|Robin Tibbitts, Larry Hufana, Aulg Tynn and Allen Moy - they helped charm people out of their money to sell raffle tickets.
â€śHelp is on the Way,â€ť Northern Californiaâ€™s largest annual AIDS benefit, staged its 11th event on Aug. 1 at the Palace of Fine Arts. Each year the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation changes the musical theme and the performers, but the basic reason for the REAF shows is to provide funding to local AIDS/HIV organizations. This year the theme was â€śThe 100th Birthday Celebration of the Music of Jule Styne & Harold Arlen,â€ť and the beneficiaries were The Center for AIDS Services in Oakland, Meals of Marin, Positive Resource Center, Shanti, and UCSF AIDS Health Project. As usual, producers Joe Seiler and Ken Henderson provided a star-studded line up of celebrities from Broadway, film, TV, and the recording industry. The Palace foyer was decked out in Arlenâ€™s Wizard of Oz dĂ©cor: Dorothyâ€™s house, the haunted forest (complete with a sign warning: â€śI wouldnâ€™t go in if I were youâ€ť), and a genuine, winding yellow brick road leading from the foyer into the main room. At the gates of Oz stood a green mayor welcoming guests to Emerald City. Within there were Dorothy with her little dog Toto, Glinda the Good Witch, a half naked tin man, a cowardly lion, and a scarecrow with his stuffing coming out. In the center of the room, three Styne/Arlen musicals were represented by models in costumes for Peter Pan, Gypsy, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
The show began with Broadwayâ€™s Michael Lee (Miss Saigon /Rent / Jesus Christ Superstar) singing a highly inspirational â€śMy Shining Hourâ€ť from Skyâ€™s the Limit. Then for a complete change of mood, veteran REAF guest performer Mary Jo Catlett (Broadwayâ€™s Hello Dolly & Pajama Game and TVâ€™s Diffâ€™rent Strokes) teamed up with Jon Maher (the showâ€™s ASL interpreter, who won an award that night for his consistent help eight years signing for REAF, and an accomplished actor as well) with Catlett dressed as Dorothy in pigtails, blue gingham dress, and red Austrian crystal embedded tennis shoes for her ruby slippers. They did a delightful duet of â€śTogetherâ€ť from Gypsy and a Wizard of Oz medley, in which we could easily confirm Maher is definitely a â€śfriend of Dorothy.â€ť Catlett was in her usual top-notch comedienne form. There just wouldnâ€™t be a show without Mary Jo! Next up was a completely different take on â€śIf I Only Had a Brainâ€ť from Wizard of Oz, where Plush Room performer Sony Holland turned the silly scarecrow song into a sultry, smoky cabaret number. Returning theatrical dance champions Gary Franco and Cate Caplin did some knockout choreography to â€śAll I Need is the Girlâ€ť from Bells Are Ringing, including impressive adagio and ballet steps.
Award-winning cabaret singer and actress Meg Mackay returned for her 11th appearance to sing the truly stirring â€śOnce in a Lifetimeâ€ť number from Subways Are for Sleeping. Debby Boone, Grammy and Academy Award-winning recording star (who could ever forget â€śYou Light Up My Lifeâ€ť?!), sang a tremendously moving â€śTime After Timeâ€ť from It Happened in Brooklyn. Betty Garrett (playing Edna De Fazio from TVâ€™s Laverne & Shirley, as well as countless TV shows and MGM musicals) is 85 years old, yet has amazing energy. This, her third appearance, found her dressed head-to-toe in a modest shepherdess outfit, complete with bonnet and crook, singing â€śA Womanâ€™s Prerogativeâ€ť from St. Louis Woman; but she soon took her own prerogative to change, stripping off the meek and mild exterior to reveal an assertive if not downright aggressive dominatrix outfit beneath. She snapped her whip in a show of strength and defiance. The audience went wild! Then out slinked sizzling sex kitten Sally Kellerman (we certainly remember her as Hotlips Houlihan from the movie M*A*S*H*, among other sensual film characters) to half sing/half whisper & moan â€śKilling Time.â€ť Kellerman is currently reprising her role as the mischievous Madame in SFâ€™s Teatro ZinZanni. Cabaret singer Tim Hockenberry, blues and cabaret performer par excellence, gave a throaty, gritty rendition of â€śAs Long as I Liveâ€ť from Cotton Club Parade, utterly mesmerizing the audience with his Joe Cocker-like vocals and trombone solo. Finishing off the first act (I know! That was only Act ONE, for gawdâ€™s sake!) was Broadwayâ€™s Christine Andreas (Oklahoma! / Scarlet Pimpernel, and her Eliza Doolittle during the 20th anniversary production of My Fair Lady) really punched out â€śDonâ€™t Rain on My Parade!â€ť from Funny Girl. The audience needed a 20-minute intermission just to soak all that previous talent in!
