On Monday, February 29, I was so honored to attend Broadway Belts for PFF, a benefit for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, with my Dreaming With... associate producer, Jefferson Harman. Broadway Belts for PFF started in 2010 when beloved theater critic Michael Kuchwara, passed away from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. Founded by D. Michael Dvorchak, Sue Frost, and Ed Windels, Broadway Belts for PFF is now in it's 6th year, and continues to be hosted by the hilarious Julie Halston! It was an evening of learning, entertainment, and feeling good about helping an important cause.
Prior to Broadway Belts, Jefferson and I were fortunate to have Julie as the first guest on our new internet based TV Show Dreaming With...where we talked with Julie about this amazing benefit prior to Jefferson interpretating a recent dream she had that tied into her husband, renowned radio personality Ralph Howard, being diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis, but luckily surviving through a lung transplant several years ago. Click here to watch our premiere episode!
On the night of the benefit, I was thrilled to speak with Julie even further about Broadway Belts as well as many of the guest performers and supporters of the evening including Hamilton's Daveed Diggs, Everybody Loves Raymond's Monica Horan, Tony Award winner Cady Huffman, It Shoulda Been You's Lisa Howard, Rocky's Margo Seibert, and director Carl Andress. Below are excerpts from my interviews.
What do you hope everybody comes away with after the evening? Well, two things. I hope they understand what Pulmonary Fibrosis is and how they can help and I also want them to go away saying, "That was a fantastic show!" The Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation has done a remarkable job educating people all across America about this disease and what's happening with the disease now. Our job, as New York Broadway people, is to provide a spectacular show and I have to tell you with the line-up we have, I can't imagine them being anything, but their heads exploding. We have an amazing line-up of talent: We have gorgeous gal singers, Broadway belters, Daveed Diggs from Hamilton, who has created an original song/rap for us, we have a trio of Tony award winners, and we have the cast of Cagney, tapping. The finale is going to be insane. You're not going to be let down.
What made you want to be part of tonight's event for Broadway Belts for PFF? It's a great cause and really meeting Julie and learning about her story and her husband's story and the organization. It felt like a great opportunity to do something good and have a lot of fun and be around some cool people.
You wrote an original song/rap for tonight's benefit. What was the process like for you to do that? It was great. I was inspired by the work PFF is doing. Quite honestly, writing an original song is easier for me to do than learn a show tune, so I chose both something that fed my inspiration and took the easier way out (laughs).
How does directing a benefit differ from directing a theatrical piece? Directing a benefit takes into account much more logistics. You are dealing with the organizers of the event, stage management, venue management, so it's pulling all the pieces together so we can all get on the same timeline. Then we have to get our talented artists onto that same timeline as well, so it's a lot more logistical. The part I most look forward to is picking material with the artists and curating how each number is going to come together and then working with the team to figure out what's the best flow. You have to put on different head when directing a benefit. Then when you come in on the day of the event, it's really about making sure everything goes as you planned, but it doesn't always go that way because plans change...they sell another table or someone has to film a TV show and come late, so you just have to run with whatever the changes are that day.
What made you want direct this particular benefit? Six years ago, when they were doing the first Broadway Belts, Julie asked me personally if I would direct and I immediately said yes a here we are in year six and we are in a muuuch bigger space, so it's very exciting.
What made you want to be part of this event? Well, Miss Julie Halston, everybody's favorite person, asked me. So, anything I can do to help her and her husband Ralph, who had Pulmonary Fibrosis.
What made you want to be part of tonight's benefit and how has Pulmonary Fibrosis affected your life? Well, not necessarily Pulmonary Fibrosis, but I had a scare with my son, and it ended up all being okay, but I know what that's like of getting that diagnosis and freaking out, so when the opportunity came to help support this cause, I said, "Yes, count me in," cause you know, I'm lucky that our end result came out positively, but I could only imagine what that would have been like if it didn't, so I'm very happy to be here and sing a song for a good cause.
What made you want to be invovled in tonight's benefit? Well, I had the pleasure of working with Julie Halston at Papermill Playhouse in Ever After and we had a relationship from that show. After the show ended, she heard me sing the song I'm singing tonight at the benefit, "Flight" by Craig Carnelia, and asked me to be part of it and I'm just so happy to be here helping this cause.
What made you want to come tonight and support this event? I think it's so important when people in a creative industry use their talents to repair the world. I've been BFFs with Julie Halston ever since I got my equity card with her doing Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and so it's in support of Julie and Ralph and all the great work they are doing. This is a great opportunity for Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation to get their story out. That's all we really need, to hear the stories, connect, and then participate in doing something about it.
After getting to speak with each person, it was time for the event itself! What an incredible evening! I learned a lot about the great advances in medicine that have been made to help fight Pulmonary Fibrosis and I was inspired by all the performers! Hunter Ryan Herdlicka started things off with a bang with his booming voice when he sang "When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam." Zakiya Young got us grooving with "See What I Wanna See" when her sultry vocals radiated throughout that Edison Ballroom. Telly Leung had everyone cheering with his great rendition of "Before The Parade Passes By." Tony Award winners Rand Graff, Cady Huffman, and Judy Kaye cast a spell upon us when they sang Cyc Coleman's "Witchcraft," while Margo Seibert captivated everyone with "Flight" by Craig Carnelia. Then it was time for Lisa Howard who brought down the house when she reprised her showstopping number "Jenny's Blues" from Broadway's It Shoulda Been You! A standing ovation and two bows, Lisa had the audience feeling anything other than blue. After Lisa, Hamilton's Daveed Diggs took the stage with an original song/rap he wrote just for Broadway Belts. Daveed wrote a truly remarkable rap all about how lucky we are to have breath and the gift of breathing until we no longer have it. Such a talented writer, he is! Rounding out the night was Robert Creighton and the cast (Jeremy Benton, Danette Holden, Ellen Zolezzi, and Josh Walden) of the new Off-Broadway musical Cagney. They tapped their way into our hearts with "Give My Regards to Broadway/Yankee Doodle Dandy." It was a wonderful way to end this incredible night!
If you are looking to help a great cause, a donation to Pulmonary Fibrosis and the gift of breath is the perfect choice! Click here to donate!