There has been a plethora of benefit shows presented in New York in recent weeks, determined to help in the aftermath of the World Trade Center tragedy. One of the most successful was HeartSong: The Heroes' Concert on October 8 at the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village, at which voices, money, and spirits were raised. We call that a win-win-win situation.
Smartly produced by John Hoglund and Erv Raible, and underwritten by Jerome Records, the event featured many of the best musical theater and cabaret performers the world has to offer. Certainly the audience members, some of whom paid $200 per ticket, had to feel that they got their money's worth, even though the three big "L's" didn't show up. Liza Minnelli, Linda Eder, and Liz Callaway could not make it, but there was still so much talent on display that a second performance was added to the one originally planned: There was an early show and a late show, at 7:30 and 10:30, to accommodate both the large number of talents who wanted to perform and the heavy demand for tickets. Any event like this is bound to have its ups and downs, but the highlights of these two concerts would take a month of Cabaret Notes columns to list.
In a night filled with generosity, compassion, and talent, the one and only person to receive a standing ovation was fire chief Thomas Van Essen; when he arrived for the late show, the audience rose to its feet before the man said a word. Also at the late show, Norm Lewis performed a stunning rendition of David Friedman's "We Live on Borrowed Time," the song taking on an altogether different meaning in this new world of terror. One of the most touching moments came when Lea DeLaria spoke of a stewardess she knew who had been on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. DeLaria then performed her jazz version of "Sweeney Todd" with a feral ferocity that spoke volumes about pain. Jay Rogers gently but meaningfully sang "Laughing Matters," a number that is fast becoming the musical antidote to this dark and dangerous era.
Singing wasn't the only form of entertainment. Bea Arthur told a hilarious story about "A Mother's Ingenuity" and Julie Halston (who hosted along with Harvey Fierstein) read passages from her "bible"--Joan Crawford's Way of Life and its companion volume, Conversations With Joan. (Halston had the audience laughing so hard that people attending the big-name comedy benefit at Carnegie Hall that same night could probably hear us.) Charles Busch, in gorgeous, diaphanous drag, performed the monologue "Miriam Sings Piaf" that served as his original inspiration for The Tale of the Allergist's Wife. The entire piece was a riot, but one line in particular had us screaming: Miriam digresses to tell us about her friend, Florence, who is doing an all-Gershwin show called S'Wonderful, S'Marvelous, S'Florence. (Read that out loud if you're not already laughing). By the way, Busch was the best-dressed woman at either show.
Though there was much funny talk to be heard at the benefit, singing was the main order of the night. Many of the performances were built on inspirational or patriotic tunes, and songs that were written about personal relationships became emotional lightning rods for a far more dangerous storm. Baby Jane Dexter's bluesy wail in the compelling anthem "Everybody Hurts" was an unforgettable highlight. Then there were singers who approached the evening from unexpected angles. Tom Andersen chose to celebrate Americana with the adorable baseball song "Right Field," utterly charming the audience with the innocence of his performance. Karen Akers sang "Shenandoah" with all due solemnity in the first show and then, in the late show, noted how reassuring it was to see the Statue of Liberty still standing in the harbor. With that, she launched into a deliciously nutty "torch" number about how the tall, green lady can't get any dates. (Julie Halston came out on stage when she was finished and marveled, "The comedy stylings of Karen Akers. Who knew?")
And who knew that there would be so many great moments? Christine Andreas performed a rousing version of "On a Clear Day." Sally Mayes was Ms. Right singing "He Ain't Mister Right, But He's Mister Right Now." Every performer--including those the audience members instantly recognized, like Michele Lee, and those many of them did not know, like the young up-and-comer Marnie Baumer--left the stage to thunderous, much-deserved applause.
What was the bottom line at The Bottom Line? The event raised over $30,000 for the families of September 11's heroes. It was a heroic effort in itself.