Help is on the Way XII: Bruce Vilanch Performs For The Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation

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REAF Brings Out The Stars For Fabulous AIDS Fundraiser
By Sister Dana Van Iquity
Published: August 3, 2006

The Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation presented Northern California’s largest annual gala and concert on July 30 at the Masonic Center, benefiting ten AIDS service agencies. Over the years REAF has donated over $2 million to over 30 different agencies. “Help is on the Way XII” was truly (as billed) “the hottest party on Nob Hill” and featured a bevy of stars from Broadway to Hollywood to American Idol to So You Think You Can Dance.

The star-studded show began with Franc D’Ambrosio, star of Phantom of the Opera. His rich tenor boomed out “This Is the Moment” from Jekyll & Hyde. Nick Lazarrini and Melody Lacayanga, 2005 winner and second place finalist respectively in TV’s So You Think You Can Dance talent show used the original complicated choreography from Chicago’s “All That Jazz” with all those acrobatics.

Handsome hunk Lorenzo Lamas (The Bold & The Beautiful soap star and star of Air America) sang “It’s Impossible” and his impossibly good looks shone through the lilting lyrics such as: “Can the ocean keep from rushing to the shore? To live without your love is just impossible.” Mary Jo Catlett can always be counted on for a hilarious number, but this time this Broadway star of Hello Dolly! and Pajama Game, as well as TV’s Diff’rent Strokes, pulled out all the stops with “Smokin’,” about her happy habit of the use of a particular herb in her cooking, which she did in the voice and mannerisms of the late Julia Child.

Pop recording star Jordan Knight (originally from the New Kids on the Block boy band) and pop star Deborah Gibson (who is also famous for Broadway’s Les Miserables and Beauty & The Beast) sang a gorgeous, bittersweet duet, “Say Goodbye.” Bruce Vilanch—writer, comedian, and TV star (who could forget his raucous center square in Hollywood Squares?!), not to mention his “Divine” performances in Hairspray)—sang a bit about being a fabulous housewife with sexy double entendres, “I Can Cook, Too” from On the Town. He joked about his recent stint on the reality show, Celebrity Fit Club “as a D-list celebrity whose team captain was Chastity Bono, for whom I am frequently mistaken …by her own mother.”

Changing the mood completely, American Idol star and recording artist Kimberley Locke belted out a slower, bluesier version of “Over the Rainbow” and was not the least bit pitchy, Mr. Simon Cowell!

Act 2 brought back Vilanch teamed with Leslie Jordan (famous as Brother Boy in the play and the movie of Sordid Lives; as well as the lovable serial killer in Boston Legal; and who is up for an Emmy for his ongoing closeted character on Will & Grace, for which we are crossing our fingers). They sang new, queer words to that old I Love Lucy standard, “Friendship” (“If ever you need a pal, I’m your gal”), interrupted by little riffs and friendly cuts against each other regarding their queerness. “Short, short, short,” said Vilanch to Jordan. “Fat, fat, fat,” retorted Jordan to Vilanch. “Bottom, bottom, bottom,” they both screamed in unison.

Tyne Daly (Tony award-winner for Gypsy and six Emmies for TV, including Cagney & Lacey and Judging Amy) knocked it outta the park with “Real Emotional Girl” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Film and TV star Valerie Pettiford (and from Broadway’s Fosse) gave a tender rendition of “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from Show Boat, which she kicked up to a ripping finish. Jazz/blues star Tim Hockenberry sang a smoky “Somewhere” from West Side Story with his trademark down and gritty voice. Ann Runolfsson (Phantom of the Opera/Les Miz/ Victor-Victoria star) sang a sweet, vulnerable “Somebody Loves Me” that soon became less sweet and more intense. Michelle Lee, star of Broadway’s Seesaw and Allergist’s Wife, as well as TV’s long running nighttime soap, Knotts Landing, looked like she came from Dore Alley Fair with her wild outfit. She started out a cappella and then let the strings back her up beautifully with that sweet revenge song, “I Wanna Be Around (When Somebody Breaks Your Heart).” Carole Cook of B’way’s Radio Gals and 42nd Street is always a treat at REAF shows. She did not disappoint this time with “You Can Always Count on Me” and “Nobody Does It Like Me” with her flawless comedic timing and delicious deadpan. She was especially on fire while ribbing the signer. “I’ll break your hands so you’ll never work again,” she joked.

Recording artist La Toya London, American Idol star, sang a composition by herself and Barry J. Eastmond, “Waiting for You,” and told her touching, personal story of her cousin dying from AIDS. “There’s a whole world out there waiting for you,” she belted out with her chorus of seven backup singers. She then brought out all the cast to sing along in a rousing finale of “Help Is on the Way.”

Later on I spoke with some of the cast. Lamas said he really felt supported by the audience. “They were almost participatory,” he said. He explained that the many times he has had to cancel with REAF shows were because of scheduling conflicts. “I don’t really mean to seem like a prima donna,” he said. This year the daytime soap let him off to do the fundraiser as he requested. He said he might be doing a gig at the Plush Room sometime in the future. “I want to do more of this, because I love singing those old standards and for such a great cause,” he said.

Locke said she does a lot of charity events, mostly centered around AIDS and especially with children. “I was eager to do this when they called me,” she said. She chose “Over the Rainbow” because “It’s a song of hope, of what we all are longing for. We hope there’s gonna be a cure.” I suggested, “And for all the queers out there, right?” She laughed, “They loves them their little Judy Garland, they do.”

Daly said she loves doing the REAF shows “because there is no cure for AIDS and there ought to be.” She said, “It’s a worldwide disaster, and I’ve lost too many friends to not do what I can do.” She added, “And secondly, the musical director David Galligan lets me experiment and do something unexpected.” She said in talking with other cast members, they all found us to be a great audience. “You all have been nothing but welcome and acceptance,” said Daly. She said she is resting on her laurels after doing a play in New York “that got very nice attention.” She said we would continue to see her at other AIDS fundraisers.

Catlett said she loved doing her song and the Julia Child impression, and now she wonders how she can top that for her next appearance with REAF. We joked that the song was only about medical marijuana. “It’s all acting,” she said. “I really am naughty, aren’t I?” She then said I should advertise in Bay Times for her to find “a wealthy widower out there who would like a very devoted woman,” and added, “Oh I must be getting drunk now.” She concluded, “I see so many gorgeous men here—that I think SOMEBODY must be straight here.” To them she says, “Oh please, oh please, call me!” and takes another sip from her Cosmo.

REAF will present another fabulous “ONE NIGHT ONLY” with the combined touring casts of Best of Broadway’s A Chorus Line and The Light at the Piazza. Broadway star Carole Cook will act as MC, Monday, Aug. 21 at Club Fugazi (home to Beach Blanket Babylon).

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