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 Californiaâ€™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. â€œHelp is on the Way XIIâ€ was truly (as billed) â€œthe hottest party on Nob Hillâ€ 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 Dâ€™Ambrosio, star of Phantom of the Opera. His rich tenor boomed out â€œThis Is the Momentâ€ from Jekyll & Hyde. Nick Lazarrini and Melody Lacayanga, 2005 winner and second place finalist respectively in TVâ€™s So You Think You Can Dance talent show used the original complicated choreography from Chicagoâ€™s â€œAll That Jazzâ€ with all those acrobatics.
Handsome hunk Lorenzo Lamas (The Bold & The Beautiful soap star and star of Air America) sang â€œItâ€™s Impossibleâ€ and his impossibly good looks shone through the lilting lyrics such as: â€œCan the ocean keep from rushing to the shore? To live without your love is just impossible.â€ 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 TVâ€™s Diffâ€™rent Strokes, pulled out all the stops with â€œSmokinâ€™,â€ 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 Broadwayâ€™s Les Miserables and Beauty & The Beast) sang a gorgeous, bittersweet duet, â€œSay Goodbye.â€ Bruce Vilanchâ€”writer, comedian, and TV star (who could forget his raucous center square in Hollywood Squares?!), not to mention his â€œDivineâ€ performances in Hairspray)â€”sang a bit about being a fabulous housewife with sexy double entendres, â€œI Can Cook, Tooâ€ from On the Town. He joked about his recent stint on the reality show, Celebrity Fit Club â€œas a D-list celebrity whose team captain was Chastity Bono, for whom I am frequently mistaken â€¦by her own mother.â€
Changing the mood completely, American Idol star and recording artist Kimberley Locke belted out a slower, bluesier version of â€œOver the Rainbowâ€ 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, â€œFriendshipâ€ (â€œIf ever you need a pal, Iâ€™m your galâ€), interrupted by little riffs and friendly cuts against each other regarding their queerness. â€œShort, short, short,â€ said Vilanch to Jordan. â€œFat, fat, fat,â€ retorted Jordan to Vilanch. â€œBottom, bottom, bottom,â€ 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 â€œReal Emotional Girlâ€ and â€œIâ€™ll Be Seeing You.â€ Film and TV star Valerie Pettiford (and from Broadwayâ€™s Fosse) gave a tender rendition of â€œCanâ€™t Help Lovinâ€™ Dat Manâ€ from Show Boat, which she kicked up to a ripping finish. Jazz/blues star Tim Hockenberry sang a smoky â€œSomewhereâ€ 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 â€œSomebody Loves Meâ€ that soon became less sweet and more intense. Michelle Lee, star of Broadwayâ€™s Seesaw and Allergistâ€™s Wife, as well as TVâ€™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, â€œI Wanna Be Around (When Somebody Breaks Your Heart).â€ Carole Cook of Bâ€™wayâ€™s Radio Gals and 42nd Street is always a treat at REAF shows. She did not disappoint this time with â€œYou Can Always Count on Meâ€ and â€œNobody Does It Like Meâ€ with her flawless comedic timing and delicious deadpan. She was especially on fire while ribbing the signer. â€œIâ€™ll break your hands so youâ€™ll never work again,â€ she joked.
Recording artist La Toya London, American Idol star, sang a composition by herself and Barry J. Eastmond, â€œWaiting for You,â€ and told her touching, personal story of her cousin dying from AIDS. â€œThereâ€™s a whole world out there waiting for you,â€ 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 â€œHelp Is on the Way.â€
Later on I spoke with some of the cast. Lamas said he really felt supported by the audience. â€œThey were almost participatory,â€ he said. He explained that the many times he has had to cancel with REAF shows were because of scheduling conflicts. â€œI donâ€™t really mean to seem like a prima donna,â€ 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. â€œI want to do more of this, because I love singing those old standards and for such a great cause,â€ he said.
Locke said she does a lot of charity events, mostly centered around AIDS and especially with children. â€œI was eager to do this when they called me,â€ she said. She chose â€œOver the Rainbowâ€ because â€œItâ€™s a song of hope, of what we all are longing for. We hope thereâ€™s gonna be a cure.â€ I suggested, â€œAnd for all the queers out there, right?â€ She laughed, â€œThey loves them their little Judy Garland, they do.â€
Daly said she loves doing the REAF shows â€œbecause there is no cure for AIDS and there ought to be.â€ She said, â€œItâ€™s a worldwide disaster, and Iâ€™ve lost too many friends to not do what I can do.â€ She added, â€œAnd secondly, the musical director David Galligan lets me experiment and do something unexpected.â€ She said in talking with other cast members, they all found us to be a great audience. â€œYou all have been nothing but welcome and acceptance,â€ said Daly. She said she is resting on her laurels after doing a play in New York â€œthat got very nice attention.â€ 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. â€œItâ€™s all acting,â€ she said. â€œI really am naughty, arenâ€™t I?â€ She then said I should advertise in Bay Times for her to find â€œa wealthy widower out there who would like a very devoted woman,â€ and added, â€œOh I must be getting drunk now.â€ She concluded, â€œI see so many gorgeous men hereâ€”that I think SOMEBODY must be straight here.â€ To them she says, â€œOh please, oh please, call me!â€ and takes another sip from her Cosmo.
REAF will present another fabulous â€œONE NIGHT ONLYâ€ with the combined touring casts of Best of Broadwayâ€™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).