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.
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.
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.
Michael and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Saturday night’s edition of Stars in the House which brought together the creative team and actors from the 1988 Broadway musical Carrie.
Adapted from the 1976 movie of the same name by Stephen King, the musical was first produced at Stratford-upon-Avon in England starring Linzi Hately as Carrie and Broadway veteran Barbara Cook as her mother, Margaret White. Directed by Terry Hands and choreographed by Debbie Allen, the cast also included Charlotte d’Amboise (Song & Dance), Gene Anthony Ray (Fame), R&B star Darlene Love, and Sally Ann Triplett.
In order to achieve the effects of Carrie’s telekinetic powers, the production boasted an elaborate technical design in terms of sets and lights utilizing lasers. According to theater lore, Cook tendered her resignation on opening night when she was nearly decapitated by a set-piece.
Tony Award winner Betty Buckley (who had played the gym teacher in the film) was summoned to save the show as it transferred to Broadway. But after 16 previews and 5 performances, the producers pulled out their money following mixed reviews despite packed houses and standing ovations each night.
In a time before smartphones, little video footage exists of the Broadway production although, during last night’s streaming reunion, it was revealed cast member and soon-to-be Tony Award winner Scott Wise had planted an old-school video camera in the back of the audience before the audience was admitted in hopes of capturing footage.
Apparently, Wise’s camera was able to capture Act One before the battery ran out of juice.
Just to give you a peek into the power and sensitivity Buckley brought to the role, this is the haunting “When There’s No One.”
The show, capitalized at a then-enormous $8 million, was considered the most expensive flop in Broadway history.
I was on the road performing in CATS at the time, but my bestie Carlye saw the closing night performance. According to her well-informed opinion, while much of the show proved problematic I’ve never forgotten her final assessment – that the scenes between Buckley and Hately were some of the most thrilling musical theater she’d ever experienced.
Here’s the full reunion show from last night hosted by SiriusXM’s Seth Rudetsky & James Wesley. The creative team of Lawrence D. Cohen, Michael Gore, and Dean Pitchford share the history of creating the book and score and are then joined about halfway through by Buckley, Hateley, D’Amboise, and Triplett.
Over the past four months, the streaming series has brought theater fans the backstage stories they’ve longed for (for free!) while raising over $442,000 for The Actor’s Fund in donations.
• Back2Stonewall: Out actor-comedian Billy Eichner is set to play TV icon Paul Lynde in the upcoming biopic Man in the Box. While Lynde never officially “out,” his sexuality was well-known in front of and behind the camera throughout a run on television beginning in the ’50s up until his death in 1982.
• KOMO: The cast and creators of the Emmy-nominated cult HBO classic The Comeback will reunite on July 21 as part of the Stars In the House daily live-streamed series. The show’s creator and star Lisa Kudrow will be on board to chat on the satirical reality show that followed one woman’s journey as a B-list sitcom actress trying to reclaim A-list status via reality TV. Hot hubby Michael and I loved the series – Kudrow was brilliant walking the fine line of reality/scripted TV.
• ABC News: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell revealed Tuesday morning that Senate Republicans plan to support another round of stimulus checks to Americans in their next coronavirus relief proposal. This time around, however, Republicans would like to lower the income threshold to qualify. The cap on payments in the first CARES bill was $99,000.
• NPR: Teachers in Florida are suing the state to block an emergency order requiring schools to open next month with in-person instruction. They say, with the surge of coronavirus cases, the order violates a provision in Florida’s constitution requiring the state to ensure schools are operated safely.
• BroBible: A teen employee at a Lowe’s store in Washington, Kyle Sales, was forced to change his tee-shirt reading “Black Panther Wakanda Forever” after a ‘Karen’ complained the shirt was racist. After the exchange, Sales went home and put a jersey over his Black Panther movie shirt. The next day, ‘Karen’ returned demanding to know how Sales was punished.
• Boy Culture: Donald Trump, at his daily coronavirus presser, was asked about Ghislaine Maxwell — perhaps you’ve heard of her? The lady accused of running a child-sex ring for Jeffrey Epstein, who died on Trump’s watch? Yeah, he said — twice — “I wish her well.”
Trump coolly admits to having met Ghislaine Maxwell several times, and says — twice — “I wish her well.” Astounding. Video: pic.twitter.com/R8lwDfTKhR