So last night, Sunday March 22nd, was a time when I should have been in front of a TV or at a sports bar watching the Brooklyn Nets, the New York Knicks or spring training games with my beloved Baltimore Orioles (my prediction that we won’t lose 100 games this year is looking pretty good right now!). However, none of that was on due to the Corona Virus outbreak which cautions you should not have six people in the same place, much less sixteen thousand. So instead I sat myself down in front of my computer and watched the three and a half hour Broadwayworld.com event: The Rosie O’Donnell Show, broadcast live from her garage, to raise money for the Actor’s Fund.
The Actor’s Fund was created in 1882. It serves all professionals (not just actors) in film, theater, opera, music, radio and dance. It has offices in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and provides services ranging from financial, to advisory, to housing, to senior care, to health and health insurance and more and right now it needs money more than ever. The global pandemic is affecting all industries and has put hundreds of thousands of people out of work, but perhaps no industry has been harder hit than the theater industry. It’s important to remember that the theater industry is more than just Broadway, which comprises the 41 buildings located in in midtown Manhattan. There are well over three thousand professional theater houses in the United States, employing a great deal of people. By its very nature, theater survives on the very situation the country is trying to avoid – large crowds. Ergo, when the virus finally ebbs and most businesses get going again, it will take theater a bit longer to recover as people may understandably be hesitant to congregate in large numbers at close spaces. (Professional sports may have the same issue but their contingency funds are a great deal more substantial than theater).
Joining O’Donnell was a veritable who’s who from the theater community, streaming online from the safety of their homes. Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker were there, as was Idina Menzel, Chita Rivera, Lin Manuel Miranda, Harvey Fierstein, Billy Porter, Marisa Tomei, Brian Stokes Mitchell (Chairman of the Board for the Actor’s Fund), Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti, Barry Manilow and more.
Neil Patrick Harris did a mind bending magic trick, aided by his young children.
March 22nd is the birthday of both Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim, two of the biggest names in the history of the musical theater and each used the occasion to wish the other one a video Happy Birthday. There were performances as well, which shows you how far technology has come in just the past few years. The sound quality was not the highest but for many of them it was pretty damn good. Ben Flack sang from “Dear Evan Hansen”, Alan Menken did a medley of his shows, which include “The Little Mermaid”, “Little Shop of Horrors”, “Aladdin” and more. Kelli O’Hara sang “Take Me to the World”,
Kristin Chenowith contributed “Taylor the Latte Boy”, Katharine McPhee gave us “Because You Loved Me”. Lea Salonga did a song from the upcoming movie “Mulan” and Matthew Morrison did a song from the upcoming Broadway show “The Jungle Book”. Shoshana Bean sang “Don’t Rain on my Parade” and, in perhaps the most unusual performance, Adrienne Warren broadcast a song from the musical “Tina” while lounging in her bathtub.
The most poignant moment occurred when Broadway veteran Gavin Creel announced he was pretty sure he had contracted the virus. He had been in London doing “Waitress”, working in close quarters with an actress who has since tested positive. Creel described his symptoms as a ‘cruddy flu’, with fever, and headaches and a loss of the senses of taste and smell. Still, he was well enough to sing a few bars of “You Matter to Me”.
Rosie O’Donnell has long been a patron of the arts, winning the Isabelle Stevenson Award in 2014 for her body of theatrical work. The three and a half hour telethon brought in well over a half a million dollars. If you would still like to contribute, you can go to give.actorsfund.org/Rosie. To see entire three and a half hours, visit www.broadway.com.