You can love a family member but want to go upside his head when he does something that strikes you as insanely wrong.
That’s the motivation behind “Broadway Voices for NC,” a fundraising concert in Manhattan on June 13. More than a dozen North Carolina natives who make a living in the theater community will raise money to fight the effects of House Bill 2.
And they’re bringing in heavy ammo: Tony-winning composers Jeanine Tesori (whose “Fun Home” is on Blumenthal’s 2016-17 Broadway Lights roster) and Stephen Schwartz, one of the first and most outspoken opponents of this controversial bill.
The roster includes Ariana DeBose of “Hamilton,” Tony winner Beth Leavel (“The Drowsy Chaperone”), Tally Sessions from “School of Rock,” Brandon Ellis of “Once” and more. Laurel Harris (who toured as Elphaba in “Wicked”) and Rob Marnell (“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”) put this together.
Harris and Marnell met as kids in Raleigh; she attended Enloe High School, one of the first (she thinks) to create a gay-straight student alliance in the ’00s. She was taught “from a young age by my parents to love and accept all. I grew up in Pullen Memorial Baptist, a loving and progressive church, and I’ve been in New York for 10 years in a loving (theater) community. Now I am having to defend the place where I grew up and say, ‘That’s not me. That’s not my family.’ ”
So she and Marnell, who married in 2014, pulled together this benefit. They tapped North Carolina pals, who she says are easy to locate in Manhattan sports bars when UNC or Duke play. She invited Tesori, whom she calls “my New York City mother: I was her personal assistant for a while, and we became close friends.”
And she approached Schwartz, whom she’d met during casting for the “Wicked” tour. He has banned all productions of his shows – “Wicked,” “Pippin,” “Godspell” and the rest – in North Carolina until the bill gets amended or repealed, and he sent a fiery email to theater colleagues asking them to do the same. It included these words: “In the 1970s, I, along with many other writers and artists, participated in a similar action against apartheid in South Africa. And as you know, this eventually proved to be very effective.”
He reaffirmed those feelings in a phone conversation Wednesday: “There have been times when a concerted isolating of a society – where you know many (residents) are not in sympathy with what’s happening – has been an inducement to people who might otherwise have sat by to take action.
“This (bill) shocked me, because I have friends all over the state, and I’ve been dealing with enlightened and forward-looking people there. We also don’t want our shows done in Mississippi, but what Mississippi did was less surprising. My experiences in North Carolina have all been positive … and my hope is, the more tolerant people will be galvanized to act.”
Schwartz notes the bill goes beyond denying bathroom choices to transgender people. It permits discrimination against LGBT folks and prevents cities from setting a higher minimum wage than the state.
That’s why transgender writer-activist Vivian Taylor (another North Carolina native) will be the evening’s keynote speaker, touching on labor issues. Geena Rocero, a Filipina-American supermodel and transgender activist, will host.
The concert has two goals. First, it will raise money for Equality NC, an organization protesting the bill, and local LGBT support groups in North Carolina (Charlotte’s among them.) Second, it’s meant to provide a good time.
“We don’t want everything to be super-preachy,” says Harris. “Our theme will be empowerment, but we have comic relief and numbers from Broadway shows our singers were in.
“Of course, we have to have ‘Privilege to Pee’ from ‘Urinetown.’ But the whole evening won’t be satirical: There’ll be bluegrass and folk numbers. I’m singing ‘Carolina in My Mind,’ because I want people to see the North Carolina I knew and loved.”
Says Schwartz, “It’s not about smart-ass Yankee liberals – or however we are being categorized – trying to interfere in local government. It’s a concert by people who are proud to be from North Carolina and see things (going) in the wrong direction.”