“It’s like Woodstock for theater nerds,” quipped one theatergoer at “Concert for America,” the afternoon of songs, stand-up and speeches performed Friday afternoon by members of the Broadway community in response to the Trump inauguration hours before.
Stage favorites including Chita Rivera, Ben Vereen, Jesse Mueller, Kelli O’Hara, Betty Buckley, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Bebe Neuwirth all took to the stage with the aim of striking a note of optimism on what had felt like a dark day to many in the theater industry. “We’re downstairs here at theater, and we’re crying, we’re laughing. It’s a big, confusing day,” observed Sharon Gless, one of the speakers at the concert held at the midtown Manhattan venue Town Hall.
The “South Pacific” tune “Cockeyed Optimist” set the hopeful tone, as performed by O’Hara, who had starred in the Tony-winning 2008 revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. “”The theme of this whole show is how art can really create social justice,” said the musician and Sirius XM host Seth Rudetsky, who organized the concert with his husband, producer James Wesley. (The duo was also behind the recording of “What the World Needs Now is Love” that was released in the wake of the Orlando shootings).
Buckley sang Peter Gabriel song “Don’t Give Up” while Jesse Mueller did “Beautiful,” the title song of the Carole King musical that won her a Tony. Mitchell sang what he called “two of my favorite songs of hope,” the national anthem and “Wheels of a Dream” (which he sang in the original production of “Ragtime”), and Lilias White took on “Funny Girl” tune “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Vereen gave a heartfelt rendition of “What a Wonderful World” before leading the entire cast in “Hair” anthem “Let the Sun Shine.” The boisterous, sold-out crowd ate it up, giving standing ovations after nearly every number.
Speakers included Neuwirth, Kate Mulgrew, Piper Perabo, and Rosie Perez, as well as NAACP president Cornell William Brooks and stand-up comics Judy Gold, Michelle Collins, and Caroline Rhea. Both Perez and Brooks had spoken the night before at the inauguration protest organized by Michael Moore and Mark Ruffalo.
Toward the end of the concert, which stretched to almost three hours following a late start, Rudetsky and Wesley said they intended to make “Concert for America” a monthly series, with the next one set to play New York Feb. 25 and a Chicago edition planned for March 19. Before then, the livestream of the Jan. 20 concert will be rebroadcast on the organization’s website Sunday evening at 9:00 pm EST.