One Year Ago Today: Kicking Up The CATS Kitty Box Once Again

Recently I’ve reflected on the fact that SOME good things have come from the past 18 months. Namely, seeing how many people decided to be part of the solution instead of the problem.

Case in point: it was a year ago today that several of my CATS the Musical cast members reunited for the first time in over 30 years to raise money with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS for the Broadway community – actors, stage crew, musicians, box office, and more – during these difficult times. Continue reading “One Year Ago Today: Kicking Up The CATS Kitty Box Once Again”

‘Broadway Backwards 2021’ A Hopeful Look Forward At Life Post-Pandemic

Broadway Backwards 2021 will take a hopeful, musical look toward life post-pandemic in its first virtual edition set to stream with a bevy of Broadway’s best at 8 pm Eastern on Tuesday, March 30.

This year’s virtual edition of the popular theatre event will blend film and musical stage performances as an exploration of how isolation during this pandemic has particularly affected the LGBTQ community.

That and a healthy dose of musical theater and star power are what you can expect. The videos here are just a few highlights from over the years at Broadway Backwards.

The show will feature Jay Armstrong Johnson as a New Yorker who dreams a fantastical, musical theater journey guided by Jenn Colella as a late night TV host.

New performances will be merged with full numbers from past years to come together in a show that feels distinctly of the moment.

The streaming event will feature a special opening number featuring divas Stephanie J. Block, Deborah Cox and Lea Salonga.

Plus, an all-star finale are almost too good to be true with Amy Adams, Debbie Allen, Matt Bomer, Glenn Close, Loretta Devine, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Cheyenne Jackson, Eric McCormack, Ruthie Ann Miles, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Jessie Mueller, Javier Muñoz, Kelli O’Hara, Karen Olivo, Jim Parsons, Bernadette Peters and many more.

And then there will be special appearances by Chasten Buttigieg, Anderson Cooper, Ariana DeBose, Don Lemon, Debra Messing, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Robin Roberts, Tony Shalhoub and Ben Vereen?

Make sure you tune in (for free!) for an ultimate un-Zoom theatrical experience at 8 pm Eastern on Tuesday, March 30 at broadwaycares.org/backwards2021. It will be available on demand through 11:59 pm Saturday, April 3.

Of course, donations to Broadway Cares are always welcome 🙂

News Round-Up: February 17, 2021

Promo photo for 'RuPaul's Drag Race'
Promo photo for 'RuPaul's Drag Race'
Promo photo for ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’

Some news items you might have missed:

NewNowNext: A new documentary special, RuPaul’s Drag Race: Corona Can’t Keep A Good Queen Down, takes fans behind the scenes to see how the Emmy Award-winning series pulled off shooting a new season amid COVID-19.

Broadway Cares: The fan-inspiring, steamy stream of ABC Daytime: Back on Broadway, a nostalgic evening of song and conversation with the stars of All My Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital, raised a stellar $130,565 to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the philanthropic heart of Broadway.

Kenneth-in-the-212: It’s Wrestle Wednesday over on KIT212 – click over to see this week’s athletic twunk.

(image via kenneth-in-the-212)

Washington Blade: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) signaled he would oppose the Equality Act, legislation to expand the prohibition on anti-LGBTQ discrimination under federal law, unless Christians get a carve-out to discriminate based on religious grounds.

Revry: The queer streaming platform celebrates Black History Month with an entire February calendar highlighting incredible Black Queer content made by and for the community. Check out the 2019 film Trade which tells the tale of two men, one a streetwise hustler, the other a straight-laced lawyer, who meet and form a relationship that brings to light who they really are.

Disney: Academy Award® winner Emma Stone (La La Land) stars in Disney’s Cruella, an all-new live-action feature film about the rebellious early days of one of cinemas most notorious – and notoriously fashionable – villains, the legendary Cruella de Vil. Due out May 2021.

NBC News: Tim Boyd, mayor of Colorado City, Texas, resigned after lashing out at constituents who have been paralyzed by this week’s devastating cold snap. In a Facebook post, Boyd told town residents to stop complaining about the cold weather that has left millions across Texas stranded without power. “No one owes you or your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim, it’s your choice!”

