Fundraising records and gender norms alike were smashed by stars of stage, screen and pop music on April 2, 2018, at the inclusive, dynamic and loving Broadway Backwards.
The 13th annual edition of the show, which celebrates the LGBTQ community through gender-reversed renditions of beloved showtunes, raised an incredible $680,273 to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City. The show was produced by Broadway Cares.
Broadway Backwards featured a cast of 62 performing 19 numbers that spanned from heart-wrenching to hilarious. They were backed by a live, 12-piece onstage orchestra at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, home to the Tony Award-winning Kinky Boots.
The evening began with an activist tone when a trio of anti-gay protesters faced off with revelers from a pride march. Luckily, The Last Ship’s Shawna Hamic and Hello, Dolly!’s Christian Dante White, backed by an ensemble of diverse singers and dancers, shut them down, ultimately inviting the converted protesters and the audience to join in “A Wild, Wild Party” from The Wild Party. The high-spirited opening number was choreographed by Chaz Wolcott.
Alex Newell, star of Once on this Island and TV’s Glee, closed the show with his inimitable vocal range on full display in “This Is Me,” the Oscar-nominated song from The Greatest Showman written by Dear Evan Hansen Tony winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. With support from a chorus of inspirational voices and powerful choreography that lifted the spirits of all involved, Newell’s captivating voice and passionate performance brought the audience to its feet.
Ethan Slater, the critically acclaimed actor in the titular role in SpongeBob SquarePants, turned a trendy Brooklyn party upside-down in an energetic performance of “The Lady is a Tramp” from Babes in Arms. The ensemble of fussy partygoers initially distanced themselves from their outsider guest before embracing the nimble Slater, lifting and flipping him in a flurry of glitter and confetti.
One of Slater’s SpongeBob costars, Gaelen Gilliland, joined Escape to Margaritaville’s Eric Petersen to create an archetypal 1950s couple preparing for a dinner party in “One Boy” from Bye Bye Birdie. When their attractive neighbors, played by Heather Lea Bair and Marty Lawson, arrive, the duo hilariously gave into temptation as Gilliland partnered with Bair and Peterson with Lawson.
Come From Away’s Q. Smith and Astrid Van Wieren shared the joys of parenthood and the optimistic potential of children in a heartwarming take on “Dear Theodosia” from Hamilton.
When On the Town’s Jay Armstrong Johnson unexpectedly found himself in the apartment of Tony Award winner John Glover, Johnson excitedly launched into “If My Friends Could See Me Now” from Sweet Charity. Johnson impressively performed the original, iconic Bob Fosse choreography, recreated for Johnson by Mimi Quillin.
Tony Award winner and television icon Andrea Martin flexed her incomparable comedy muscles in a riotous rendition of “My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada” from Avenue Q.
Aladdin’s Telly Leung and Dear Evan Hansen’s Taylor Trensch transformed “Who Will Love Me As I Am?” from Side Show from a song between sisters to a lovers’ duet. The couple wondered who will love them despite their flaws and insecurities, ultimately finding that love in each other.
Emmy Award nominee and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Tituss Burgess left the audience spellbound with his touching rendition of “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe” from Cabin in the Sky.
Hamilton’s Bryan Terrell Clark and Sunday in the Park with George’s Michael McElroy filled the Al Hirschfeld Theatre with romance and warmth as they tenderly performed The Color Purple’s “What About Love?”
Anneliese van der Pol of Beauty and the Beast and TV’s That’s So Raven delivered a rapturous version of “She Touched Me” from Drat! The Cat!.
Dear Evan Hansen’s Noah Galvin and Nico Tortorella from TV’s Younger hilariously sang through a late-night couple’s quarrel in “Therapy” from Tick, Tick…Boom!. The pair sparred back and forth in a swift patter until they resolved to sort it out in therapy the following day.
New Kids on the Block’s Joey McIntyre belted Funny Girl’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade”, turning it into an LGBTQ anthem as he ultimately stripped off his jacket to reveal a T-shirt reading “Equality.”
Broadway favorite Betsy Wolfe from Waitress belted her heart out in a breathtaking performance of the Dear Evan Hansen hit “Waving Through a Window.”
Broadway legend and Tony Award winner Len Cariou of Sweeney Todd and TV’s Blue Bloods delivered a moving rendition of “And I Was Beautiful” from Dear World.
When Annie’s Andrea McArdle threatened to move away, Come From Away’s Sharon Wheatley coyly confessed her undying devotion in “If I Were You” from All American, which McArdle readily reciprocated.
Tony nominee Tony Yazbeck of Prince of Broadway gave an LGBTQ twist to a sweet favorite when he gushed about a guy who brought him a tasty treat in “Vanilla Ice Cream” from She Loves Me.
Jerry Springer – The Opera’s Will Swenson took the audience back to their high school days of crushes and curfews with “Joey is a Punk Rocker” from Joe Iconis’ The Black Suits, as he fawned over his school’s resident bad boy.
The evening was hosted by Broadway star and longtime friend of Broadway Cares Julie Halston, who brought her signature brand of comedy and creativity to the stage. Halston set aside her hosting hat momentarily to contemplate her plan for finding a wife in “Reviewing the Situation” from Oliver!.
Special guest Academy Award winner Hayley Mills, who’s currently appearing in Off-Broadway’s Party Face, thanked the audience and performers for their invaluable support of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Center.
Broadway Backwards creator Robert Bartley wrote and directed this year’s show. Adam Roberts was associate director. The show featured choreography by Bartley, Roberts, Quillin and Wolcott. Mary-Mitchell Campbell served as music supervisor, Laura Bergquist was music director and Christopher D. Littlefield was associate music director. The creative team included lighting designer Jake DeGroot, costume designers Jess Gersz and Vanessa Leuck and sound designer Matt Berman. Jeff Brancato was production stage manager.
What began as a small, grassroots concert performed in the community room at The Center in 2006 has grown into a highly anticipated event presented in one of Broadway’s most beautiful theatres. In its 13 editions, Broadway Backwards has raised more than $4.1 million for Broadway Cares and The Center.
Major sponsors of Broadway Backwards included Celebrity Cruises, Facebook, The New York Times and United Airlines.
Photos by Monica Simoes and Jonathan Tichler
Video by Reel Time Video Production; highlights video edited by Mo Brady
✛ Host Committee
This Year’s Program