When show folk put their minds (and hearts) into it, they can raise any roof. On January 28th of last year, the roof that couldn’t contain their touching contributions to a benefit concert was that of the Palace Theatre in Waterbury, Connecticut.
The theater is seventy-five miles from New York’s Palace Theater on Broadway, but just twenty miles from the Sandy Hook Elementary School of Newtown, Connecticut. Of course, that is where, just over a year earlier, one of the most horrendous mass murders to blight our world left twenty children and six adults dead.
There have been many benefit concerts over the years, but this one seems somehow more heart warming and at the same time more heart rending. Perhaps that is because the people on stage aren’t just professional performers. Joining the likes of Brian Stokes Mitchell, Michael Cerveris, Christine Ebersole and Linda Eder and even composers such as Stephen Schwartz, Marc Shaiman and Frank Wildhorn, were kids from the 3rd and 4th Grade at Sandy Hook Elementary, the Newtown High School Chamber Choir and 72 Newtown Dancers.
That a tragedy triggered the event is undeniable, but it was the spirit of love and generosity that seemed to infuse the entire undertaking.
How the evening’s concert came to happen is itself a pretty amazing story. Theater composer Brett Boles lives in Newtown. When the tragedy happened, he felt a need to contribute in some way to the outpouring of support for the community. He used Facebook to post a message to theatrical producer Van Dean of the Broadway Consortium who lives near Newtown. Boles said he’d like to figure out a way to stage a benefit concert and asked Dean for names of people he should contact. Dean’s response was to take on the project himself.
Dean posted about the idea on Facebook and volunteers started responding. In two hours he had over a hundred of Broadway’s movers and shakers lining up to help. Director Michael Unger was one of them. He ended up directing the concert which opened with a huge chorus joining Robin de Jesus and Ashley Blanchet in a ringing rendition of Rent‘s “Seasons of Love” and then progressed through star after star taking the stage alone or with others.
Julia Murney, who toured with Wicked, was the first to lift the roof with that show’s “Defying Gravity” – a performance that was made somehow more impressive by the fact that she delivered it to the accompaniment of none other than its composer, Stephen Schwartz on piano along with the full 40 piece orchestra.
She certainly wasn’t the last. Phillip Boykin who spent his time on Broadway in Porgy and Bess delivered a soul-searing “Ol’ Man River.” Brian Stokes Mitchell sang “The Impossible Dream” with all the passion he brought to the song when he sang it in the 2002 revival of Man of La Mancha. And Capathia Jenkins stood before the full orchestra, and composer Frank Wildhorn at the piano, to tear into his “Finding Wonderland.”
From Broadway With Love
A Benefit Concert for Sandy Hook
– Double CD
– Single DVD
– Single Blu-Ray disc
It wasn’t all single songs by single performers on this night, however. The members of the cast of the touring company of Sister Act who normally perform in nun’s garb showed up in jeans and t-shirts to raise the roof to Alan Menkin’s “Raise Your Voice,” while the Off-Broadway cast of Million Dollar Quartet did three of the songs from that show including a rousing “I Hear You Knockin'” delivered by Victoria Matlock.
In another moment with the composer at the piano (this time it was Marc Shaiman) Nikki Blonski took Hairspray‘s “You Can’t Stop The Beat” to its full power setting accompanied by Newtown dancers joined by Brooke Tansley, and Micky Dolenz. Earlier, Dolenz had sung his old Monkee’s hit “I’m A Believer” which he reminded the audience he had been singing since long before it was used in the movie and then the Broadway musical Shrek.
Van Dean’s Broadway Records recorded the concert and has released both audio and video recordings . One hundred percent of the profits are going to the Newtown – Sandy Hook Community Foundation. Even the publicity office, CineMedia Promotions, has done its work gratis.