This version of “Cell Block Tango” featured Joshua Buscher-West, Marty Lawson, Alfie Parker Jr., Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva, Alex Ringler and Ryan Steele. Watch the full number.
Telly Leung, Brian Charles Rooney and Jason Michael Snow balanced the perks and pitfalls of becoming fathers in an energetic version of “I Want It All” from Baby. Equally memorable was a special performance by the all-male string quartet Well-Strung, which flipped an Edvard Grieg classical music piece into a mash-up with “Let It Go” from the blockbuster Disney movie Frozen.
Robin De Jesús, Rob McClure and Micah Stock opened the show with a lighthearted, dating app-inspired rendition of “Matchmaker” from Fiddler on the Roof.
Stage and television icon Florence Henderson got the second act rolling by exploring a fleeting attraction to “dames.” Henderson and a stage full of leggy beauties delivered a decidedly bawdy twist on the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “There’s Nothing Like a Dame” from South Pacific.
Jenn Colella and Elizabeth Stanley turned the Damn Yankees showstopper “The Game” into an all-female vow to stay away from “booze and broads.”
Mario Cantone flipped on the comedy switch with “Chief Cook and Bottlewasher” from The Rink while Lena Hall turned up the volume to rock out on a distinctly personal version of “Feed Me (Git it)” from Little Shop of Horrors.
Dressed in silver sequins that lit up the room, Lillias White brought a funky, disco beat and booty-shaking dance break toSouth Pacific’s “Some Enchanted Evening.”
Douglas Sills dreamed “I Could Have Danced All Night,” surrounded by the tuxedoed male members of the ensemble. Broadway leading men Aaron Lazar and Tony Yazbecktook on the roles of Anita and Maria in the emotional “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love” from West Side Story.
Love was in the air for two delightful re-stagings of past numbers: Jim Brochu and Harvey Evans realized “It’s Never Too Late to Fall in Love” from The Boy Friend and Len Cariou and Lee Roy Reams sweetly recalled different versions of their first date in “I Remember It Well” from Gigi.
Brian Stokes Mitchell tugged at audience members’ heartstrings with a bewitching rendition of George and Ira Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” originally sung on Broadway in Lady, Be Good, then in Strike Up the Band. He elevated the moment with an instrumental interlude played on a melodica.
Norm Lewis returned to Broadway Backwards to once again fill the theatre with his rich baritone voice and an impassioned version of “Home” from The Wiz. Ann Harada shared the power of her voice with the Mack and Mabel torch song “I Won’t Send Roses.” Charles Busch tenderly confessed his love for a less-than-perfect man in “Bill” from Show Boat. And Maureen McGovern revisited “This Nearly Was Mine” from South Pacific.
Tomlin offered her personal thanks to the audience for their 10 years of gracious support of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Center. She also shared insight into the good work being done by both organizations to collaborate and share resources to make a difference for our friends and neighbors right here in New York and so many more around the country.
This year’s fundraising total surpassed the previous record of $423,182, set last year. In its 10 editions, Broadway Backwards has raised more than $2.4million for Broadway Cares and The Center.
Broadway Backwards creator Robert Bartley again directed and choreographed the show. Also returning were Mary-Mitchell Campbell as music supervisor and Tim Rosser as music director. Production Stage Manager Peter Lawrence led a team of 12 stage managers. Adam Roberts served as associate choreographer with lighting design by Ryan O’Gara and costume design by Bernadette Banner.
Broadway Backwards began as a grassroots concert performed at The Center in 2006. The event grew quickly, performing next Off-Broadway and subsequently in Broadway theatres.
This Year’s Program