By Brian Scott Lipton . . .
Julie Halston is more than just one of the theater and cabaret world’s most beloved treasures. As the host of the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation’s (PFF) annual Broadway Belts for PFF! benefit, which will be held on Friday, March 12 at 7pm on the PFF’s YouTube and Facebook channels, she both honors her late husband, radio broadcaster Ralph Howard, and helps raise money for a very important cause.
This year, Halston will be joined by co-host Jim Caruso, along with Annaleigh Ashford, Robert Creighton, Christine Ebersole, Darlene Love, Andrew Rannells and Max von Essen, which should make for an amazing evening! Halston recently spoke to Theater Pizzazz about the plusses and minuses of doing this benefit virtually, why the PFF is more important to her than ever, and her many other projects during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Q: Were you nervous about having to do this virtually?
JH: At first, when we talked about making the decision to do it this way, I was. But then I realized that we’ve all learned that there are many ways to prerecord this, which may be why I was lucky to get so many incredible guests! And I also realized that we not only have a built-in audience, but more people can “attend” than ever before. And even better, I don’t have to worry about what tablecloth or centerpieces to choose or who is having the salmon. I think it’s wonderful that people can sit at home, wear what they want, and donate if and when they want. I think the only bad part is that Jim and I can’t really curse on camera!
Q: How important is PFF to you?
JH: When Ralph got his transplant, he was able to keep his wonderful voice. One thing the PFF can really do is help people who are suffering find the right doctors, treatment, resources, caregivers. And there are over 200,000 people living with this disease. Plus, the issue of lung health has never been more in the news, since a lot of people who have COVID develop PF. If I can continue to put these two passions of mine together, preserving Ralph’s legacy and entertaining people, then not only will he never be forgotten, but I feel like I will always have my life’s work.
Q: I hope that doesn’t mean you’re giving up acting or your online series Virtual Halston?
JH: No! I plan on continuing doing both. Just like Tootsie saved my life after Ralph died, doing Virtual Halston has saved my life during COVID. I just wanted to go to bed for months, so I really want to thank my friend, Jim Caruso, for making me do this. And even if it looks spontaneous, believe me, it’s not. I really plan each show and I work hard on my script. Amazingly, nobody I have ever asked to be on it has said no. In fact, people are now calling me and asking to be part of it. It’s so fun; how could I stop now!
Q: Have you done other work during the pandemic?
JH: Yes, the last year has been a pretty lonely time for me, being single, so I try to keep busy. I have written a play with Richard Greenberg and Maddie Corman about life in quarantine that turns into a modern mystery. The Bucks County Playhouse wants to stage it, and Maddie and I will both be acting in it, along with two men we need to cast.
Q: And I hear you did a movie with your best friend, Charles Busch, called The Sixth Reel?
JH: About a year ago, Charles calls me and says I’m going to write a film script. And I know when he does something, I’ll be in it. Then last summer, I get another call from him saying, “you have to learn your lines now, you are in every scene.” I almost fainted. It’s about these crazy people who are all after a piece of lost film – aka the sixth reel. My character is this woman who is living in Boca and who is the heir to the estate with film. And yes, Charles is playing a man, but there are two scenes when we end up in the other gender’s drag. And in men’s clothes, I swear to God, I looked like my father. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I hear it’s adorable and that Charles hopes to get it on the film festival circuit.
Q: Finally, is there any word if you will reprise the role of Bitsy von Muffling on the new “sequel” to Sex and the City?
JH: Honestly, I’m hearing all sorts of things; and as someone who worked on this series, I know things can change at a moment’s notice. But I do think, whatever happens, this is the perfect time for this show. The original was a valentine to NYC, and right now, we need that more than ever!