BY MATT SMITH
JUN 21, 2016
Just one week and one day after the tragedy in Orlando, FL, the Broadway community came together for Broadway Sings for Pride, the annual LGBT event, this year benefitting the Tyler Clementi Foundation. Through song, dance, motivational speeches and even a stand-up routine, performers championed diversity and equality, promoting the idea of love and acceptance for all.
The program began, not unlike last week’s Tony Awards, on a somewhat somber note, with Wicked’s Daniel Quadrino performing “Imagine” as a tribute to those who lost their lives in Orlando.
Dante Melucci, feisty drummer Freddy in Broadway’s School of Rock, then kicked off the evening proper with a rockin’ rendition of “American Idiot,” and a myriad of Broadway’s brightest followed suit. Highlights include Christiane Noll belting “Back to Before”—the Ragtime showstopper that earned her a Tony nod—Off-Broadway’s Brian Craft, whose strong connection to the lyrics of Yank! The Musical’s “Just True” came across in his delivery and N’Kenge’s show-stopping rendition of “Defying Gravity,” which (deservedly) earned the first standing ovation of the night. Also praiseworthy was Trevor Braun, a former Flounder from The Little Mermaid, who proved he’s no longer a guppy with his take on Hedwig’s “Wig in a Box.”
Other Broadway performers, like Angelo Rios, Mia Gentile and A. J. Shively, took the pop route, offering tunes by Katy Perry, the Beatles and Gavin DeGraw, respectively. Priscilla alum Amaker Smith channeled his inner Josh Groban and gave us “You Raise Me Up,” another selection dedicated to Orlando victims.
Most captivating were the songs with an inspirational message. One such example came when Bebe Neuwirth entered the room, reminding us all that despite trying times, “The World Goes ‘Round.” Equally stirring was NJ Idol winner Lindsay Cherin’s rendition of Smash’s “They Just Keep Moving the Line,” whose lyrics take on an entirely new meaning when considered in the context of LGBT rights.
Later in the evening, Wicked’s Eden Espinosa introduced honoree Ruth Coker Burks, recognized for singlehandedly caring for—and burying—AIDS patients abandoned by their families and their doctors. Burks has cared for nearly 1,000 people since she began her mission in the ’80s. Radio personality Valerie Smaldone later brought up honoree Jane Clementi, of the Clementi Family Foundation, who discussed the progress of the Day One campaign, which has reached a staggering 10,000 individuals throughout the past year.
Throughout the evening, non-Broadway talent also moved the room with stories of strength. Notably, Avery D. Wilson, Mister United States 2016, shared a powerful acronym for love—“Living Optimistic Values Everyday”—while supermodel Patricia Velásquez offered blunt honesty: long-eradicated fears of being cast aside for her sexual orientation returned in the aftermath of last week’s tragedy. However, despite the fact that we may once again be fearful, Valásquez urged us, as she does, “not to live in it.”
It’s an incredibly important message for anyone, but especially pertinent to members of the theatre community. Why? “So much of the Broadway community is the LGBT community,” explains Lesli Margherita, who co-hosted the evening with Tommy Didario. “I really don’t think there would be a Broadway community without them, so it’s imperative we show support.” To that end, acknowledging “Broadway has always been ahead of the curve on social change,” Todd Buonopane appreciates the fact that “in doing what I do, I’m allowed—and expected—to be out and proud.”
But it’s Bebe (who else?) who really drives the point home. With a smile curling at the corner of her mouth, Neuwirth states, simply, that despite theatrical billing or clout, “We are not soloists. … We’re all in this together.”
Matt Smith is a writer and theatre enthusiast based in New York. For more information or further inquiry, including additional writing samples, he encourages you to visit MattSmithTheatre.com.