CABARET LIFE NYC: For Kids With HIV, Help Is On The Way Thanks to Joseph Macchia's Cabaret Cares Shows
Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
To say the evening was bittersweet when Joseph Macchia won his first MAC Award (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) in 2009 for his recurring series/variety show Cabaret Cares would be an understatement. As Macchia walked to the stage at B.B. King's Blues Club to accept the award his heart was heavier than on overwrought ballad. Earlier that day, he had learned about the death of a nine-year-old boy who had been HIV positive and had been receiving help from his non-profit organization Help Is On The Way Today, which was predominantly funded by money raised through the Cabaret Cares variety shows. It was a night he says he'll never forget.
"He was the first of three kids that we've lost to AIDS since starting the non-profit and that one hit me really hard," Macchia remembers. "He had gotten an ear infection and his HIV status just blew up. His parents had no money and the funeral home refused to bury him unless they got paid, so my organization stepped in and took care of the burial expenses."
On September 21, Macchia--who works full-time as a florist by day and part-time as a manager at the Metropolitan Room by night--will celebrate his "Fierce and Fabulous" 40th birthday with the launch of Season Eight of Cabaret Cares. Over the first seven years of the variety series, now staged at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, Macchia has raised more than $80,000 to help children from infants to teenagers suffering from HIV and AIDS. During the first year, funds raised through the Cabaret Cares benefit shows helped 22 children. Now Macchia's Help Is On The Way charity--which is run out of Joseph's home and has no salaried staff--services around 650 kids, supplying everything from school backpacks to weeks at a summer camp.
Macchia's devotion to the AIDS cause began 20 years ago when he became a volunteer for Broadway Cares: Equity Fights AIDS, which he is still involved with today. In 1998, he began producing cabaret shows for his brother, the cabaret performer and actor Peter Mac, and soon combined his two passions. "I learned so much about the AIDS crisis during that time and I wanted to use my producing skills to make a difference," Macchia relates. So he started producing monthly cabaret benefit shows and would donate the money to Broadway Cares. Then in May 2004, he launched Cabaret Cares at Helen's Restaurant and Piano Lounge in Chelsea, staging a weekly benefit variety show on Monday nights for eight straight weeks for about 30-60 paying customers per show.
"I had no idea what I was doing then," Macchia admits. "I just wanted to do a benefit series. I would go to every stage door on Broadway and drop off a letter about the benefit hoping that the cast would agree to perform on their off night. I finally got a bunch of chorus kids from Broadway musicals like The Producers, and we'd also present shows with a few individual cabaret performers like KT Sullivan, Karen Kohler and Mark Nadler.
In 2004, Macchia decided that he needed to do more and visited the Incarnation Children's Center in Washington Heights, a group home that houses 22 children year-round. He met 11-year-old David, who had both HIV and Cerebral Palsy, had no family, and was in desperate need of a new wheelchair. The home had submitted paperwork to Medicare three times, only to be told David didn't fit the requirements for the wheelchair. Macchia was compelled to raise the money so on February 5, 2005, he produced a show called "Divapalooza 2" and between the sold-out show's proceeds and other donations, he raised the $3,000 needed for David's wheelchair.
Once that season ended, however, Joseph felt burnt out. "I realized doing a weekly series would kill me if I kept it up. After that first year, I took a whole year off to decide if I even wanted to do it anymore. Then Helen's closed and I went to the Laurie Beechman and they welcomed us with open arms." Starting up again in 2006, Macchia would produce eight monthly benefit shows from September to May with a big gala at the end of the season. Since the series started, Macchia has featured cast members not only from The Producers, but other Broadway shows such as In the Heights (see photo above), The Little Mermaid, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Jersey Boys, as well as highlighting cabaret stars like Amanda McBroom and Marilyn Maye. Since its launch, Cabaret Cares has been honored with four MAC awards and a Bistro Award. (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)