A decade after it debuted on Broadway, Disney’s The Lion King continues to shine in its efforts on behalf of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Inc. through creative, consistent fundraising nationwide.
Since 1998, this groundbreaking musical has raised $4,514,581 for BC/EFA with The Gazelle National Tour (launched in 2002) raising over $1.1 million of that grand total, generated both through audience appeals during Gypsy of the Year andEaster Bonnet Competition collection periods and by frequent benefit performances in the communities where it plays.
“We generally do a benefit every two or three cities,” said Ben Lipitz, who plays “Pumba” in the show, coordinates collections, makes post-performance audience appeals, and produces many of the Gazelle Tour’s benefit productions, which have ranged from cabaret-style shows to one-night-only performances of the three-character play Art.
“I do this because I think I’m organized and even a bit retentive, but mostly because Broadway Cares is such a compelling cause,” he said, adding that the tireless efforts of the Gazelle Tour’s cast and crew make producing all these events possible. “The fundraising we all do brings the cast together in a wonderful way that truly helps company morale and, the cabaret shows particularly break up the routine of life on the road. It can be a lot of work, requiring extra effort and time, but it ends up being a win-win, I think, for all of us involved.”
These extra benefit performances – usually held on Mondays, the one day a week cast and crew members’ don’t have a performance – have made a significant difference, with two recent Monday evenings underscoring the effort, variety and creativity this Lion King tour puts into fundraising. One was a 1980s cover night, the other, a performance featuring traditional African music performed by the show’s South African cast members.
Two recent Monday night benefits in two cities have raised more than $25,000 combined for BC/EFA.
In Washington, D.C., cast members performing 1980s standards like “Private Dancer,” “You Spin Me Right Round,” “True Colors,” and “Let’s Go Crazy” at The Greenbert Theatre at American University. Hosted by Mark Shunock (who plays Timon), August 11’s “The Lion Rocks Tonight” brought in over $10,000, which was divided between Broadway Cares and DC-based Food & Friends, (www.foodandfriends.org) a longtime BC/EFA grantee that provides hundreds of meals a week to those homebound with AIDS and other debilitating diseases, raising over $10,000 from a sold-out house of enthusiastic fans.
The tour moved on to Columbus, Ohio, where on September 8 its South African cast members performed in “Umculo Webhubesi” (The Lion Sings Tonight)—an evening of traditional African dancing and music which will be held in the sanctuary of the exotic dance club BOMA, formerly a church.
More than 100 people attended this memorable evening of song and spoken word performances, which raised just over $15,000 for BC/EFA and The Columbus AIDS Task Force, (www.catf.net) Lipitz said.
Performers included: Vusi Mhlongo, Phindile Mkhize (Rafiki), Sihle Ngema, Portia Magwaza, Maurica Roland, Queen Majola and Electra Weston, backed by a seven-piece band featuring: Mike Faue and Stefan Monssen, Percussion; Kay Ragsdale, Woodwinds; Rashon Murph, Keyboards, Ian Baggette, Bass; Josh Atkin, Saxophone; and Maurica Roland and Dennis Hodges, Guitars. Highlights included: Phindile Mkhize singing “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here” and The Whole Cast singing “Pata Pata” and “Ngibizwe” (“I’ve Been Called”).
”The audience was on its feet cheering and sometimes, dancing, all throughout the night!” says Lipitz.
The organizer says that the Gazelle Company puts on a fundraising cabaret event in every second or third city it visits. And, in each lucky touring town that gets to experience a special benefit show, a collaboration with the local AIDS service organization is always appreciated. In Columbus, Lipitz particularly acknowledged Terri LeMaille Williams of CATF. “Terri went above and beyond the support we usually receive. She deserves much of the credit for the evening’s success and did an amazing job.”
But ultimately it is the extraordinary talents and energy of the cast of The Lion King Gazelle Tour that makes the evening unforgettable for those across the country fortunate enough to see this amazing show and its special cabaret presentations.
And they have been in theatres and cabaret spaces in cities and towns across the country since this wonderful touring show first hit the road in 2002.