On Tuesday, March 6, 2012, I was moved, inspired, enlightened, and entertained when I attended the "Spotlight on St. Jude" benefit at New World Stages in NYC, produced by Carolyn Chamberlain and Tiffany Schleigh. Bringing together the Broadway community and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Carolyn and Tiffany assembled some of the biggest names in theatre to help raise awareness and funds for St. Jude.
In addition to the entertainment portion of the evening, "Spotlight on St. Jude" did a fantastic job of highlighting the importance of St. Jude. Founded in 1962 by the late great Danny Thomas, St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital mission is to find cures for children with cancer and other deadly diseases through research and treatment. St. Jude was the first pediatric cancer research institution to place doctors, scientists, and patients "all under one roof," creating a worldwide model for "bench-to-bedside" research and treatment of childhood cancers and other life-threatening diseases. It takes $1.7 million a day to operate St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which provides all of its services free of charge to patients. From doctor's appointments to food to transportation to lodging, families will never pay anything to St. Jude and no family is ever turned away. When St. Jude started in 1962, the survival rate was 4%. Today, the survival is 96%, a true testament to the wonderful work St. Jude does.
These facts were well placed in between the delightful entertainment portions of the evening. Many of my favorite theatre artists performed throughout the night! Starting the evening off right was the cast of "Million Dollar Quartet" who sang "Peace in the Valley/Whole Lotta Shakin'." They sure know how to get the party started. The energy this cast has is quite remarkable. Next was Amy Spanger whose beautiful voice sang an original song entitled "House of Love." Continuing the theme of love was Tony Award winner Alice Ripley who sang her new original jazz infused single "Beautiful Eyes." I love Alice's solo music because it's so different from her theatrical endeavors and really showcases her writing ability as well as her voice. Following Alice was Laura Bell Bundy, who due to a scheduling conflict could not actually be there in person, but instead her new video "That's What Angels Do," premiered. I have heard some great songs in my life and now this one is added to that list. Laura's voice shined as this song of comfort and love spread throughout the crowd.
Next, there was a little break from the music as Mario Cantone and Carol Kane took to the stage bringing with them 100% joy and laughter! There is monthly series called "Celebrity Autobiography" at the Triad in NYC where celebrities read other celebrity autobiographies. So, Mario and Carol performed a mini version of this night. Mario read from Lauren Bacall's autobiography "By Myself and Then Some" and Carol read from Carol Channing's autobiography "Just Lucky I Guess." It's been a while since I laughed so much. Mario and Carol's impersonations were spot on! The way they switched off between books was genius because they each were telling stories of the Tony Awards and it was as if these two books could have been combined into one story. It was just great!
Bringing the music back was Tiffany Engen, Heather Parcells, Angel Reed, Ashley Moniz, Sheila Coyle, Laura D'Andre, and Lauren Zakrin singing "I'm A Woman," followed by Kristen Beth Williams singing "History Is Waiting," which lead into "For Good," sang by Libby Servais & Jenna Leigh Green, all of whom were enjoyable. Then something interesting and very well done happened, Bryce Ryness, Andrew Kober, Lauren Elder, Aleque Reid, Katie Kiyan, John Moauro, and Caren Tackett all from the Broadway revival and touring company of "Hair," sang "Falling Slowly," from the new Broadway musical "Once." I found this interesting because none of them are in "Once," but they did such a great job with the song that in the end it didn't matter at all. After "Falling Slowly," Shoshana Bean took the stage to sing "The Anthem to Benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital," "Stand Up." This was such a moving song about keeping the faith and standing strong in the face of adversity. Shoshana did a phenomenal job singing this song! It's such a beautiful song and so inspiring.
Closing the night out was one of the moments that moved me to tears for two very personal reasons. The finale consisted of a medley from such Broadway shows as "42nd Street," "Les Miserables," "Rent," "Oliver," and "Jekyll & Hyde." The first reason I enjoyed the finale so much was because my friends Brett Teresa and Autumn Hurlbert were featured soloists during the medley. Brett sang "Consider Yourself" from "Oliver" and Autumn sang "Someone Like You" from "Jekyll & Hyde." Both of them triumphed as they stood out amongst the crowd! The second reason the finale meant so much to me and the reason I was moved to tears, was because mixed within the medley were two songs, "Daybreak" and "The Best Is Yet To Come," by my friend and rising award winning composer Bobby Cronin from his upcoming shows "Daybreak" and "W2ML," respectively. To see his songs featured amongst these big shows, sung by Jenn Furman, Tony Award winner Alice Ripley, and so many others, meant the world to me!
The other moment of the night that moved me to tears was the whole reason behind this benefit! One of St. Jude's patients made a very special appearance. After viewing the video of Ellen, a 7 year-old girl diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2008, Ellen, came out on stage and sang "Over The Rainbow." I don't think there was a dry eye in the audience. Because of St. Jude, Ellen is able to live a much more full life! Her cancer has been in remission for 4 years now and if it stays in remission for another 6 years, she will be officially cancer free (if after treatment, the cancer does not come back for 10 years, one is officially considered cancer free). Even though she loves to perform, I still felt, she was very courageous to come out and sing.
I feel so fortunate to have been able to cover "Spotlight on St. Jude." This was a truly terrific evening of education, hope, and Broadway. I think it was wonderful that the Broadway community and St. Jude teamed up like this. The Broadway community is so giving of their time and talent; it's just wonderful to have everyone come together for such a great cause. I learned so much more about St. Jude than I knew prior to tonight all the while being entertained!
Until a cure for cancer is found, I do hope "Spotlight on St. Jude" happens every year so St. Jude can continue to do the amazing work they do and supporters can come and enjoy a remarkable evening of talent while doing something really good!