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Broadway Stands Up for Freedom!

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Broadway Stands Up for Freedom!, a benefit concert to support the youth programs of the New York Civil Liberties Union, returns for its 6th stunning year on Monday, July 21 at 7:30PM in the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (566 La Guardia Place, Washington Square South).

Broadway Stands for Freedom! focuses the spotlight on the NYCLU's dedication to reproductive rights and other civil liberties issues relevant to young people.

Jen Bender directs a star-studded cast through a night of musical treats, superb story-telling and poetry, with musical direction by Seth Rudetsky.  Participating stars (subject to change) include: Daphne Rubin-Vega, Anthony Rapp, Kathleen Chalfant, Julia Murney, Daniel Sunjata, Cheyenne Jackson, Gavin Creel, Darius de Haas, cast of Godspell revival, plus founding performers Liana Stampur and Erich Bergen.  Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winners Tony Kushner and Stephen Sondheim are honorary chairs.

Atop the southern-most skyscraper in Manhattan, with a gasp-inducing view of all four "waterfalls," BroadwayWorld contributor Eugene Lovendusky spoke to five energetic and take-action-minded individuals who help piece-together this special one-night-only benefit... Donna Lieberman (Executive Director of NYCLU), Jen Bender (Director, resident-director of The Lion King), Daniel Goldstein (Former-Director, director of Broadway-bound revival Godspell), Todd Buonopane (Broadway-bound Angels, ...Spelling Bee) and Celia Keenan-Bolger (Saved, Les Miserables, ...Spelling Bee).  

Each shared their unique history of involvement with the New York Civil Liberties Union and the giving nature of the theatre community...


CLICK HERE for "Broadway Stands Up for Freedom" Video

Eugene Lovendusky: Thanks so much, all of you, for comig down on a Monday evening to chat with BroadwayWorld. And it's such a privilege to have you in the room, Donna. Another Broadway Stands Up for Freedom! concert is right around the corner – you excited?

Todd Buonopane: I think we're excited that it just gets bigger and bigger.  Celia, Danny and I have been involved for three years…

Jen Bender: This is my first year.

Donna Lieberman: And my sixth! I've been with it from the beginning.

Eugene: Broadway Stands For Freedom! may be an evening of singing and art in its highest form.  But it is also a benefit for a very important (but also a somewhat controversial) organization. Paint us a better picture of what NYCLU does…

Donna: The big stuff NYCLU is taking-on now involves American people's personal liberties, equal opportunity and privacy. Access to education is huge; over-policing of our schools; racial profiling by police. Then of course we fight against warrantless wire-tapping, habeus corpus, reproductive rights, same-sex marriage. We have our hands in all of that.  I never thought I'd hear myself say it, but we're "the law and order guys." 

Todd: The California case that won gay marriage is an ACLU thing, right?

Donna: In New York, we still don't recognize all the marriages that we should. But the NYCLU brought a law-suit to win the right of people who get married in another state or country, to have that marriage recognized here in New York. As a result of that case, Governor Patterson recently issued a mandate to all state agencies instructing them to come-up with whatever regulations they need to, to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. It was a courageous thing for him, because he didn't have to do it.

Todd: It's important for our BroadwayWorld readers to know how the NYCLU is directly affecting their lives.

Eugene: Thanks for your hard-work.  How does Broadway Stands For Freedom! serve as a platform for NYCLU's message?

Daniel Goldstein: The point of the concert is not necessarily to get a message out but more to raise awareness of the NYCLU.

Celia Keenan-Bolger: When you're isolated in the theatre community as an actor, you have causes that are very important to you – certainly the Actor's Fund and Broadway Cares are the two major forces that the New York theatre community does a lot of benefits for.  There's so much happening in New York, it can be difficult to get involved. Todd and I were interested in broadening the scope for our fellow actors and what else we can support.  Particularly, there's such a huge population of homosexuals in the theatre community…

Todd: Really...?

Donna: There are homosexuals here?

Celia: I know, I didn't really want to bring it up… But there are! [laughs] I felt like the Civil Liberties Union is an organization that is constantly fighting for their rights.  Some actors don't know about the organization.  It's a place that's not necessarily on their radar.

