Celia Keenan-Bolger, Eva Price, and Level Forward Honored at October 28th Event to Celebrate Women’s and Trans Rights
by Melissa Griegel
If Laura Benanti ever decides to leave Broadway, she can have a new career as a stand-up comedienne. The theme of the ACLU/NYCLU Broadway benefit this year was “My Body, My Business.” Host for evening, Lauren Benanti (My Fair Lady) arrived on stage dressed as a set of ovaries and preceded to regale the audience with political humor that had the crowd roaring with laughter.
NYCLU president Donna Lieberman and her daughter Liana Stampur gave the opening remarks and talked about how needed the NYCLU is at this moment in time, and how they wanted to honor people in the Broadway industry for their contributions to this end.
The first honoree of the evening was the production company Level Forward. Lead by Abigail Disney, Adrienne Becker, Rachel Gould, and Angie Wang, Level Forward has produced such work as What the Constitution Means to Me, Oklahoma!, Slave Play, and Jagged Little Pill. They are committed to projects spearheaded by female creatives and people of color. Additionally, they strive to level the playing field through innovative revenue sharing partnerships with nonprofits.
Three-time Tony Award-winning producer Eva Price, who is also part of the Level Forward, was also honored for her body of work including her recent shows What the Constitution Means to Me and Oklahoma!. Both shows received two tony wins in 2019.
Celia Keenan-Bolger (To Kill a Mockingbird) was the recipient of the inaugural Michael Friedman Freedom Award. Michael was a theatre composer who was deeply committed to civil liberties and civil rights. Celia Keenan-Bolger comes from a long line of activists. As a founding member of the Broadway Stands Up For Freedom planning committee, she has been one of the most active contributors over the years. The NYCLU and ACLU honored Celia for living a life and pursuing a career dedicated to social justice. She uses her talent and voice to educate, create dialogue, and catalyze social change both on stage and off. This commitment has shown through in her representation of To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway, for which she received a Tony Award in 2019.
Rachel Chavkin – the Tony Award-winning director of the 2019 Best Musical Tony winner Hadestown – directed this year’s event with Annie Tippe as the associate director.
The evening showcased a powerhouse of entertainment. The first song of the evening, “My Body” from The Life was right on theme and was performed by Starr Busby (Octet), Jeannette Bayardelle (Hair), Milli Diaz (Wicked), L Morgan Lee (A Strange Loop), Bianca Leigh (The Nap), Julia Murney (Wicked), Shoba Narayan (The Great Comet), and Aylsha Umphress (On the Town). They were followed by Judy Kuhn singing “Ring of Keys” from her Tony-award winning show Fun Home. NBC’s The Voice singer Wé McDonald belted out “Look Up Child” and Phillipa Soo (Hamilton) gave a rousing rendition of “Just a Girl”.
Carrie Manaolkos (Mamma Mia!) sang an absolutely stunning version of Alanis Moriessette’s “Forgiven” that is featured in the new musical Jagged Little Pill. Lyricist Shaina Taub (Public Works’ Twelfth Night) was joined on stage with Kim Blanck (Octet), Jo Lampert (Joan of Arc), and Liana Stampur (founder, Broadway Stands up for Freedom) to sing her song “She Persisted.” This was followed up with Liana singing her own song “Things My Grandma Taught Me” in honor of her grandmother.
Laura Benanti took off the host hat for a few minutes and sang a funny medley mash-up of pro-female songs, joined on stage by Kelli O’Hara (Kiss Me Kate) and L. Morgan Lee. Montego Glover (Memphis) gave a very powerful and moving performance, singing “Ain’t Nothing But a Kiss” from Memphis. In tribute to Michael Friedman, Kelli O’Hara performed “Utopia” from Michael’s The State of the Union Songbook.
Eva Noblezada (Hadestown) graced the stage with the final performance of the evening. Backed by the Brooklyn Youth Choir, she beautifully sang “Huddled Masses” to the delight of the audience.
The evening’s honorees were given remarks by Heidi Schreck, Alexander Dinelaris, Rebecca Traister, and Bartlett Sher. The concert was a huge success and raised money for the NYCLU.
Photos by Melissa Griegel