Cooper Union Hall Was Ablaze With Chita Rivera, Idina Menzel, Tiny Fey, Jeremy Jordan, Audra McDonald and Many More
by Grace Treston
A tangible atmosphere of courage, emotion, and determination permeated throughout The Cooper Union’s Great Hall on June 30. A team of many, speaking for different facets of one universal goal, came together to entertain and educate at Concert for America.
The Great Hall’s grandeur was the ideal setting for an evening of fiery representation for children who are yet to be reunited with their families. The iconic space has historically been used as a platform for the nation’s greatest speakers – including Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, no less – and the famous podium was a bastion for powerful speeches on Saturday night.
In addition to racking up an impressive ensemble of Broadway icons, Concert for America’s main aim was to benefit four non-profit organizations that are currently working along the United States’ southern border with the aim of protecting the civil and human rights of families.
It would be ridiculous to feign ignorance and say that the night was not political – of course it was. But a key point here is that its objective was not to divide, but to unite. Appealing to both ends of the spectrum, acknowledging the flaws of all former and current administrations, and the structuring of practical and humane solutions were the strengths of Concert for America.
The well-thought-out arguments and solid plans demonstrated by the evening’s speakers were important to hear, and the team’s call for immediate action was thunderous. We all have an obligation to think critically, and educate ourselves from reputable sources on what the right path to take is – but for right here, in this piece, the musicality and theatrics of Broadway’s brightest stars are to be commended.
For a show that had just 10 days of planning, the most recent Concert for America was an incredible achievement. Sirius XM’s Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley clearly worked tirelessly and passionately to get the ball rolling in such a short space of time – and no networking rock was left unturned. Every possible media and theater connection was used to pull off the three-hour concert, and the star-studded cast was outstanding to watch in person.
Naturally, Idina Menzel’s involvement was a major drive of the buzz surrounding the show – the Tony Award winner’s repertoire of stage, film, and TV work is hard to beat. Surprisingly, at the top of the show, Idina shocked the audience by casually walking on to the stage with no formal introduction, boastful fanfare, or drawn-out speeches. Menzel simply strolled to center-stage, waved gleefully, and performed a stripped-back and beautiful rendition of “I See You.” Her hectic work schedule meant that the RENT and Wicked star was forced to disappear as soon as she had arrived, which the audience simultaneously lamented and appreciated.
The presence of legendary Chita Rivera was perhaps the most entertaining point of the entire night. The 85-year-old Broadway queen – who loudly and proudly proclaims her Puerto Rican heritage – gifted the audience with startlingly energetic choreography and priceless spoken gems. Chita provided us with anecdotes from her days in West Side Story, a performance of “America,” and even the duet “The Apple Doesn’t Fall Very Far” with her daughter Lisa Mordente.
An outstanding performance by Shaina Taub of her song “Huddled Masses” marked the emotional high point of the evening, with the collective voices of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus echoing Taub’s powerful lyrics.
James and Seth’s informative banter throughout the show, interspersed with hard-hitting interviews with those working hands-on at detention centers for immigrant children, kept the show grounded and driven.
Tina Fey, with her inimitable charm and insight, managed not to overshadow her two young companions – Fey was accompanied by a young boy and girl, whose poems about the compassion of humanity spoke of wisdom beyond their years.
Other outstanding performances that cannot go unmentioned were that of Audra McDonald singing “Climb Every Mountain,” Jeremy Jordan’s “Over the Rainbow,” Patrick Wilson’s “Breeze Off the River,” Olga Merediz’s “Paciencia y Fe,” Mandy Gonzalez’s “Fearless,” and Keala Settle’s performance of the Academy Award-nominated “This is Me.”
The evening managed to bring a strong sense of hope and might to New York City – and left the audience with the overwhelming feeling that justice will prevail.
Photos: Monica Simoes
To learn more, or to donate towards Al Otro Lado, the Texas Civil Rights Project, the ACLU Foundation of Texas, or the Florence Project, go to www.ConcertsForAmerica.com.