CNN: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly laughed about Donald Trump’s recent attack statement and has no plans to engage the former President. He’s done talking Trump, with plans to focus on push to take back Senate and focus on Biden agenda. “He’s moving on,” one source said.

Tonight: Free Streaming Broadway Concert ‘Home For The Holidays’

A stellar lineup of theater favorites will show there’s no place like Broadway for the holidays as they welcome you into their homes and hearts during Home for the Holidays on Tuesday, December 15, 2020.

The free concert is produced by and benefits Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

You’ll feel the holiday spirit when some of Broadway’s most celebrated stars perform songs based on traditions from their homes and from where their shows are set. With songs from comedic to heartfelt, it’s your perfect seasonal variety show.

From the welcoming warmth of Come From Away‘s Gander, Newfoundland, to the rich culture of South Africa through cast members from The Lion King, you’ll escape into a world where Broadway can help make the season merry and bright despite today’s challenges.

A shortlist of the illustrious lineup includes Alan Cumming, André De Shields, Ed Dixon, Heather Headley, Ramin Karimloo, Karen Olivo, Nina West and the Grammy Award-winning Broadway Inspirational Voices.

Every dollar donated will help those across the country affected by HIV/AIDS, COVID-19 and other critical illnesses receive healthy meals, lifesaving medication, emergency financial assistance, housing, counseling and more. The donations also support and champion organizations focused on social justice and anti-racism.

Click here to watch the free stream beginning at 8 pm Eastern on the Broadway Cares website, or you can catch the show in the YouTube above.

The stream will be available through December 19.

Podcast: CATS Chat With Leslie Ellis & Matt Zarley

Matt Zarley and Leslie Ellis

As a young actor, my first big break was being cast as the ‘Magical Mr. Mistoffelees’ in a brand new national touring company of the blockbuster Broadway musical CATS.

While I was ‘living a dream’ over those years back in the 1980s, a nightmare called HIV/AIDS was taking thousands of lives from us. As a company, we wanted to do ‘something.’

So in 1987, we organized one of the first large-scale benefits performances by a touring company to help those affected by HIV. Amazingly, we raised over $36K in one night.

Fast forward to today, and another viral pandemic is here. A few months ago, one of my former CATS castmates reached out to say, “Anyone want to do another fundraiser?”

And so, we did.

 

“With Love, Now and Forever! Cats4CovidRelief” premiered on October 23 and will be available until October 28. At this writing, combining donations at Broadway Cares and YouTube, we’ve raised over $20,000 and counting

Today, I’m talking to two of my closest CATS castmates, Grammy Award-winner Leslie Ellis and two-time OutMusic Award-winner Matt Zarley, about this recent company reunion.

Hit the play button to hear us chat on this recent collaboration, reminisce about life on the road as young actors, and laugh a bit about the life-changing experience that was CATS.

While our streaming event is scheduled to be removed from Broadway Cares website at the end of October 28, the video is still up at this writing on BC/EFA’s YouTube channel on an unlisted page here.

Plus, you can see Matt’s gorgeous segment featuring Leslie singing “Memory” here.

Join Me For ‘Stars In The House’ And ‘With Love, Now And Forever!’

Update: At the same time as our “With Love, Now and Forever: Cats4CovidRelief” event premiere, I joined some of my CATS castmates (Matt Zarley, JoAnn Hunter, Christine Toy Johnson, Leslie Ellis, Jonathan Cerullo) on the awesome Stars in the House at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT to talk about the fundraising event and days of CATS gone by.

You can watch the episode below. We had soooo much fun with Seth and James! We all join around the 10:30 mark.


Longtime readers of The Randy Report know that, in another life, I was an actor on Broadway and in national touring companies. My first big break in New York City was being cast in a brand-new national company of the mega-blockbuster musical, CATS, as the ‘Magical Mr. Mistoffelees.’

Now, nearly 35 years after our first performance, the company of CATS (National 3) has reunited for a very special virtual theatrical event, WITH LOVE, NOW AND FOREVER! CATS4COVIDRELIEF, a fundraiser for the Broadway Cares Covid-19 Emergency Assistance Fund, which supports The Actors Fund. This special event will premiere tonight, October 23 at 8 PM ET / 5PM PST at broadwaycares.org/catsbenefit and will be available through October 27.

