From Broadway with Love: A Benefit Concert for Orlando Celebrates The Healing Force Of Theatre

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Photo Credit: Ian Suarez

I have always maintained that a theatre is a living, breathing thing.  It is the only performance art form that allows for the instantaneous reaction and bond between an audience and the players on both a visceral a spiritual level.   In the almost two decades I have been covering theatre and doing interviews with those that have chosen the boards as their career, every interviewee can remember their first time stepping into a theatre and the connection that experience made to shape their life, no matter how young or old they were at the time.   

It is that combination of the spiritual and entertainment that allows a theatre to become a home for a broken soul to find acceptance and healing. The theatre saved me from committing suicide when my mother died when I was fifteen.  On a global level, the Broadway theatre community was the leader in helping the our entire country begin to heal after 9/11, again showed their hearts for Sandy Hook and now, after the horrific events in Orlando where 49 souls were executed a gay nightclub, a theatre is once again were we gather to heal.

When the Dr. Phillips Center For the Performing Arts raised its curtain for the first time in 2014, it would incomprehensible to believe what lie in store for this exquisite building and the amazing staff under the leadership of CEO Kathy Ramsberger.  Days, if not hours after news broke of the killing at Pulse Nightclub, it was the Dr. Phillips Center that became the gathering spot for many to mourn.  The gorgeous glass facade became a beacon of light opening up its arms welcoming everyone from every ethnic or lifestyle background…….as a theatre always does.

On Monday, July 25, that theatrical spirit of healing shook mountains as the biggest stars of Broadway came to Orlando on their usual night off to perform for a city known more a mouse than mass murder.  From Broadway with Love: A Benefit Concert for Orlando sold out within 90 minutes of being announced and will no doubt go down in history as one of the greatest theatrical events of all time.   

Under the loving and talented arms of my friend Kenny Howard, Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley, this massive undertaking of bringing together the greatest icons of theatre, will full orchestra (the Orlando Philharmonic donating their time) choir and choreography would be near impossible with a year of preparation.  But this concert was brought together in a matter of a few weeks which is a testament not only to aforementioned theatrical spirit, but for the respect each of the organizers and performers has for one another. In any other entertainment industry would be impossible.  

Yet this a quest that would make even Don Quioxte a bit envious as musical theatre’s generational icons proved the talent gravitas of the genre.  From the legendary Chita Rivera to Broadway newbie Darren Criss, the cross section of talent was overwhelming and at times surreal, with each performance delivered at a guttural level.  

Some of the most popular of show-tunes (including animated film), sung by the original cast members took on new meaning for the cause.  Andrea McArdle’s hope of a sunnier “Tomorrow”, Chita Rivera’s life loving “All That Jazz”, Liz Callaway’s reflective “Journey To The Past”, Priscilla Lopez’ perspective of feeling “Nothing”, Jessie Mueller’s notion of everyone being “Beautiful”, Lillias White’s difant “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and Carmen Cusack’s redemptive “The Sun Will Shine Again” gives these iconic songs a greater meaning and context.   

However, it was Brian Stokes Mitchell’s stirring rendition of “The Impossible Dream” that seemed shift the very foundation on which we were seated, as everyone in my vicinity grabbed onto each other as not to collapse in tears.  

These incredible performances were also infused with amazing local talent as one of my personal favorites, Blue Star (who gave a brilliant performance as Sally Bowles in the Kenny Howard directed Cabaret) and her company of dancers fantastically infused nearly every form of dance in five minutes, while the acapella section of the Orlando Gay Men’s Chorus soared with “What A Wonderful World”.  

Each performer brought their own authenticity and breath to the stage, including the great Kelli O’hara whose country/opera aria underscores perseverance and determination;  Carrie Manolakos’ “The Wizard & I” proving that anyone’s future can be unlimited while Keala Settle and Anika Larsen’s “Take Me or Leave Me” echoed into the galaxy the power of womanhood leading into Orlando’s own Broadway stud Justin Sargent who rocked out with “Don’t Stop Believing”.  

This is just a brief overlook of some of the performances.  When you all purchase the forthcoming CD/DVD of the performance, you will also get to see why Norbert Leo Butz is a casting agent’s dream, why Christine Pedi is not only a dueling diva but a true glorious diva, that the classic song and dance man is alive and well in Josh Henry, and a moving quartet with our favorite Angel, Wilson Cruz that combines “Over The Rainbow” and “For Good”.

The CD/DVD is to be released by the equally inspiring Broadway Records who also organized (with Seth and his husband James Wesley) and recorded the star studded single “What The World Needs Now” within a 72 hour period.  

And even though I have mentioned Mr. Rudetsky several times, he must be recognized as not only a musical genius in his own right, but through his hilarious interviews, is able to show us the humanity behind these enormous Broadway talents.  

By the end of evening there were numerous standing ovations, tears, joy, healing and love. For three hours, The Dr. Phillips Center’s Walt Disney Theatre was filled with the talents of the living to celebrate those lives that may have been one day on those very boards.  

It is still not really possible to wrap our heads around the sheer devastation of what happened at on that early Sunday morning in June that would cause 49 parents to bury their child after they simply wanted to out on a weekend evening to dance.  But it is comforting to know that when needed, the living breathing theatre, with its encompassing inclusiveness, is there to shine its spotlight on the goodness of people.  

That is our standing ovation to those now dancing above.

For more information, visit www.frombroadwaywithlove.org or www.drphillipscenter.org#BroadwayforOrlando #LoveisLove

Net proceeds from the concert evening and upcoming CD/DVD release of the event will go to the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida, Hope and Help Center and Zebra Coalition.

From Broadway with Love: A Benefit Concert for Orlando was created by Seth Rudetsky, Kenny Howard and James Wesley; directed by Kenny Howard; written by Michael Wanzie with musical direction by Michael J. Moritz, Jr. and co-produced by Imagine Orlando, LLC (comprised of Tony Award winner Kenny Howard of Florida Theatrical Association, Joyce Arbucias of The Imagination House, Andrea Canny of PerformerStuff.com, Chris Yakubchik of Forster Boughman and Lefkowitz), Seth Rudetsky, James Wesley, Michael J. Moritz, Jr. and Broadway Records (Van Dean, Tony Award-winning/Grammy-nominated producer/co-conceiver of the first From Broadway With Love: A Benefit Concert for Sandy Hook).