If there is one thing that the world of musical theater knows how to manufacture, it is unadulterated joy. So Broadway is gathering forces to cure New York's Inaugural blues with the Concert for America: Stand Up, Sing Out! event at Town Hall tonight (Jan. 20). The event is a fundraiser for a number of charities, such as Planned Parenthood and the National Immigration Law Center. But it’s also an intended pick-me-up for what the right wing likes to vilify as “the liberal, lefty elite.”
“It’s a great big anti-depressant,” Sirius XM host Seth Rudetsky, co-producer of the all-star show along with Broadway producer James Wesley, tells Billboard. Given their show-biz contacts, the duo quickly assembled an A-list lineup of theatrical luminaries for the event, including Chita Rivera, Bebe Neuwrith, Betty Buckley, Jessie Mueller, Kelli O’Hara, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Ben Vereen, Stephanie Mills and Brian d’Arcy James. “Some events are angry, some are civil disobedience-y," Rudetsky continues. "This is simply to make people feel better and raise some money.”
“Anger can only take you so far -- otherwise you get burned out and exhausted,” adds Wesley. “Because it’s happening on Inauguration Day, people think it’s anti-Trump. It isn’t. It’s pro-America.”
Most celebrities took all of "one hot second to jump aboard,” says Rudetsky. The invitation came as a welcome respite from the dread and alarm expressed by many of the participants.
“I’m a news junkie,” Chita Rivera tells Billboard. “And I’ve never been so upset, frightened and angry in all my life. I’ve never felt so displaced. I was planning on going to a movie Friday with my daughter, Lisa, but this is so much better. Who else but artists are going to restore the soul of this country? We’ve got to get involved, speak up, fight back.”
Brian Stokes Mitchell sees a silver lining, hopeful that the advent of Trump will bring with it a new activism. “I think what has everybody on edge is that it’s not clear what the administration is going to do and you can’t fight what you don’t know,” he theorizes. “But we do know that they are trying to separate us, because it makes [us] just that much easier to manipulate and control. And we can’t let that happen.”
Mitchell adds that what distinguishes the Broadway community from other groups mobilizing against the Trump presidency is that, among actors, there's “a built-in empathy” for the downtrodden, the marginalized, the outsiders -- because “we’ve been in those same groups as well.”
That feeling of understanding and unity was the prevailing mood last night (Jan. 19), when over 500 theater communities across the country joined in The Ghostlight Project, billed as “a collective, simultaneous action.” At 5:30 p.m. across all time zones, lights were shone to signal sanctuary for those who might be under threat from the new regime. (The name was inspired by the single “ghost light” left burning on the stage in theaters each night.)
Gathered in Times Square, one of five sites in New York City honoring the event, were a number of stars, including Sally Field, Phillipa Soo, Sara Bareilles, Cynthia Nixon, and Cate Blanchett, who wore a pink “pussy” knit hat, inspired by one of Trump’s more famous controversies, and holding her infant daughter.
Betty Buckley summed up the camaraderie, which she noted was far different from the marches that typified the Vietnam War era. “The war was a tragic waste of life on both sides, but our Republic, our democracy is now at stake,” she says. “So it’s important we all come together and express our commitment to human rights, freedom for all beings, and respect for all life on the planet. This is just the beginning. But every little gesture helps.”
“The Concert for America!,” which will be a monthly series, will be live streamed on www.concert4america2017.org.
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