Cabaret star Pamela Meyers, Tony nominee for Company and TV star on St. Elsewhere and Major Dad, opened the second act with a bombastic â€śEverythingâ€™s Coming Up Rosesâ€ť from Gypsy. Somewhere in heaven Ethel Merman was really jealous. In an extremely clever gender reversal of â€śGotta Have a Gimmickâ€ť from the same musical, it was male strippers giving their excellent ecdysiast advice to Gypsy Rose Lee: Ray Garcia, Mark W. Smith, and Kevin Spirtas did electrifying, refined, trumpet bumping bits with their naughty bits barely covered. Just hilarious, and really hot! Nancy Dussault, star of Broadway (Carousel, Into the Woods) and TV (Too Close for Comfort), gave a life-affirming version of â€śAc-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positiveâ€ť and eliminated the negative for sure, and then followed with a wistful â€śMake Someone Happy.â€ť Dorian Harewood of Broadway (Two Gentlemen of Verona) and television (Roots I & II /Seventh Heaven) melted hearts with his rich tenor in â€śJust in Timeâ€ť from Bells Are Ringing. Paula West, jazz and cabaret chanteuse, gave a sterling performance of â€śHappiness is Just a Thing Called Joeâ€ť from Cabin in the Sky. Recording star Christa Jackson and Bâ€™way actress (Grease, Always, Patsy Cline / Smokey Joeâ€™s CafĂ©) did her finest Marilyn Monroe in â€śDiamonds Are a Girlâ€™s Best Friendâ€ť from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Unfortunately there were sound difficulties with her microphone making strange noises intermittently, but her bevy of bare-chested boys helped distract us from that minor annoyance.
Screen legend Jane Russell (The Outlaw, The Paleface, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, to name just three classics) wowed the crowd as three hunky bellboys wheeled her in on a luggage cart where she sat perched on suitcases to wave and sing her masterpiece, â€śBye Bye Babyâ€ť from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She still has it and can belt it out, baby. TV/recording star Susan Anton is a Broadway babe (Will Rogers Follies), TV actress (Baywatch), and film star (Cannonball Run II), but this gorgeous Amazon also proved to be a sensational singer with her hot, hot, hot yet ever so cool â€śBlues in the Nightâ€ť that totally blew away the audience. Lorna Luft of Broadway (Promises, Promises) and TV (The Judy Garland Show) gave some fascinating background info and amusing anecdotes on the ups and downs of being a daughter of Judy Garland. She sang with gusto and immaculate phrasing her mamaâ€™s classic â€śThe Man That Got Awayâ€ť from A Star is Born, and really nailed that number. La Judy would surely be proud. The show ended with a unique interpretation of â€śOver the Rainbowâ€ť by interpreter Jon Maher, at first with no musicâ€”just silence and signing of the lyrics, and then just music and no audible words as Maher executed American Sign Language with his skilled hands. At the end the entire cast came out, joined hands, and bowed to the audienceâ€™s resounding applause and standing ovation. Yes, it was another perfectly delightful show by REAF!