Monday night (March 13) at New York’s Al Hirschfeld Theatre — currently the home of Kinky Boots — love trumped hate (and Trump) at the 12th annual Broadway Backwards, an evening in which Broadway stars perform gender-reversed musical theater numbers.
Throughout the election year, the Broadway community has been consistently vocal, and this night was no different: the show started with audio of Trump quotes, including the president’s promise to protect the LGBTQ community. Then host Julie White took the stage, screaming, “What? F–k!” But she continued, “It’s okay because we’re here together and we’ve got each other and we’ve got each other’s backs. Tomorrow we will fight, but tonight we’re going to sing and dance.”
Those words and a glittery tap number led by Clyde Alves — “Tap Your Troubles Away” from Mack & Mabel — set the tone for a mostly joyous, gender-bending celebration benefiting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. This year’s event ended up raising a combined $522,870 for the programs.
Josh Groban, who spoke about making his (very well-reviewed) Broadway debut in Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, added that part of that experience has been helping Broadway Cares, which has been raising money for people living with AIDS and other illnesses since 1988. His song choice was “Someone Else’s Story” from Chess, a musical (by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus and lyricist Tim Rice) that he’s championed ever since starring in a two-night concert version in 2008.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s Santino Fontana, who memorably voiced Hans in Disney’s Frozen, this time he sang the most famous song from that film—”Let It Go.” And the Broadway-bound Frozen made another appearance in a mock audition a la A Chorus Line, with a dance call involving the director yelling out commands like, “Throw the snowballs!” This segued into Sierra Boggess showing off her comedy chops and voice in “Kiss The Girl” — a song she didn’t sing when she starred in The Little Mermaid on Broadway — with Aladdin‘s Katie Terza.
Other skits included Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Newsies) and Jay Armstrong Johnson (Quantico) unsuccessfully trying to get into a nightclub, which led to a rendition of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” complete with a recreation of the iconic gazebo choreography from the Sound of Music film. Kathleen Turner — an actress not known for her singing chops — turned in an admirable performance of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” from My Fair Lady. And Andrew Rannells (Girls) delivered a powerful rendition of “Wherever He Ain’t” from Mack & Mabel.
Although the concert was mostly an escape, it didn’t completely shy away from heavier moments or political commentary. In a number about the first ever AIDS memorial in New York City, John Glover sang a moving “Hello In There” by John Prine from Bette Midler’s debut album, The Divine Miss M. When Kathleen Chalfant pointed out that Broadway Cares’ health care aid will be “even more necessary if 24 million people lose their health care.”
And the concert ended with a call to action of sorts: A rousing version of “Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime, led by 2016 The Color Purple Tony winner Cynthia Erivo, sending everyone out ready to fulfill White’s promise at the beginning of the night, “Tomorrow we will fight.”