Twelve years ago, Ruby Rims had the quixotic notion to give teddy bears to kids in New York City AIDS wards at Christmas time. Stricken with AIDS himself, Rims enlisted the help of musical director John McMahon and rounded up a slew of his fellow cabaret performers. Thus was born TeddyCares, a hugely successful series of benefit variety shows during the holiday season. The cover charge for each show is a mere ten dollars, plus one teddy bear! This year, the money is going to the Manhattan Plaza AIDS Project and the bears will be given to grateful children in hospitals throughout the city. Rims' sweet dream has become a cabaret holiday tradition.
Rims, who was near death several times in the past, is still going strong--and so is TeddyCares. This year's eight shows are showcasing a stupendous array of talent; the series began at the very end of November and continues with performances every Friday at 8 pm and 11 pm through December 21 at Judy*s Chelsea. We went to one of the two packed opening night performances on November 30 and gloried in the variety of top-notch performers. Here are just some of the highlights:
The show began on an emotional high as Rims introduced Rochelle Seldin, who was one of three co-owners of Eighty Eight's, the much-missed club where TeddyCares first began its run. Seldin's rendition of "Never Never Land" was gift-wrapped with sincerity and warmly received by an appreciative audience. She was followed by Aaron Lee Battle, who performed a big, blowout version of "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home." Then KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler sang a charming duet of Carol Hall's "Hard Candy Christmas."
Next up was Karen Mason, currently starring on Broadway in Mamma Mia! Her tongue-in-cheek sexy performance of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" was a sensation. Jim Caruso was in the unenviable position of having to follow Mason: "I wouldn't give this spot to a leopard," he quipped. But, by the time he was through singing the comic gem "The Boy From Fire Island," the next performer--jazz artist Mary Foster Conklin--might have made the same comment in reference to Caruso's performance. Singing "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," Conklin warmed the audience, then surprised us by duetting on a contemporary, cleverly irreverent Christmas tune with the show's musical director, John McMahon. Georga Osborne also sang a freshly minted Christmas number by D. Jay Bradley, while the tight harmonies of Eastern Standard Time were on display in "Sentimental Gentleman From Georgia."
Ruby Rims, a teddy bear of man (and woman), closed the show. A famous New York City drag queen, Rims was dressed to the nines; in fact, his ensemble approached double digits. Nonetheless, he/she performed a stirring and downright macho rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." The audience demanded an encore and Rims capped the evening perfectly with the sweet and funny TeddyCares theme song composed by Jay Jeffries and John McMahon.
In the weeks ahead, TeddyCares audiences will get to see and hear the likes of Charles Cermele, Jeff Harnar, Jeanne MacDonald, Sidney Myer, Julie Reyburn, Tom Andersen, Annie Hughes, Scott Coulter, Lennie Watts, Rick Crom, James Beaman, Tommy Femia, and Richard Skipper at Judy*s. And that's just a fraction of the performers who'll be on hand.