Laughter, longing and liberation combined with songs of love to fill the Longacre Theatre for the exhilarating 6th edition of BROADWAY BACKWARDS, a star-packed benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center of New York.
The only Broadway event custom-made for the gay and lesbian community, our friends and families, BROADWAY BACKWARDS 6 featured a stunning all-star cast that included Tony Award winners Hinton Battle, Len Cariou, Alan Cumming, Debra Monk, Bebe Neuwirth, Denis O'Hare, Karen Olivo and Lillias White, Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham and American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken.
The event, held February 7, 2011, raised a record-breaking $281,243 for the two organizations.
BROADWAY BACKWARDS reinterprets the songs of musical theater by featuring women singing songs originally written for men and men singing songs written for women. By keeping the lyrics intact, including the pronouns, each song takes on an entirely new dimension. It's Broadway in a whole new key.
The evening kicked off with a rousing rebuke of the military's soon-to-be-obsolete "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy toward gay troops. Until the law is fully revoked, soldiers still can't "tell," prompting Alan Cumming to plunge into a military-themed version of "Don't Tell Mama" from Cabaret, the show which garnered him a Tony Award. With a naughty playfulness, Alan pleaded with his four dancing "soldiers" to keep his "secret" just among them.
Bebe Neuwirth (The Addams Family) returned to her Chicago roots, this time taking on the role of scheming lawyer Billy Flynn in the self-promoting "All I Care About is Love." Surrounded by a bevy of glamorous, feathery fan-whirling dancers, Bebe sported a dapper white suit and carried a cigar as she sang the smooth-talking attorney's show-stopping anthem.
Clay Aiken, who appeared on Broadway in Spamalot, brought the house to tears with his heart-felt yearning for "Home" from The Wiz. The performance was dedicated to all the LGBT young people who find themselves seeking a safe haven at places like the Center, which offer a myriad of social service programs. And while the song was dedicated to young people, its lyrics resonate with all: "And I've learned/That we must look inside our hearts/To find a world full of love/Like yours/Like me/Like home..."
Debra Monk, most recently seen on Broadway in Curtains, transformed My Fair Lady's "On the Street Where You Live" into a delicate, yet courageous, coming out story.
Tony Yazbek, who appeared as the scene-stealing Tulsa in the Patti LuPone revival of Gypsy, left the audience in awe after a breathtaking, heart-pounding recreation of the complete "Music and the Mirror" song and dance from A Chorus Line.
Lillias White, Tony winner for The Life and most recently seen in Fela!, had audience members dancing in their seats, showing off seemingly limitless vocals with a rousing Ray Charles arrangement of "Some Enchanted Evening."
Denis O'Hare, Tony winner for Take Me Out and currently starring in HBO's True Blood, partnered with Brooks Ashmanskas (Promises, Promises) for a hilarious rendition of "Marry the Man Today" from Guys and Dolls.
The leading ladies from the original Broadway cast of In the Heights - Mandy Gonzalez and Karen Olivo - reunited for a new take on that show's hit love song, "When You're Home."
Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham brought the show to an emotional finale with "Hello Young Lovers" from the King and I, celebrating the courageous and brave in our community who stand-up to oppressors and bullies.
He was joined on-stage by JoJo Edward, a member of the Center's Youth Enrichment Services program, who personifies the struggle of many young adults. "It took me a long time to come out," JoJo told a hushed audience. "I spent most of junior high and high school trying to not be gay. My only saving grace was singing."
As part of the show's conclusion, BROADWAY BACKWARDS creator Robert Bartley spoke of the need for our collective community to continue pulling together for the sake of people like JoJo. "Whether coming together at events like this or going to rallies against Prop 8, attending candle light vigils or being involved at the Center or Broadway Cares," he said, "we are a community and we must take care of our own."
Other highlights from the sold-out show:
A sweetly romantic version of "The Trolley Song" from Meet Me in St. Louis was set on a San Francisco trolley. Bobby Steggert (Ragtime) yearned to be reacquainted with his missed connection, Robin De Jesús (La Cage aux Folles). Comedian Mo Rocca helped set up the number in an amusing cameo appearance unknowingly directing both disconnected lovers toward the trolley.
In a frolicking version of "Summer Nights" from Grease, four-time Tony Award nominee Jan Maxwell (Lend Me a Tenor) played a dictatorial principal bent on ruining any fun her students dream up - especially if it involved the school dance. Undeterred, love-struck teens Danny and Sandy, innocently portrayed by Jason Tam (A Chorus Line) and Farah Alvin (The Marvelous Wonderettes), longed to rekindle their same-sex summer flings as their dates to the dance. Ultimately, the high schoolers stood up to the bullying principal, ending the number defiantly hand-in-hand, staring down the principal.