The Lilly Awards Cabaret: A Powerful Showcase for Women Songwriters

Lesli Margherita, Kate Baldwin, and Billy Porter performed the music of Carole King, Lauren Pritchard, Shaina Taub, and more.

Amanda Green, Julia Jordan, Marsha Norman, and Georgia Stitt at the Lilly Awards Cabaret.
Amanda Green, Julia Jordan, Marsha Norman, and Georgia Stitt at the Lilly Awards Cabaret.
(© Walter McBride)

Anyone looking for proof that there's a startling lack of gender parity in the American theater need look no further than The Count, a study by The Lilly Awards and The Dramatists Guild which found that in the last three years, only 22% of regional theater productions were written by women. Anyone looking for proof that the work being created by female artists is worthy of being produced more consistently need look no further than last night's Lilly Awards Cabaret. The event, which was described by the evening's co-producer/music director Georgia Stitt as "a case against the argument that the work women create isn't as strong," was held at Manhattan music venue The Cutting Room.

"We have an extraordinary evening planned," The Lilly Awards co-founder and board president Marsha Norman told TheaterMania before the event, "full of Broadway stars, full of alcohol…and full of friendship and comradery." The idea, according to Stitt, was to create an evening of fantastic songs that would have the audience singing along and leave them thinking, "Wow, it never even occurred to me that those would have been female songwriters — they're just good songwriters."

As promised, the cabaret, which kicked off with a VIP reception and dinner, featured Broadway favorites like The Drowsy Chaperone's "Show Off" (by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison), performed by current Dames at Sea star Lesli Margherita; Kinky Boots' "Not My Father's Son" (by Cyndi Lauper), performed by Tony winner Billy Porter; Carole King's "Natural Woman," performed by Beautiful star Chilina Kennedy; the Color Purple revival cast performing their show's title number (by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray); Lucy Simon, Michael Korie, and Amy Powers' "He's There" from Doctor Zhivago, performed by the show's star Kelli Barrett; Barbara Anselmi and Jill Abromowitz's "What They Never Tell You" from It Shoulda Been You, performed by Gina Ferrall. Edie Brickell also made an appearance to sing "Way Back in the Day" from Bright Star, the musical she's cowritten with Steve Martin, which, it was announced earlier in the day, will be premiering at Broadway's Cort Theatre this spring.

As an organization, The Lilly Awards (named after playwright Lillian Hellman) are not only focused on celebrating the work of women who have already established their place in the theater industry, but also to, according to their mission statement, "promote gender parity at all levels of theatrical production." To that end, yesterday's cabaret also featured the work of songwriters who have had long careers in the industry without receiving their due recognition, artists who have received accolades regionally and off-Broadway but have yet to break through to Broadway, and women Stitt refers to as "baby songwriters," who audiences "should know but probably don't yet." The aim is to make sure those lesser-known writers "have footing up there next to the Cyndi Laupers and the Carole Kings," Stitt explained, "because they belong there."

Some of these writers on the verge included Lauren Pritchard, whose song from her currently running off-Broadway musical Songbird was performed by the show's star Kate Baldwin and costar Adam Cochran; cabaret star Bridget Everett performing her song "All I'm Asking For"; and Shaina Taub accompanying herself on accordion while singing her song "The Visitors."

Throughout the event, which featured two live auctions, the audience was also given the chance to donate to The Lilly Awards' Family-Friendly Writers Colonies initiative. But perhaps the most valuable opportunity The Lilly Awards Cabaret offered its audience was the chance to learn about the amount of work currently being created by female writers. "I hope to do as many of these as we need to until all women songwriters have been honored and praised," Norman told TheaterMania. As organizations like The Lillys raise awareness about gender-parity issues, it's up to all of us to go out and support the work of women, as Kate Baldwin put it: "It's lovely to come to evenings like this…but actually go to the next Sarah Ruhl play or the next Annie Baker play or the next Georgia Stitt musical. Go, go, go, and buy the ticket."