Broadway and Celebs Unite for Broadway Sings for Pride!
- OnStage New York City Columnist
Nearly 50 Broadway stars and LGBT celebrities came out for the 6th annual Broadway Sings for Pride concert on Monday night, celebrating Pride month with an array of showtunes, pop songs, comedic acts, and personal reflections. This year’s concert honored AIDS activist Ruth Coker Burks and Jane Clementi from the Tyler Clementi Foundation. Artists also sang a special tribute to the victims of the Orlando shooting earlier this month. Proceeds from the concert went to the Tyler Clementi Foundation.
We interviewed some of our favorite guests of the night about their pride experiences in light of this year’s tragedy and how music enhances their pride memories: Christiane Noll (Ragtime, Jekyll and Hyde, Chaplin), Avery Wilson (Mister United States 2016), Mia Gentile (Kinky Boots), Jeffrey Marsh (Youtube star and LBGT Activist), and A.J. Shively (Bright Star).
What’s your favorite Pride month memory?
Christiane Noll: I have a seven-year old daughter and recently, I tried and succeeded at explaining what happened last week. It was fascinating having her ask really honest questions and being able to have a really honest conversation. She just did not have any understanding how someone could dehumanize people like that. Her response made me feel like we’re going to be in good hands. Her awareness is attuned and open.
Wow, was that the first time you had spoken to her about LGBT issues?
I live in Maplewood, New Jersey, in a very open and diverse community. We’ve already explained to her what it means to be trans. We explained how some people wake up and look at themselves and they were born a boy or a girl but they don’t feel that way. I said, ‘do you feel like a boy or a girl?’ And she said, “I feel like a girl” and I said, “okay so you don’t have to concern yourself with that right now.” Right before gay marriage become legal, we had a conversation about our neighbors. She asked if they were married and I said, “well in some states.” I had to keep repeating “in some states it’s legal. But it’s not a crime like going to jail or getting a ticket.” So when it became legal, we said, “remember when we said that it wasn’t legal? Well, now it is because it takes the grown-ups a little longer to figure out the things that you already got down.”
Yea I have a niece and nephew and every time we have a conversation about this stuff, it makes me realize how ludicrous it all really is.
It is. It really is. Whenever I hear what I’m saying through her eyes, I realize that this is something that would not even occur to her. But I have to talk to her about it because she needs to know that this is the world that we’re a part of.
How has the recent tragedy in Orlando affected the way you celebrate Pride this year?
The idea that the victims were there in a safe place and someone took that away from them is terrible. It’s a reminder to us how important it is to have those safe places within your family and your community where it’s okay to be who you are.
Is there Broadway show or song that you associate with pride?
Kinky Boots! It’s kind of hard not to mention it.
Christiane Noll sang “Back to Before” from Ragtime at the Broadway Sings for Pride concert.
Avery D. Wilson
What is your favorite Pride memory?
I always love the start of Pride month when people are excited about spreading love to the rest of the world. There’s just something about the beginning that brings everyone together.
Is there a Broadway showtune that you associate with your coming-out experience?
I am a Wiz lover and the Scarecrow sings “I was born the day before yesterday.” I remember my personal journey was all about this big buildup of what would happen with my friends and family when I released this information. But everyday is a new day. Every day we’re being born anew! I thought that once this ‘climactic moment’ happened, life would change, life would be free, but it really wasn’t that. It’s a daily choice and a daily decision that we have to make to walk into our truth every day.
Has the Orlando tragedy affected the way you celebrate Pride this year?
Absolutely. I really try to teach people to get closer to the things that matter. How proximate we are to it dictates how we feel. I feel a difference just in being more passionate and being more vocal about it. Our organization has always been an ally to the LGBT community. But it’s times like these that make me realize that our silence really is dangerous. I have to be a little more vocal. I have to be more forward-thinking in terms of speaking about it. This whole tragedy has made me a little more conscious about being more impassioned and making sure my message is heard.
What would you like to see the LGBT community accomplish in the next 5 years?
