A recap of my amazing night at “Broadway My Way,” the S.T.A.G.E. event benefiting AIDS Project LA
As the great Jessica Tandy said when she won the Academy Award for Driving Miss Daisy, “I’m on cloud NINE!”
I’m aware there had been 28 years of previous S.T.A.G.E. (Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event) shows benefiting AIDS Project Los Angeles but I had never been to any of them.
Last night was my first and it was beyond thrilling – it was musical theater nirvana filled with moments on the stage of the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills that I will never forget.
I had a great seat and found myself next to actress Georgia King who stars in The New Normal on NBC. She’s British? I had NO idea until we started talking. She was there to lend support to her TV co-star Andrew Rannells and could not have been lovelier.
Other stars I spotted on the red carpet, in the lobby or at the after-party were General Hospital’s Anthony Geary (pictured with me), Lainie Kazan, Connie Stevens (there to see daughter Joely Fisher perform), Charo, Shari Belafonte, Carolyn Hennesey, and Charlotte Rae.
The fast-paced show – directed by David Galligan with music director John McDaniel – was a steady stream of major talent of all ages stepping on to do a number or two, blow our socks off, then quickly walk off to make room for the next legend.
Things kicked off in stupendous fashion with a song and remembrances by 99-year-old Patricia Morison, the star of the original Broadway production of Kiss me Kate. She performed Wunderbar with Davis Gaines, Craig Lucas and Jennifer Brasuell then performed solo on Brush Up Your Shakespeare.
Miss Morison was the first shining example of how ageless show people can be. We later saw the 90-year-od Janis Paige (pictured at after-party) who starred on Broadway in The PaJama Game 59 years ago performing a special version of That’s life with lyrics lamenting the modern day technology from an iphone to ipad to Twitter. It really was a wonder how anyone of any age could remember all of those lyrics but Miss Paige had NO problem. And, she looked terrific!
Shirley Jones, a mere 79, and her son Patrick Cassidy ended act one in superb fashion with the duet Till There Was You from The Music Man which Miss Jones starred in on the big screen. She was pregnant with Patric during the filming and shared some funny stories about that.
Also 79, but not looking a day over 40, was Florence Henderson who brought the house down with a raunchy version of When You’re Good to Mama from Chicago complete with a whip, grabbing hunky male dancer’s ‘baskets’ and a sexy leather outfit. Florence is such a hottie! And naughty too!
Other highlights: The sensational Valarie Pettiford, as sexy a woman who has ever stepped on a Broadway stage, did a Bob Fosse tribute that no doubt had him looking down from heaven with a big smile. … Jim Bailey doing a Judy Garland medley as only he can. … American Idol alum Kimberly Locke’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow and thoughtful monologue about color. … Joely Fisher and Vicki Lewis dueting so powerfully on Astonishing and Days of Plenty from Little Women. It was some serious belting! … Broadway star and star of NBC’s The New Normal Andrew Rannells was superb in his number: What Kind of Fool Am I and Lillias White – after nervously forgetting the words to Something’s Coming from West Side Story at the start – simply started over and soared.
Then there was Glee cast member Alex Newell (pictured) who pays a groundbreaking trans character on the show was a stunner with Meadowlark from The Bakers Wife, a song from a flop musical made legendary by Patti LuPone and Betty Buckley.
So there was all kinds of great music on this night but let’s not forget about the comedy!
There was a quartet of nuns who would come out between some of the numbers to tell really bad jokes and puns and no one does that better than the great Mary J0 Catlett! … The hilarious, glorious JoAnne Worley got the second act started with Can You Use Any Money Today? from Call Me Madam. This being JoAnne Worley, she strutted out wearing a boa made out of dollar bills! She also managed to work in a signature “Booooooooooorrrrrrinnnnng!” and a pearl necklace twirl around her neck a few times like a hula hoop!
Bruce Vilanch in a pink tutu? Yes, it really happened and he was so, so funny with his singing of At the Ballet from A Chorus Line and his topical humor.
Carole Cook brought the house down from the start of her number when she said in a commanding voice: “Roll out the drum!” And a drum actually rolled out onto the stage. Her deadpan reaction had my row in stitches for quite awhile. Her number was Strike Up the Band but what we really remember is her quips about same-sex marriage, her laments about her sagging “tits” and her interaction with the sign language interpreter. Cook also poked fun at Miss Page for telling the crowd her age saying she didn’t need to resort to such things to get an ovation. What she did not tell the crowd is that she herself is 89!
My fun started on the red carpet chatting up the various folks (see that tomorrow) then it was inside for the pre-party. Wandered around awhile not knowing a single soul until I heard someone say, ‘Hey Greg!’ It was Tom Lowe, the very talented (and very handsome!) performer who has starred in West End productions of Les Misérables and Cats, been in British boy bands and made the top 20 on American Idol in season six.
We gabbed years ago for a cover story I did for The Advocate on the absence of gay contestants on American Idol (this was pre-Adam Lambert obviously) and I’m always so glad to see Tom at events.
He told me about a new show he has written based on his American Idol experience and it sounds VERY promising. He also mentioned he’d be singing during the show I was about to see.
And boy did he. You could hear a pin drop during Tom’s performance of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables from Les Miserables. What a voice!
Also gabbed with one of my favorite columnists during the intermission, Billy Masters, said hello to Peter Marc Jacobson (co-producer of Happily Divorced and The Nanny) – who seems to be getting more tan and more fit every time I see him – and with the also tan and fit Larry Blum whose one-man show I so enjoyed last year.
But the show I enjoyed more than any other I have seen in a long while was Broadway My Way which ended on the most spectacular note: Tyne Daly singing Rose’s Turn from Gypsy.
When she walked out and I saw that it was going to happen, I could barely contain myself. Have the soundtrack to her Broadway production for which she won the Tony but never got to see it live. Until last night – at least that number.
It was a thrill and Miss Daly gave it her all. She’s not Merman or LuPone but she can sing and even more than that, she can ACT and her acting in this dramatic finale is a thing of wonder – it is one of those great moments you never forget.
The show ended at near midnight and yet, there was an after-party across the street so I went over, had a quick bite and joined my new photographer pal Josh Patterson (pictured at the bottom of this post with me) over at the party’s red carpet. Josh was taking pics for APLA so I horned in and helped corral some of the cast over for a few snaps including Miss Daly and Miss Cook (with her husband, actor Tom Troupe and with Charlotte Rae).
What a night! It was a sellout so lots of money raised for AIDS Project LA.
Congrats to ALL!!!