More than 30 former cast members from CATS National 3 have joined forces to collaborate and create an upbeat, inspiring celebration of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s international musical phenomenon, CATS.

Donations made during the stream will help those onstage and behind the scenes get health care, emergency financial assistance and counseling during the pandemic and work stoppage. Joining the company for the musical celebration are hosts Brian Stokes Mitchell, Chairman of the Board for The Actors Fund, and Tom Viola, Executive Director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Me back in 1986 as ‘the Magical Mr. Mistoffelees’

When Tony Award-winning director/choreographer Michael Bennett passed away in 1987 from HIV/AIDS, this tribe of ‘Jellicle Cats’ heard the call to action and created a one-night-only event that celebrated the career of Bennett titled, One Singular Sensation: A Tribute To Michael Bennett.

In a time before Broadway Cares or Equity Fights AIDS, CATS National 3 raised nearly $40,000 in one amazing, not-to-be-forgotten night for the Kansas City Good Samaritan Project that specifically helped those battling HIV/AIDS.

The video event was conceived and produced by award-winning director Jonathan Cerullo (The Boys from Syracuse, Legs Diamond Broadway Reunion), scripted by Christine Toy Johnson (Come From Away, Bombay Dreams), Broadway choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter (Disaster!, School of Rock), award-winning choreographer James Walski (Trip of Love), and entrepreneur Austin Jetton.

In addition, the show’s music team reunites to conduct us through the event, Jay Alger, Edward G. Robinson,  Jack Gaughan, and David Geist.  And rounding out the team as Sound Editor is Tony Award-winner Brian Ronan (Book of Mormon, Beautiful – The Carole King Musical).

This special reunion will feature a contemporary take on the opening number, “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats,” testimonials of hope from cast members of how they were helped by The Actors Fund, and a spectacular, new performance of the show-stopping “Memory” performed by Grammy Award-winner Leslie Ellis (‘Grizabella’) and award-winning playwright/actress, Christine Toy Johnson (’Sillabub’). There will also be a fun Halloween surprise with “The Naming of Cats.”

“In this ‘new normal’ of undertaking theater, artists must remain relevant through digital technologies to continually engage with our audiences and tell our stories,” says Cerullo, who is producing and directing the event through his company, JSCTheatricals. “Our ‘CATS4COVIDRELIEF’ benefit is the realization of exploring this new platform for entertainment in today’s pandemic environment.”

The motivation behind this special collaboration is community.  The cast and creative team have created a performance that combines today’s technology – managed by top professionals in their field – music and theatre to bring to you an exciting and eclectic program.

“In revisiting my love affair with ‘Memory’ for this benefit, I was surprised and humbled by how powerful collaborating with my former castmates combined with the emotion of the current global unrest and social injustice would have on me,” says Leslie Ellis, who played Grizabella.  “I am deeply moved to have been a part of this benefit that aims to raise money and awareness to help everyone in our community who is in need right now.”

CATS was the biggest deal back in its day – if you had CATS on your resume, you’d made it,” says JoAnn M. Hunter, who played Victoria. “When Broadway director/choreographer Michael Bennett died of AIDS in 1987, our cast came together as a family – a community – to help those impacted by the AIDS epidemic. And here we are again, thirty-plus years later, doing our part to help with this pandemic.”

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS launched its COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund on March 17, just days after Broadway theaters and national tours shut down because of the coronavirus. The special fund, administered by The Actors Fund, continues to assist those in the entertainment community who are facing health care crises and other immediate needs in the wake of the ongoing pandemic.

Please join me for this special celebration of CATS and community – WITH LOVE, NOW AND FOREVER! CATS4COVIDRELIEF – a fundraiser for the Broadway Cares COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund supporting The Actors Fund on Friday, October 23 at 8 PM ET / 5 PM PST. If you could see your way to making a donation of any amount – what we do together makes a difference! – please visit broadwaycares.org/catsbenefit.

About CATS National 3:
In 1986, a talented group of theater artists were hand-picked to be a part of an amazing new ‘Jellicle’ tribe known as CATS National 3. As the first national touring company of the blockbuster Broadway musical to be presented in major U.S. cities like Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, St. Louis, Louisville, Miami, Phoenix (and many more), CATS National 3 broke box office records, received rave reviews, and was the first CATS company to play outdoor theaters due to the high demand for tickets. Then, as now, CATS National 3 stepped up to help during a worldwide pandemic.

