Second Update, 9 A.M.: Here’s Ben Vereen’s emotion-packed performance of “What A Wonderful World” at yesterday’s Concert For America at new York’s Town Hall. And, below, part of Chita Rivera’s astonishing performance of “America” from West Side Story.
UPDATE Saturday morning: The organizers of Friday’s sold-out Concert for America: Stand Up, Sing Out! said this morning that the event, at which all the performers donated their talents, had raised more than $100K. The concert was the first in a planned monthly seriesw.
EARLIER: The Broadway stars came out to shine Friday afternoon at “Concert For America: Stand Up, Sing Out!” at Town Hall, the storied venue for protest and politicking. A visit from actress Sharon Gless added a timely Hollywood spin to the occasion. Admitting she had no Broadway cred (Tyne Daly, her erstwhile Cagney & Lacy co-star and Broadway veteran, was en route to the next day’s march in Washington) Gless paid tribute to the late Lynn Redgrave, regaling the sold-out house of 1,500 with the story behind Redgrave’s firing from House Calls, the CBS sitcom that ran from 1979 through 1981.
The last of the contract players at Universal, Gless was abruptly brought in to replace Redgrave opposite star Wayne Rogers in the show’s final season. Redgrave, it was suggested in coverage at the time, “was difficult to work with,” said Seth Rudetsky, the musical theater triple threat and radio host who co-hosted the fund-raising concert with his husband James Wesley. The truth as she recalled it had a decidedly contemporary ring.
Redgrave’s crimes, Gless said, were that “she wanted to make as much money as Wayne Rogers — by the way, she was billed over the title with Wayne Rogers — and she had just given birth and she wanted to nurse the child on the set.” (Redgrave, according to her husband John Clark’s account, wanted to nurse her newborn at the studio, though not on set, as Universal claimed at the time.) “And she was fired,” Gless said. When she got the call to meet with Rogers, she continued, “I’d heard Wayne Rogers, God rest his soul, was difficult, and that he did not approve of drinking or smoking.” He wanted to meet, “so I picked a bar.”
The show tanked and Gless went onto TV stardom in C&L, but not before she orchestrated a rapprochement with the woman she’d replaced.”I threw a party for the cast,” she recalled, “to say good-bye and how much I loved being on the show and how kind they were to me even when they missed her. I did not invite Wayne Rogers. I called Lynn Redgrave and said, ‘This is Sharon Gless, don’t hang up. I’m having a party and the cast has been miserable without you. Would you come to my party?
“She’s classier than I am,” Gless went on. “And she said, ‘I would love to. She says, ‘I’ll come late. Let’s have a fight.'” When Redgrave arrived that evening, Gless went out to meet her at her car, at which point they began hurling F-bombs at one another as the partygoers watched in horror. “She said, ‘I heard you were having a party and you didn’t invite me.’ I said, ‘Why would I invite you — you can’t act for sh!t.'” Many more F-bombs were launched before the ruse ended when Gless and Redgrave joined the crowd inside.
The audience cheered heartily, but had been primed by a show jammed with spectacular, emotional performances many of the Streets’s greatest talents, all of whom were working gratis. The concert was timed to coincide with the inauguration of Donald J. Trump and has a strong anti-Trump theme, and it was the first of a monthly series to raise funds for groups under threat by the incoming Administration: The NAACP, Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Immigration Law Center and the Sierra Club Foundation.
The roster of performers included Jessie Mueller, who sang the title Carole King song from Beautiful; Betty Buckley, who sang a powerful cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up”; Kelli O’Hara countering the mood with “Cockeyed Optimist” from South Pacific, and Brian Stokes Mitchell with deeply felt renditions of “America The Beautiful” and “Wheels Of A Dream” from Ragtime. Judy Kuhn powerfully reprised “Colors Of The Wind,” the song she originally sang for the Disney animated film Pocahontas. Billy Porter singing a completely unexpected, unique take on “Edelweiss” from The Sound Of Music.
Rosie Perez drew laughs and nods with her call to arms over the coming threat to America’s poor (“We have a secretary of housing who says poverty is a choice. My ass didn’t choose to be poor”), and there were several equally moving speeches from the supported groups and stand-up from comedians Judy Gold and Caroline Rhea.
But for sheer emotional impact and a kind of closure on a day that was notably hard in a corner of the country that felt isolated from the events in front of the Capitol, performances by three legends made at least temporary cockeyed optimists of all:
Chita Rivera, resplendent and indomitable, sang leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s
“America” from West Side Story.
Lillias White tore through Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl. And Ben Vereen brought the crowd to its feet with a wrenching performance of Bob Thiele and George David Weiss’ “What A Wonderful World.” For the finale, the entire company surrounded Vereen to raise the roof with James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot’s “Let The Sunshine In” from Hair.
The concert will be streamed again Sunday evening at 9 P.M. ET at concert4america2017.org.