Daniel: The message of the benefit is simply that the ACLU and NYCLU exist – and these are some of the things they cover.  The main focus of the concert is for the Teen Youth Initiative. We also put into the show two contributors from the NYCLU Student Expression Contest, which are ways that students express themes that have to do with their efforts – and we get really fancy actors to read them at the event.

Eugene: These are kids who heard about the contest, wrote a poem or story, and submitted them to the NYCLU…?

Donna: The contest is kind of new. We get a couple hundred applicants a year, but it's growing.  Some of the applicants are pretty amazing. It's an opportunity for young people to have their voices heard. I remember last year, one of the kids wrote a poem about how school is failing him and he feels like he is going to be cannon-fodder. And it was read by Denis O'Hare. It was incredible – actors can do amazing things with the words they're giving – but also for this kid. This kid from a New York public school tried his hand at writing poetry and look what happened! It's fabulous.

Todd: Going back to what Celia was saying earlier; Celia and I went to school together, and we soon realized that a lot of our actor friends didn't vote.  I think it's fair to say that a lot of actors have similar political views – given the number of gays and liberal-minded artists. But these people didn't vote! You will never find a more generous person than an actor in the New York theatre community. People give of their time so willingly for benefits like Broadway Cares; staying-up late counting and collecting money after 8 shows a week… But this concert gives them a chance to actually get political and to really stand-up for something…

Jen: Because we're so involved in the theatre community, it can sometimes become kind of a bubble.  Some of us can lose-touch with the rest of the world. I think everybody's eager to have something else to sink their teeth into and to fight for something that feels really meaningful.

Celia: That's the amazing thing about this concert.  All of the people from the Civil Liberties Union are appreciating it as a night of great performers.  And the people from the Broadway community are coming to learn about an organization they didn't necessarily know about.  Everybody is getting something out of it.

Jen: There are so many benefits on Monday nights! And often, I go to benefits where the charity is pushed to the back, I have to be reminded who we're doing this for.  With "Broadway Stands For Freedom" – because of the essays and the presenters we've assembled – the organization is at the forefront of this concert and what we're doing.

Daniel: People tend to choose songs that mean something. A few years ago,  Michael Cerveris sang some Bob Dylan; Cheyenne Jackson sang Sam Cooke's "Change Is Gonna Come."

Donna: I was particularly touched after I sent a totally-blind letter to Stephen Sondheim, and he emailed me back to say he'd love to be associated with this.  The civil liberties and the arts are really natural allies.  When you push the envelope, there's going to be a time when you need the Civil Liberties Union.  The CLU has come to the defense of artists on numerous occasions to protect their right to say what they have to say. Whether its freedom from censorship or a sensation art-show.

Eugene: Look at that production of Ragtime in Indiana…

Donna: Talk to the guys who do these shows on tour! I was stunned to learn that they censor their shows for certain audiences in certain geographies because they're worried about getting picketed.

Eugene: Theatre is often the first vehicle of mainstream media to touch on something important.  West Side Story: Interracial romance. Falsettos: The AIDS crisis. Theatre is always first! This benefit focuses on youth. Why is it important to be defending young people's rights?

Todd: I went to theatre camp growing-up. At the age of 11, I was given a voice and told that what I had to say was important. So many kids are told that they are supposed to be seen and not heard…

Donna: We talk around the office so often that this generation of kids is being raised to be desensitized to their rights.  In order to go to school, they have to open their backpacks, take off their belts, take off their jackets, get wanded up and down – as adolescents when they're already worried about their own bodies. Their expectation to privacy is totally shot to hell.  It's important to us that these kids know they are the future for freedom in our country.  We can't afford to let what's happening in our country and cities to go unchallenged. We are there to empower them and to help them understand that they have rights and we're there to defend them.

Jen: What's exciting about this generation is that they can start a blog. They've got all these resources to express themselves that they haven't had in the past. The kids that most need to express themselves need to be told that these are the people that can help you to do it. They do have a voice – probably more-so than any other generation before them.

Eugene: Broadway Stands Up for Freedom! was started by members of that very generation, correct?

