By FRANK RIZZO, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
January 29, 2013
It was an out-of-town Broadway show that closed in one night, but those in the audience are likely to remember it for a long time because the show was produced just for them.
Tony Award-winner Brian Stokes Mitchell sang "The Impossible Dream." Composer Stephen Schwartz accompanied Julia Murney as she belted out "Defying Gravity" from the musical "Wicked." And composer Marc Shaiman was at the piano when Nikki Blonsky sang "Good Morning Baltimore" from "Hairspray," featuring five students from Sandy Hook Elementary School.
It was all part of the high-profile, highly emotional show, "From Broadway with Love: A Benefit Concert for Sandy Hook," held Monday night at Waterbury's Palace Theater.
The 2-1/2-hour, all-volunteer show, with an orchestra of 40, brought together more than 1,100 family members of the Sandy Hook community who went to the 2,535-seat theater as representatives from the Broadway community — 800 volunteers in all — came together to lift spirits with song, dance, comedy and inspiration. It was an evening that was poignant, joyful, sad, sweet and hopeful. Tears flowed, but there was laughter and plenty of cheers, too.
The show, which was filmed and recorded for a DVD, CD and future broadcast, came together days after the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that left 26 dead, including 20 young students. All proceeds and donations will go directly to the United Way of Western Connecticut's Sandy Hook School Support Fund.
"It's Broadway people coming in and putting on a show and making people feel good," Mitchell said prior to the show. "It's what we do."
Shaiman, composer of "Hairspray" and the TV series "Smash," said before the show that he would be focused on not losing it emotionally, especially in the number "You Can't Stop the Beat," sung by Blonsky with 75 young dancers from Newtown area schools on stage.
The sold-out benefit opened with "Seasons of Love" from "Rent," featuring Robin de Jesus and Ashley Blanchet, and the Broadway with Love Chorus made up of performers from New York shows. The 40-plus member chorus entered down the aisles and placed 26 lit candles on stage. The lights remained on the foot of the stage for the duration of the concert.
Hartt School alum Philip Boykin (Tony Award nominee for "Porgy and Bess"), whose father unexpectedly died over the weekend in South Carolina, performed "Ol' Man River" from "Show Boat," and said he hopes the song reminds everyone of the idea of perseverance.
Tony Award-winner Michael Cerveris sang "Finishing the Hat" from "Sunday in the Park with George," which went into Stephen Sondheim's "Sunday" from the show featuring members of the Newtown High School Chamber Choir. The choir also performed a cappella "Somewhere" from "West Side Story," which received a standing ovation.
Composer Brett Boles, who co-conceived the concert with Van Dean, sang a song he composed for the show, "Still," accompanied by two dancers, Shanna Heverly and K.C. Fredericks.
The first act ended with a rousing gospel number, "Raise Your Voice" with members of the Broadway and touring company of "Sister Act." Broadway and touring casts of "Million Dollar Quartet" also tore up the show with some hard rocking in the second act.
Lighter moments during the show included Richard Kind singing "I Wanna Be Like You (The Monkey Song)" from "The Jungle Book," Mary Testa singing "When You're Good to Mama" from "Chicago," Christine Ebersole singing "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" and "I'm a Believer" by former Monkee Micky Dolenz.
Schwartz performed "Beautiful City" from his "Godspell," accompanied by slide projections from Newtown. Linda Eder and composer Frank Wildhorn performed "If I Had My Way," and Wildhorn, Capathia Jenkins and the chorus sang "Finding Wonderland."
Appearing in video clips were Anne Hathaway, Ricki Lake and Marissa Jaret Winokur and the Broadway casts of such shows as "Annie," "Spider-Man," "Mamma Mia" and "The Mystery of Edwin Drood."
The show ended with Barry Manilow's "One Voice" with the Broadway with Love Chorus singing with students from Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Van Dean, a commercial producer, said the event "was nothing like I've ever produced before. Everything I've done so far in the theater has led me to this moment."
Copyright © 2015, The Hartford Courant