In the 1980s, it was the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis. When Tony Award-winning director/choreographer Michael Bennett passed away in 1987 from HIV/AIDS, this tribe of ‘Jellicle Cats’ heard the call to action and created a one-night-only event that celebrated the career of Bennett titled, One Singular Sensation: A Tribute To Michael Bennett.  In a time before Broadway Cares or Equity Fights AIDS, CATS National 3 raised nearly $40,000 in one night for the Kansas City Good Samaritan Project that specifically helped those battling the then “mysterious” HIV/AIDS virus.

Participating members of CATS National 3: Mark Agnes, Jay Alger, Deborah Geneviere Athens, Joanna Beck, Anthony Vincent Bova, Lisa Dawn Cave, Jonathan Cerullo, Leslie Ellis, Robert Barry Fleming, Jack Gaughan, David Geist, Adrea Gibbs, JoAnn Hunter, Austin Jetton, Christine Toy Johnson, Aja Kane, BK Kennelly, Deidre Lang, Brian Liddicoat, Charmaine Liddicoat, Karen Longwell, Kari Nicolaisen, Bill Nolte, Donna Pompei, Cathy Sue Pyles, Rachelle Rak, Arminae Reames, Edward G. Robinson, Randy Slovacek, Julie Stiel, Beth Swearingen, Fred Tallaksen, Amiee Turner, James Walski, Matt Zarley.

The cast of CATS National 3 today

About Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS:
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS 
is one of the nation’s leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. By drawing upon the talents, resources, and generosity of the American theater community, since 1988 Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS has raised more than $300 million for essential services for people with HIV/AIDS, COVID-19 and other critical illnesses across the United States.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is the major supporter of the social service programs at The Actors Fund, including the HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative and the Samuel J. Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts. Broadway Cares also awards annual grants to more than 450 AIDS and family service organizations in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., providing lifesaving medication, healthy meals, counseling and emergency assistance.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Provided Record-Breaking $18+ Million In 2020 Grants

My friend Tom Viola, the Executive Director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, shares some very good news (which we all can use right now):

The Broadway Cares/Equity Fight AIDS fiscal year 2020 has ended and October 1 marks the start of a new beginning. The last six months brought with it a devastating shutdown, anxiety, isolation and tragedy. Yet it also allowed the heart of our community to shine brightly.

We close out fiscal year 2020 with remarkable news: Thanks to the generosity of this community – a community that includes all onstage, backstage and in the audience – we have together provided a record $18.1 million in grants. That’s up 22 percent over our 2019 grant-making.

That total includes more than $11.2 million to The Actors Fund to support their entire safety net of social services – from the HIV/AIDS Initiative and the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative to the Friedman Health Center, Addiction and Recovery Services and the Career Center. I am especially proud and happy that $11 million also includes $6.5 million for the Fund’s COVID-19 emergency financial support and $1 million for the creation of a new, essential program, Every Artist Insured.

In addition, more than $5 million was also awarded to over 400 grantees across the country through our annual National Grants Program. Food banks and health clinics, supportive housing programs and harm reduction services, serving millions of men and women, families of all variety and colors, diverse communities too often underserved and now also buffeted by COVID.

Finally, another $909,000 was awarded as emergency grants to organizations outside our theatre/performing arts family and annual grantees in the National Grants Program that reached out for help. Folks and organizations who at another time might have fallen outside our safety net of grant making. Now, as best we can, is not about “no.” Now is about trying to reach out as much as possible with the resources at hand. Resources that so many of you reading this have made possible.

This has been a truly collaborative accomplishment that literally saved lives, put food on families’ tables and kept friends and colleagues safely in their homes. Learn more at broadwaycares.org/2020grants.

We didn’t get to present this year’s Easter Bonnet Competition in April which, since 1995, has ended with the anthem “Help is on the Way.” So, David Friedman, who wrote the song, gathered Broadway stars who have performed the Bonnets finale in the past and an army of other voices – some quite familiar, some soon-to-be – to create a virtual rendition that we share at this start of our new fiscal year.