Donna: Liana Stampur, my daughter, started this benefit six years ago. It was actually her high-school graduation present. She filled Danny's Skylight room and with her soccer friends and parents and kids from school and family. We must have raised about $3,000. We were so thrilled. She recruited Erich Bergen, who is now in Jersey Boys tour; and Dana Steingold, who is now in Godspell.  They all knew each other from Stage Door.

Daniel: I know Todd from Stage Door…

Donna: …and there was a Stage Door reunion a few years ago…

Daniel: …where Todd and I sang a song together (I hit a G)…

Todd: …and that's where I met Donna and Liana…

Donna: …and Liana connected us all together. That is when the show moved to another level; where we moved it to bigger theatres in Symphony Space. It was so cool. Now we're at Skirball. It feels so grand and we have top people! Last year, I think the greatest surprise of all was when [title of show] did a piece that nobody knew was coming…

Todd: Susan Blackwell and Hunter Bell wrote this piece about their first Broadway shows. Susan talked about Angels in America and Hunter talked about Annie. And they even mentioned NYCLU – there was not a dry-eye in the house.

Eugene: Who do you have this year?

Jen: We have Daphne Rubin-Vega, Anthony Rapp, Cheyenne Jackson, Julia Murney, Erich Bergen, John Gallagher Jr., Darius de Haas, Seth Rudetsky, Gavin Creel

Daniel: …and the entire cast of Godspell. It will be our first public performance – and actually on our first day of rehearsal! I think we'll be singing "All Good Gifts" because Telly can sing the shit out of it.

Donna: And of course we have Tony Kushner, who gives his opening speech each year. It's worth the price of admission. After last year's show, a number of people came-up to me and said: "This is not just as good as a Broadway show. This is better." People just love it.

Eugene: Great line-up, great songs. You'll have a very nice house full of people who want to see these performers. Hopefully at the end of the night, they'll want to know more about NYCLU.  How can people – young and old – get involved?

Donna: Oh, so happy you asked! The easiest way is to visit NYCLU.org; the website is chock-full of the issues we're working on, which change from day to day.

Jen: There's a Facebook page for the event.

Donna: There are student tickets for $12, and regular admission is $60 and $100.  Anybody who wants to come should be able to.  I don't want to see an empty seat or a dry-eye in the house!

Broadway Stands Up for Freedom!: Benefit Concert for the New York Civil Liberties Union -- Monday, July 21 at 7:30PM in the NYC Skirball Center (566 La Guardia Place, Washington Square South). 

NYCLU has evaluated scores of entries – poetry, artwork, music and essays – that young people have submitted to the organization's annual Student Expression contest. The winning entries will be read and/or performed by special guests throughout the performance. 

Tickets: $60 (regular), $100 (priority), $12 (student/senior). For tickets and information: NYCLU.org/Bway or call Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or visit TicketCentral.org.

The New York Civil Liberties Union is one of the nation's foremost defenders of civil liberties and civil rights. Founded in 1951 as the New York affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, the NYCLU is a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization with eight offices across the state and nearly 50,000 members. The NYCLU's mission is to defend and promote the fundamental principles and values embodied in the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution, and the New York Constitution, including freedom of speech and religion, and the right to privacy, equality and due process of law for all New Yorkers. For more information about the NYCLU, visit NYCLU.org.

Photos, top-bottom: Celia Keenan-Bolger, Todd Buonopane and Director Jen Bender (courtesy YouTube/NYCLU); NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman and Tony Kushner (2006, Ben Strothmann); Daniel Goldstein,Celia Keenan-Bolger and Todd Buonopane (2007, Linda Lenzi); Donna Lieberman (courtesy NYCLU); Music Director Seth Rudetsky (2006, Ben Strothmann); Celia Keenan-Bolger (2006, Ben Strothmann)

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Eugene Lovendusky Eugene Lovendusky graduated summa cum laude from SFSU with a BA in Writing for Electronic Media and a minor in Drama. Raised in the SF Bay Area, his love for the arts bloomed at an early-age; a passion that has flourished in NYC, where Eugene now lives and works. He is a proud member of the New York City Gay Mens' Chorus.


 
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