Last night, a packed house gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Robert Bartley’s annual fundraising extravaganza Broadway Backwards. The celebrated showcase, which benefited the LGBT Community Center and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, is “the only annual Broadway event custom-made for the gay and lesbian community, our friends and families,” according to the organziers. And this year’s star-studded offering celebrated the series by mixing new acts with highlights from previous outings — raising a record-breaking $466,717 this year, and a total of $2.4 million over the past 10 years.
Kicking off this year’s festivities, Robin De Jesús (In the Heights, Wicked) and Micah Stock (It’s Only a Play) reminded audiences to turn off their phones with a rib-tickling skit about social dating apps that led into a charming rendition of “Matchmaker” (Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick). The duo was joined by Rob McClure (Chaplin, Honeymoon In Vegas), who was also one of the evening’s hosts. Co-host Julie Halston (You Can't Take It With You, Law & Order) took the stage announcing that she was coming out as an honorary lesbian for the night. McClure asked if he could be an honorary gay since he had been doing musical theatre since the age of 14. Halston and the ebullient audience allowed him that title with a big cheer.
To round of the night’s opening Lillias White (The Life, Fela!) brought the house down with a disco funk rendition of “Some Enchanted Evening,” which was made all the more enchanting when she asked to restart the song, whispering “I forgot the fucking words” into the microphone.
Mario Cantone (Sex and the City, Love! Valour! Compassion!) delivered a spunky rendition of “Chief Cook and Bottlewasher,” which was followed by the handsome string quartet Well-Strung (Edmund Bagnell, Christopher Marchant, Daniel Shevlin, and Trevor Wadleigh) playing their own mash-up of “String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 27: 1. Un poco andante – Allegro molto ed agitato” with “Let It Go”. With her tongue firmly planted in her cheek, Halston delivered the most heavily double entendred monologue imaginable to the “Broadway Beavers,” a fictional softball team featuring Jenn Colella (If/Then, Chaplin) and Elizabeth Stanley (On the Town, Million Dollar Quartet). Colella and Stanley, with the aid of a rambunctious female ensemble, kept the laughs coming with “The Game”.
Singing the classic showtune “Bill,” Charles Busch (The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife) gave the audience a time to catch their breath and reflect on the splendors of both love and the evening itself. Aaron Lazar (The Last Ship, A Little Night Music) singing the Anita part and Tony Yazbeck (On the Town, Gypsy) singing the Maria sparked more than excited applause for their seriously acted (yet comical) “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love”. Tackling the sweet “It’s Never Too Late to Fall in Love,” Jim Brochu (Zero Hour) and Harvey Evans (The Scarlet Pimpernel, Follies) warmed hearts and left smiles on faces.
Closing the first act, a trio of performances each took the audiences breath away and raised the bar for what was to come. With acrobatic leaps and more bends than a mountain road, Josh Buscher-West (Big Fish, West Side Story), Marty Lawson (How to Succeed…), Alfie Parker Jr. (Chicago), Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva (West Side Story), Alex Ringler (Pageant: the Musical), Ryan Steele (Matilda, Newsies), and Greg Roderick (South Pacific) stole the show with their energetic and vivacious “Cell Block Tango”. Lena Hall (Hedwig) introduced us to how she imagines her “lady flower” would sing if it could with a rollicking, raucous, and dazzling version of “Feed Me (Git It)”. Tituss Burgess (The Little Mermaid, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), with support from Charl Brown (Motown), Jaime Cepero (Smash), Steven Cutts (Camp), Brandon Pearson (Hair), Dennis Stowe (Aladdin, Annie), and Curtis Wiley (Pageant), blew the audience away and tore the roof off of the Hirschfield with his stellar rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”.
Beloved TV icon Florence Henderson kicked off the second act with charisma and bawdy jokes, performing “There’s Nothing Like a Dame”. Ann Harada (Cinderella, Avenue Q) belted her heart out with a stirring take on “I Won’t Send Roses”. With a voice as vibrant and youthful as it was 30 years ago, Douglas Sills (Living On Love, The Scarlet Pimpernel) delivered a sprightly and whimsical “I Could Have Danced All Night”. Taking on “Home,” Norm Lewis (The Phantom of the Opera, Porgy and Bess) gave a technically flawless performance that felt a smidge cold emotionally.
Full of infectious spirit and a lot of kinetic energy, Telly Leung (Godspell, Wicked), Brian Charles Rooney (Bedbugs!!!, The Threepenny Opera), Jason Michael Snow (The Book of Mormon), and Charlie Willams (How to Succeed…) made us laugh at the joy and insanity of being an expecting parent with “I Want It All”. Slowing the evening down a bit, Len Cariou (Sweeney Todd) and Lee Roy Reams (Hello Dolly!) left the audience giggling and tittering with their sentimental spin on the syrupy “I Remember It Well”.
Signing a gorgeous rendition of “This Nearly Was Mine,” Maureen McGovern (Little Women) wowed audiences with her earthy alto. Likewise, long-time Broadway audience favorite Brian Stokes Mitchell (The Band Wagon, Man of La Mancha) delivered a glorious rendition of “The Man I Love,” in which he played a melodica solo. To close the show, the incomparable and fantastic Shawna M. Hamic (The Last Ship) delivered a lively and utterly rousing rendition of “I Am What I Am,” backed by the ensemble signing as a gospel choir.
The sheer joy of the audience, cast, creators, and all involved was tangible and ran like an electric current through the crowd. It was all the more apparent when Lilly Tomlin came to the stage to announce the winning sums of money the event had raised for both the 2015 performance and over the ten years. Most importantly, Broadway Backwards reminded everyone in attendance that we are a community, and that none of this would be possible without the efforts of the community as a whole. Cheers to 10 amazing years Broadway Backwards. I know, I can’t wait to see what’s on tap for year 11.
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