“We’re very happy to be here tonight,” said “The Big Bang Theory’s” Johnny Galecki, sandwiched on the Beverly Hilton stage between co-stars Kunal Nayyar, Simon Helberg, Jim Parsons, Melissa Rauch and Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting at Wednesday’s A Night at Sardi’s benefit, an annual ode to Broadway for the Alzheimer’s Association — where the actors were honored for their unwavering support last year. “And we’re happy that we’re not singing,” added Nayyar.
“I thought you liked singing,” Helberg bantered back, to which Nayyar responded, “I mean, yeah, I like singing, except it gives me months and months of anxiety.”
“I’m sad that we’re not singing,” Cuoco-Sweeting attested. “It’s the one chance we get to work in complete unison. I think we make beautiful music together, guys.” And they weren’t alone.
“My friend Jason Alexander’s opening the show,” noted Lea Thompson in advance of Alexander’s colorful opening rendition of “Wilkommen/Money” from “Cabaret” (sung in a suave tux, amidst a swarm of sultry dancers and in a French accent — while he entreated the crowd for “money”).
Thompson, who’s been “doing it on and off for 20 years,” was a Sardi’s favorite last year, when she chanted “I believe” from “The Book of Mormon” alongside her two daughters; this year she performed a sassy routine to “I Won’t Dance” from “Roberta.” What keeps her coming back? “It’s really fun! There’s one little dressing room, and there’s all these famous people with their butts in your face… everybody’s just rolling up their sleeves and making fools of themselves!” said the star of “Switched at Birth,” whose character will most appropriately put on a musical in the fourth season. “So I’m going to be doing a musical all the time,” Thompson said.
Another crowd favorite, Steven Weber, donned what he told Variety was tame “male drag” this year (last year he dressed as a woman) and sang a “jaw-rattling” version of “Trouble” from “The Music Man” — which required much endurance. “It’s a great show, but you need stamina!” noted the veteran stage actor, who’s doing a pilot for CBS called “Joe Time” with Minnie Driver and Rita Moreno, and is on the premiere episodes of FX’s “The Comedians” with fellow Sardi’s performer Josh Gad.
Gad, who animatedly closed the show with “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from “Guys and Dolls” — into which he interjected his token humor — was also a favorite of SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard. “He’s so talented,” Howard noted on the red carpet earlier. “I saw him in ‘Book of Mormon’ on Broadway, and I just did (‘The Wedding Ringer’) with him a couple of years ago, and he’s great, so that’ll be good.”
“Ray Donovan’s” Kerris Dorsey was also looking forward to seeing Gad, “who I met and I was just freaking out, cause… ‘Frozen’!” she said. Dorsey — who’s currently filming season three of “Donovan” (“a Showtime watcher’s dream, because it’s got the grit and the gore, but it’s also really well written and well acted,” she noted) — showed maturity and spunk when belting “Natural Woman” from “Beautiful” during the show. “It’s a song that’s very close to my heart because I love Carole King. I just saw (the musical) in New York last year, so I’m excited to perform it,” she relayed. “But I’m just excited to see everyone else perform. Zachary Levi I’m a fan of.”
Levi, who later sang a slick and assured “Feeling Good” from “Roar of the Greasepaint” — while females in crimson dresses draped themselves around him — still admitted to nerves. “I’m a little intimidated because the song I’m singing has been sung by a few really amazing singers,” said the four-time Sardi’s participant, who was thrilled to have just joined aboard “Heroes Reborn.” “As soon as I heard it announced, I was telling my team, ‘Let’s go figure that out!’” he said of the show, which will film 13 episodes in Toronto to air this fall on his previous home of NBC. “It’s almost like I never left… I’ve always felt welcomed and loved and appreciated there. You know, whatever you do in this vocation, you want to go where people go, ‘I get you and I like you!’”
Another show of loyalty came from performer Tyler Ritter. “I am very close to Joey McIntyre and Jack McGee, who are on ‘The McCarthys’ with me, and they both lost family members to the disease while we were shooting,” said the 30-year-old son of John Ritter, who’s filming a spot on the “Hot in Cleveland” finale while he crosses his “fingers and toes” and waits to see if “The McCarthys” is picked up for a second season. “That was kind of my first up-close-and-personal experience with (Alzheimer’s). So you go through that with some people you love, and you’re connected to it for life.”
McIntyre, who’ll be touring with the New Kids on the Block (and TLC and Nelly) in May and June, appreciated the support from his co-stars. “To me it’s one of the best nights of Hollywood,” said the evening’s honoree, who made use of the entire ballroom in his performance of “Hello, Dolly!” (“It was one of my mom’s favorite songs, so we’re going to be celebrating her,” he said.) He grew emotional when accepting the award, which he did on behalf of his nine siblings, who helped care for the mother they recently lost to Alzheimer’s. “The memory of her and her spirit will be with me forever,” he swore to the crowd.
Also honored were Maria Shriver and the filmmakers behind “Still Alice.” “I think this year’s kind of amazing because we’re all coming off the Oscars, so ‘Still Alice’ is still really in our consciousness,” said returning co-host Sarah Rafferty, whose character on the fifth season of “Suits” will be triggering a shakeup. (“She’s going to go work for Louis, so she’s going to be sandwiched between two men who mean a lot to her, so we’ll see how that goes!”) Of the event, Rafferty added, “(‘Still Alice’) was a really moving movie, so I think that informs a little bit of what we’re all feeling tonight.”
The musical benefit, championed by founder Laurie Burrows Grad (who lost father Abe Burrows, director and writer of plays including “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Guys and Dolls,” to the disease) raised $1.1 million this 23rd year, and has generated over $25 million over the years for Alzheimer’s research and care. Grad’s brother and “Big Bang Theory” pilot director James Burrows also touchingly spoke (after Parsons got a laugh by introducing him as “a man who has done more pilots than a hooker at LAX.”)
But Shriver, who recited a poem she wrote called “Still Here,” about a woman who doesn’t want to be discounted on account of her disease, made the biggest push for Alzheimer’s patients (“who are struggling, but not suffering”) to be heard. Upon learning of her father’s diagnosis in 2003, she relayed, “It was really my children that taught me to be still enough to find the person who had disappeared, but was still in front of my eyes.”
Shriver urged the crowd to consider, “What is it like to still be here, but not (be) yourself?” And then she urged them further: “I really, really believe that there is a cure out there, in some laboratory, somewhere… There’s a lot work to be done, but it starts in rooms like this.”