A multitude of Broadway and Orlando performers gather for back-to-back shows to benefit LGBT groups—and lift a city’s spirit.
There were a lot of songs Brian Stokes Mitchell could have chosen to sing Monday night. But there was no question in his mind which one would best suit the occasion.
“Stokes,” as everyone calls him, is a likeable presence in Broadway circles, a Tony award-winning baritone who has played leading roles in the likes of Ragtime, Sweeney Todd, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Kiss Me Kate, and South Pacific.
But when he came to Orlando earlier this week to join a star-studded ensemble of Broadway luminaries for the “From Broadway with Love” benefit concert at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, one song came to mind before all the others. He sang “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha, a title role he performed in a 2002 revival of a beloved tribute to the human spirit, epitomized by a song about having the courage to come face to face, again and again and no matter what, with a challenge that looks insurmountable.
“This is a song for people who are in a place so dark that they have to fight to get back in touch with their own humanity,” said Stokes, just before the sold-out show whose proceeds went to three Orlando area non-profit LGBT organizations. “When I would sing that song, I could always look out into the audience, and single out the faces of people who could relate to it, people who were going through terrible challenges.”
Stokes, who would also perform at the Democratic Convention later in the week, had no trouble finding those faces Monday night. The sold-out Walt Disney Theater was filled with them.
“From Broadway with Love” was the second of two extraordinary, historic, back-to-back benefits at the Dr. Phillips Center that not only raised money but elevated spirits. For a community still reeling from the Pulse attack, it was a reverberating wonderment, combining a stunning highlights reel of first-tier Broadway talent with a palpable, textbook demonstration of the communal, healing power the performing arts can wield.
The first wave came on Sunday night, when an entire cast, crew and musical corps of a Broadway show took a break from their run at the Circle in the Square Theatre to perform the play at the Dr. Phillips Center as a benefit. The show was Fun Home, a precedent-setting musical based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel about coming of age as a lesbian. The idea to bring it to Orlando for one night came to cast member Michael Cerveris in the midst of a Sunday matinee performance.
“I had heard about the attack the night before, and was so troubled by it. Then, during the show, I just told myself, ‘We’ve got to go to Orlando.’ ”That sentiment—a visceral instinct to help—was a recurring theme among the performers of both of this week’s benefits. You heard it from a 83-year-old trouper who can still shake her money-maker in Chita Rivera, who starred as Anita in the original, 1957 Broadway production of West Side Story. You heard it from a Broadway newcomer, Justin Sargent, who sang a crowd-rousing version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Sargent, a University of Central Florida graduate, had wanted to come sooner.
“I had friends who were bartenders at Pulse,” he said. “When I heard about what happened, I wanted to come home right away.”
But that’s what they all did this week, all the performers who came here out of the goodness of their hearts to help us heal. They treated this as their home, sharing the pain we felt when an evil thing happened here. They dissolved the distance between us. Who knew that could happen? Who knew that was possible?