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 🙂

Sunday Showtune: ‘Hairspray’ Alums Remind Us “You Can’t Stop The Beat”

I meant to share this weeks ago, and I’ve been looking for more uplifting content to post. This certainly fits the bill.

Alumni of the hit Broadway musical, Hairspray, created this virtual reunion performance of the show’s finale “You Can’t Stop the Beat” to raise money for the Actors Fund of America.

While the word ‘actor’ is used in the name of the organization, the group actually helps all people who work in the theater including ushers, musicians, wardrobe folks, and more.

The super-infectious, feel-good video is simply pure joy.

Beginning with three Tracy Turnblads – Ricki Lake (from the original John Waters’s original 1988 classic), Marissa Jaret Winokur (who created the role on Broadway), and Nikki Blonsky (from the musical film version in 2007) – stars including Harvey Fierstein, Andrea Martin, Matthew Morrison, Kristin Chenoweth, Andrew Rannells, Laura Bell Bundy, Alex Newell, Sean Hayes, and Randy Rainbow all take part alongside the ensemble alumni.

Bet you can’t keep from bouncing 🙂

Rosie O’Donnell’s ‘Broadway-Palooza’ Raises $500k For Actor’s Fund

Rosie O’Donnell offered up a heaping helping of Broadway stars (all from the comfort of their own homes) during a 3+ hour streaming revival of her eponymous talk-show on Sunday evening.

From her garage/craft room, Rosie welcomed folks like Barry Manilow, Randy Rainbow, Judith Light, Billy Porter, Chita Rivera, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, and many, many more via Skype.

Billy Porter on The Rosie O’Donnell Show

And yes, there were performances including Patti LuPone (singing a lovely “Smile”), Kelli O’Hara (singing Sondheim’s “Take Me to the World”), Audra McDonald & hubby Will Swenson (also choosing to sing “Smile”), Lea Salonga (singing “Reflection”), Darren Criss (singing “Being Alive” from Company), Shoshana Bean (“Don’t Rain on My Parade”), and Kristin Chenoweth popping off a funfilled “Taylor the Latte Boy” (with her hottie boyfriend making a cameo).

The project was the brainchild of Broadway and TV actor Erich Bergen who popped in every now and then to address small sound or tech issues. And Rosie’s former music director John McDaniel was on hand as well.

Kelli O’Hara on The Rosie O’Donnell Show

The event served as a fundraiser for The Actor’s Fund, which helps not only actors but everyone in the theater world during hard times including stagehands, stage managers, and more.

At the end of the Broadway-palooza, over $500,000 was raised for the charity. Bravo to everyone involved!

Hit the play button below and enjoy 🙂

 

If you want to jump to a particular perf0rmer, here at the time marks for each (in chronological order):

John McDaniel – 2:42
Jesse Tyler Ferguson – 4:56
Tituss Burgess –
8:09
Gloria Estefan –
12:57
Lin-Manuel Miranda –
19:40
Cynthia Erivo –
23:55
Patti LuPone –
28:50
Ben Platt –
36:07
Laura Benanti –
41:50
Idina Menzel –
48:10
Aaron Tveit –
53:35
Rob McClure –
54:03
Jordin Sparks –
54:31
Bernadette Peters –
55:01
Chita Rivera –
56:13
Alan Menken –
1:02:15
Neil Patrick Harris –
1:09:40
Brian Stokes Mitchell –
1:15:43
Audra McDonald and Will Swenson –
1:23:30
Andrew Lloyd Webber –
1:29:52
Stephen Sondheim –
1:30:23
Jeremy Jordan –
1:32:33
Jane Krakowski –
1:33:05
Uzo Aduba –
1:33:36
Andrew Rannells –
1:33:49
Annette Bening –
1:34:20
Judith Light –
1:37:02
Darren Criss –
1:41:23
Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker –
1:47:37
Kelli O’Hara –
1:54:16
Jeremy Pope –
2:03:20
Nate Berkus –
2:08:01
Adrienne Warren –
2:11:40
Kristin Chenoweth –
2:18:16
Harvey Firestein – 2:25:25
Katharine McPhee and David Foster –
2:29:12
Billy Porter –
2:33:40
Shoshana Bean –
2:40:17
Gavin Creel –
2:43:54
Miranda Sings / Colleen Ballinger –
2:48:19
Lauren Patten-
2:54:43 Skylar Astin – 2:59:25
Michael Gladis and Beth Behrs –
2:59:53
Ben Vereen –
3:00:21
Sutton Foster –
3:00:41
Frankie Valli –
3:01:09
Matthew Morrison –
3:01:42
Jordan Fisher –
3:04:47
Maria Tomei –
3:11:32
Lorna Luft –
3:12:02
Miguel Cervantes –
3:12:33
Andy Karl and Orfeh –
3:12:55
Elizabeth Stanley –
3:13:26
James Wesley and Seth Rudetsky –
3:13:54
Lea Salonga –
3:13:34
Randy Rainbow:
3:20:59
Barry Manilow:
3:23:59

Watch Broadway Stars Perform LIVE From Home Today

Don’t forget to hit the play button below at 7pm ET/4pm PT today for the return of The Rosie O’Donnell Show LIVE! as she hosts a star-studded array of Broadway’s finest performing from their homes.

The event will serve as a fund-raiser for The Actor’s Fund,  which fosters stability and resiliency, and provides a safety net for performing arts and entertainment professionals over their lifespan.

According to Broadway.com, the special program will feature performances and appearances by some of the biggest names in entertainment, all participating live from the comfort of their own homes, including Sebastian Arcelus, Skylar Astin, Beth Behrs, Nate Berkus, Stephanie J. Block, Matthew Broderick, Tituss Burgess, Norbert Leo Butz, Kristin Chenoweth, Gavin Creel, Darren Criss, Gloria Estefan, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Harvey Fierstein, David Foster, Morgan Freeman, Neil Patrick Harris, Megan Hilty, Lorin Latarro, Judith Light, Barry Manilow, Rob McClure, Audra McDonald, Katharine McPhee, Alan Menken, Idina Menzel, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Kelli O’Hara, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lauren Patten, Ben Platt, Billy Porter, Randy Rainbow, Andrew Rannells, Chita Rivera, Seth Rudetsky, Miranda Sings, Jordin Sparks, Ben Vereen, Adrienne Warren, James Wesley and more.