May we all embrace its message of health and hope.

On Friday, October 23, my castmates from the national touring company of CATS (back in 1986) will be presenting our own special streaming event benefitting the Broadway Cares COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund.

If you tune in, you just might get to see me swing my rehearsal tail a bit…Click here for details.

But for now, let’s enjoy these world-class Broadway artists lift our hearts a bit 🙂

Tonight: Virtual Fire Island Dance Festival

2020 Virtual Fire Island Dance Festival (photo: Scott Shaw Photography)

What to watch tonight? Check this out 🙂

The charitable event of the Fire Island summer goes digital when the Virtual Fire Island Dance Festival streams an evening of celebrated dance at 7 pm Eastern on July 17, 2020.

The first-ever stream in the event’s 26-year history will feature world premieres of three new pieces and three beloved festival favorites. The festival is produced by and benefits Dancers Responding to AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Last year’s event – held on July 19-21 – raised a record-shattering $657,842 over three days.

The player below will go live as the stream begins, or you can click here to watch directly on YouTube.

This year’s virtual festival will include world premieres by modern tap dancer Ayodele Casel, one of The New York Times’ “Biggest Breakout Stars of 2019”; KEIGWIN + COMPANY Artistic Director Larry Kiegwin; and Stephen Petronio, artistic director of Stephen Petronio Company.

The stream also will feature past festival performances by Emmy Award nominee Al Blackstone; MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellow Kyle Abraham and acclaimed dancer and choreographer Garrett Smith.

“Although we can’t gather together in The Pines, we’re thrilled to be able to invite our community to enjoy world-class dance performances online through the Virtual Fire Island Dance Festival,” said Denise Roberts Hurlin, founding director of Dancers Responding to AIDS.

While the stream is free, should you feel ‘moved’ to do so (see what I did there?), any donation large or small is definitely appreciated.

You can check out highlights from last year’s event below.

Sensational Striptease Goes Virtual – ‘BroadwayBares: Zoom In’

Broadway Bares goes virtual in 2020

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is taking its signature sensational striptease online for the first time with Broadway Bares: Zoom In, a celebratory virtual edition streaming on Saturday, August 1, 2020.

The free and frisky stream of Broadway Bares, produced by and benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, begins at 9:30 pm Eastern.

Viewers can enjoy the virtual entertainment at broadwaycares.org/bares, on Broadway Cares’ YouTube channel, broadwaybares.com and on streaming media partners BroadwayWorld.com, iHeartRadioBroadway.com, Playbill.com, TheaterMania.com and the Pride Media family of sites including Advocate.com and Out.com.

Although this year’s in-person 30th-anniversary celebration, originally set for June 21, was postponed until 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual evening will live on digitally through streamed sizzling striptease featuring NYC’s hottest dancers.

The online event will celebrate Broadway Bares with new performances that make social distancing sexy, plus favorite numbers from years past and new appearances by special celebrity guests.

“We’re so excited to bring the heat of Broadway Bares to screens around the world for the first time with Broadway Bares: Zoom In,” Bares creator and Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell said. “This year’s performers have gone full-out in both their show-stopping dance moves and desire to make a difference. You’ve got to Zoom In because it’s sure to make your laptop tingle and your cell phone vibrate!”

Though the stream is free, donations are welcome. Every dollar donated will help those across the country affected by HIV/AIDS, COVID-19 and other critical illnesses receive healthy meals, lifesaving medication, emergency financial assistance, housing, counseling and more. The donations also support and champion organizations focused on social justice and anti-racism.

Sponsorship opportunities, which include pre- and post-show virtual cocktails parties with performers and recognition during the show, are available at broadwaycares.org/sponsorbares .

Broadway Bares was created in 1992 by Mitchell, then a Broadway dancer, as a way to raise awareness and money for those living with HIV/AIDS. In Broadway Bares’ first year, Mitchell and six of his friends danced on a New York City bar and raised $8,000.

Last year, Broadway Bares took stars and fans alike on a romp around the world at Broadway Bares: Take Off. The tantalizing twist on travel raised a record-breaking $2,006,192. The 29 editions of Broadway Bares have raised more than $21.2 million for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

(via BroadwayCares.org)