BROADWAY BACKWARDS, the once-a-year celebration of the LGBT community, brought down the house Monday while raising a record-setting $347,060 to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center.
This year’s total surpassed the previous record of $329,000, set last year.
The sold-out show left the audience cheering after unforgettable performances by Tony Award winners Len Cariou, Judy Kaye, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Karen Ziemba, and a stirring recreation from Dreamgirls by Tituss Burgess. This year’s show included a recurring story about a man on a personal journey, ultimately finding love in an unexpected place. Featured throughout the show were Tony nominee Tony Sheldon (Priscilla Queen of the Desert) and Jim Brochu (Zero Hour) with special appearances by five-time Emmy Award winner Doris Roberts and four-time Tony nominee and five-time Emmy nominee Victor Garber.
BROADWAY BACKWARDS, produced by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, was presented this year in the historic Palace Theatre, now celebrating its 100th anniversary and currently home to the hit revival Annie.
The eighth annual edition of BROADWAY BACKWARDS featured an immensely talented 80-person cast and live orchestra performing the great songs of musical theatre with a twist: women sang songs originally written for men and men sang songs written for women. Some highlights from this year’s show:
– Act Two opened with a roof-raising rendition of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going,” performed by Tituss Burgess (The Little Mermaid). The audience leapt to its feet with approval for the heartbreaking anthem. To set up this iconic song, made famous onstage by Jennifer Holiday and on film by Jennifer Hudson, Burgess was joined by Jamie Cepero, Steven Cutts, Miles Johnson, Rashad Naylor, Brandon Pearson and Dennis Stowe as Lorelle, James Thunder Earley, Curtis, Michelle, CC and Deena, respectively.
– Brian Stokes Mitchell left the capacity crowd breathless after an intimate rendition of the Gershwin standard “The Man I Love,” originally sung on Broadway in Lady, Be Good, then in Strike Up the Band. Basked in soft white spotlights, Mitchell captivated the audience with his take on the classic, adding to the moment by playing an interlude on a melodica.
– Stephanie J. Block (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) led the ensemble in an inspirational finale of “Our Time” from Merrily We Roll Along, appropriately capping off the evening’s celebration with the call-to-action: “It’s our time, breathe it in: Worlds to change and worlds to win.”
– “A Weekend in the Country” from the Stephen Sondheim classic A Little Night Music transformed into a trip to the Hamptons by a bevy of Broadway men including Ward Billeisen (Encores! It’s A Bird…It’s A Plane…It’s Superman), Jake Boyd (Rock of Ages), Mo Brady (The Addams Family), Tony nominee Daniel Breaker (Passing Strange), Robert Creighton (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) and Kyle Dean Massey (Wicked).
– Memorable solos by Tony winner Len Cariou (Sweeney Todd and TV’s “Blue Bloods”), five-time Tony nominee Jan Maxwell (Follies), Academy Award winner and four-time Tony nominee Estelle Parsons (Nice Work If You Can Get It) and Australian stage veteran Anthony Warlow (Annie) showed how accomplished performers can interpret songs to make an impact.
– Tony winner Karen Ziemba (Curtains) led a dozen tap-dancing ladies celebrating her upcoming nuptials in a BROADWAY BACKWARDS‘ take on Lerner and Loewe’s “Go Home with Bonnie Jean” from Brigadoon. The number included an appearance by Eve Plumb (Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating & Marriage, TV’s “The Brady Bunch”) as the barkeeper who won Ziemba’s affection.
– Tony nominee Josh Young (Jesus Christ Superstar), surrounded by a dozen hunky Broadway dancers, tapped the powers of Jekyll & Hyde to “Bring on the Men,” in a steamy and inviting performance.
– High school junior Noah St. John shared his original spoken word poem honoring his two moms. St. John recently gained national fame after winning the top storytelling performance prize from NPR’s “Snap Judgment” for the inspirational poetry.
– Former Paul Taylor Dance Company principal dancers Patrick Corbin and David Grenke performed a moving contemporary pas de deux, choreographed by Grenke, that explored the emotional intensity of one man deeply mourning the loss of his partner.
Other featured performers included John Bolton (A Christmas Story, The Musical), Ashley Brown (Mary Poppins), Malcolm Gets (Amour), Anita Gillette (Chapter Two, TV’s “30 Rock”), two-time Tony winner Judy Kaye (Nice Work If You Can Get It), Jose Llana (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee), Stacy Oristano (TV’s “Bunheads,” “Friday Night Lights”), Howie Michael Smith (Avenue Q) and Emmy Award-winning comedian/writer Bruce Vilanch.
Creator Robert Bartley directed and choreographed with music supervision by Mary-Mitchell Campbell and music direction by Tim Rosser. The creative team includes co-choreographer Amy Jones, additional music directors Laura Berquist, Mat Eisenstein, Brad Haak and James Sampliner, lighting designer Paul Miller, costume designer Ryan Moller and sound designer Lucas Indelicato.
BROADWAY BACKWARDS began as a grassroots concert performed at the Center in 2006. In subsequent years, the event grew quickly, performing Off-Broadway and in Broadway theaters the last four years. The one-night-only event continues to grow in popularity and success as well, supporting the work of Broadway Cares and the Center. Last year’s record-breaking $329,000 topped the previous year’s total of more than $281,200.
The presenting sponsor of BROADWAY BACKWARDS is Lifetime Networks, with the generous support of The New York Times and United Airlines.