The week began with a fabulous small fundraiser for Broadway Inspirational Voices, which began years ago as the Broadway Gospel Choir. It was held in the penthouse of the American Airlines Theatre and honored André De Shields, LaChanze, and Alex Lacamoire. James and I were asked to host and had a fantastic time. Many of you may know the original music director and founder of the choir was Michael McElroy. He is an incredible vocal arranger. I hired Michael and his frequent collaborator, Joseph Joubert, for the vocal arrangements and the orchestrations for my show, Disaster!, when it went to Broadway. Listen to how great it sounded!
I’ve known Michael for years. Our early hilarious experiences led to this video about a dead-eyed vibrato. Watch!
Last year, Michael wound up getting an amazing job chairing the musical theatre department at Michigan and left the choir but before he left, he handpicked his replacement, the incredible Allen René Louis. Holy cow! The choir sang Allen’s arrangements during the gala and they were amazing. You must go see their December concert!
Angela Robinson gave a beautiful introduction to LaChanze. Then, Mandy Gonzalez gave a heartfelt speech and sang to introduce Alex for his award. Finally, Lillias White spoke at length about André De Shields before his award. She talked about what a brilliant director he was for her when she played Bessie Smith. She also talked about how mesmerizing he was and how she always wanted to kiss him. Well, André then got up to receive his award and told the audience they had better donate to the choir ASAP because they were going to witness Lillias’ dream come true. He was going to kiss her! He geared up to kiss her, but before he planted it, he clarified the audience that he was Hermes The First in Hadestown. André then went on to say that Lillias, who is now playing the role, is also Hermes The First, because she is the first woman to step into the character. He concluded by telling the audience we were going to see, “what the gods did on Mount Olympus." Boy, did they make out. The crowd went wild and the donations came pouring in!
James and I did the text-to-fundraise segment of the gala and were thrilled to see how many donations were raised during our time on stage. I told the crowd that if we were able to raise $5,000, I would do a special off-the-cuff performance. I promised to make the Dreamgirls alum in the room perform the end of Act One fight scene, for real! Well, we got that additional $5,000, and I started hauling those divas onstage. Angela Robinson, who had played Deena numerous times, came up first. She looked so stunning. LaChanze, who had just been honored was not expecting to sing. Adrienne Lennox, was recruited for Lorell. Afterwards, she told me she could not believe how high she had to sing since she now only sings tenor. Finally, I told Lillias she had to be Effie. Lillias' retort? “It’s my night off.”
It was so good and is well worth the watch!
Speaking of Lillias, I’m going to be in concert with her this coming Thursday night in Los Angeles at The Wallis. Get tickets here!
Speaking of concerts, I have some fabulous live stream concerts coming up. October 30 is Julie Benko, the current cover for Fanny Brice in Broadway's Funny Girl, followed by Javier Muñoz on November 6. The original Annie herself, Andrea McArdle, will perform with me on November 13.
On the topic of Javier Muñoz, I had him on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show. He talked about how, for many years, he had difficulty getting work because he didn’t look Latin enough to get Latino roles, according to the powers-that-be. He was also told he didn’t look non-Latin enough to get non-Latin roles.
I knew the perception of him changed when he did In The Heights, so I asked how he got connected with Lin-Manuel Miranda. It turns out, the connection formed in a dark place. Javi told me that both his parents developed cancer in the same year he was diagnosed with HIV. He moved back home to help out, and because he wasn’t earning enough money in show business, he decided to finally give up his dreams and get a steady job. He became a restaurant manager, but was decidedly not enjoying it.
Around that same time, his friend from college asked him if he would do a reading of a new musical he had written. Javi kept saying no because he needed to be officially out of the business. After a few asks, he decided to do the reading as his farewell performing. On the first day of rehearsal, he noticed Jené Hernandez, who he had not yet met. Why did he notice her? Well because she was noticing him. He could feel that she was staring at him throughout the day. Was he imagining it? Why was she so transfixed with him?
Later that night, he received a message from her telling him that yes she was indeed looking at him because she was performing in another new musical and thought Javi would be perfect for a part they were looking to cast. Another show? Uh-uh. Javi was supposed to be done with show business! Well, instead of deleting her message, Javi thought it was sign that maybe he should keep performing and not treat this current reading as a swan song. Javi asked her to meet with him at his restaurant during a break to talk about this show. She did, bringing along a demo CD. He began to play the demo for In The Heights on his Discman (hey, it was a while ago!). Not surprisingly, he was blown away.
Javi had never heard anything like that on Broadway. Later, as he read the script, he was even more enchanted. Javi said all of the roles he had been trying out for were for drug dealers or thugs. This show was about Latin folks who weren’t involved with drugs or gang members. There was no violence. It reminded him of his family, something he had never read before in a musical.
Javi auditioned for the reading of In The Heights and was offered the role of Nina’s brother, Lincoln, which wound up being cut in the final version of the show. While in the reading, he met Lin and became his stand-in. Javi stopped playing Lincoln and, as the show was developed, he would play Usnavi so Lin could focus on composing. Finally, when the show opened on Broadway, he covered Lin and was in the ensemble. His notable ensemble part was as the guy who wants a box of condoms in the opening number. When they did it in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the lyric was changed to a “box of candy." Watch!
Of course, when Javi played Usnavi he was fantastic. Here he is!
Don’t forget you can buy tickets to see us in a live stream concert with Julie Benko and Andrea McArdle at TheSethConcertSeries.com. Peace out!