This is somewhat already happening, but I’d like to see more representation on a more globally recognized stage. I’d like to see more representation of what the LGBT influence is on all industries across the board. I think a lot of people still think that there are certain industries that are void of people who are LGBTQ but the reality is that we’re everywhere. We’re on all sides of the world. That’s going to be huge- to make people understand that we’re connected instead of always pigeonholing or boxing us in and saying that we only have a certain message. We can be a little more visible on all platforms and all industry levels, and I think that will help people with connecting once we hear those stories about people we see everyday. It opens the door for more compassion.
Avery D. Wilson is the first Mister United States and gave a short reflection on how his organization spread love and pride.
What is your favorite Pride month memory?
My friend Natalie Joy Johnson hosts the last leg of the parade and last year I was able be there and sing from Kinky Boots. It doesn’t get past me that every night I get to sing “Just be who you want to be. Never let them tell you who you ought to be.” “Pursue the truth.” “Accept yourself and you’ll accept others too.” “Let pride be your guide” (from “Raise You Up/Just Be”). All year is Pride Month at Kinky Boots and it’s a blessing to be a part of that community. It’s really sad that it sometimes takes a horrific event for all of that to get magnified and for all of us to come together. The Broadway community is such a strong, intensely loving community and just seeing the sheer amount of money raised for Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights Aids and just to be a tiny part of that makes me feels so gratified.
How did the Kinky Boots community react to the Orlando shooting?
They gave a couple of speeches to honor what was happening. The message of this show, and a lot of shows on Broadway is deeper even now and we can’t stop spreading that message and continuing to spread the joy. We shouldn’t cower in fear. We should raise our voices louder and stronger in a more unified, loving, proud way.
Do you have a Broadway song title or show that you identify with your own coming-out experience?
I didn’t really have an earth-shattering coming out experience. My parents are really liberal and really lovely.
How about an inner-pride song?
I want to do a concert of women singers and have the song be titles with women’s names. Tonight would be the first one--- I’m singing “Michelle” by the Beatles. There aren’t enough love songs from women to other women or from men to other men, not just from the funny lesbian side characters. We should have songs that say this is a person, that this love story is just as normal as any other heterosexual love story.
Do you feel like there’s a specific invisibility that bisexual people face in the LGBTQ community?
Yes because a lot of people believe bisexuality doesn’t really exist. So you’re kind of in between two worlds. I think it’s different for men and women as well. Bisexual men get the brunt of a lot of difficult conversations. I think for women, sexuality is a little more fluid. I feel that bisexual women are a little more socially accepted but at the same time, there aren’t a lot of lesbian stories out there.
Mia Gentile is currently an ensemble member at Kinky Boots and performed a mash-up of The Beatles’ “Michelle” and “Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus and Chaka Khan.
What’s your favorite pride memory?
When I lived in Philadelphia, I was a cabaret star and after singing one night I got onto the train with part of my costume and makeup still on. And some teenage boys got onto the subway car and started shouting some ‘not nice’ terms at me. For the first time in my life, I realized that the hate had more to do with them than with me. So instead of crumbling, I felt empowered to step off the train, walk to my house, and have a beautiful evening regardless of what they had said. And that was the best Pride weekend I ever had.
What Broadway song title best describes your coming-out experience?
It’s from A Chorus Line. It’s called “The Music and the Mirror.”
That’s an intense one. It’s beautiful.
I live an intense life so it matches.
How has the Orlando tragedy impacted the way you celebrate Pride this year?
I make videos online and it was necessary to make videos not specifically about Orlando but about my opinion of what is next for us, which is self-care and self-love. Everyone, but I find especially queer folk, tends to put other people first. You need to impress them, you need to take care of other people within the queer community or without. But I think the time has come to concentrate on ourselves: who we are and learning to love everything about ourselves.
Can you highlight some of the ways they could do that?
Absolutely. One of the ways that you can learn to love yourself is to see yourself from the outside. As Bette Midler said, ‘from a distance.’ Oftentimes we treat our aunt, our cousin, our pet frog, our pastor, whomever, with more respect than we treat ourselves, and so learning to see yourself from that kind of distance and how you are trying your best, how you are learning just like everybody else on this planet, can help you come around to caring deeply for yourself.
Is there anything you would tell your 13-year old self about what it means to be authentic?
Sure. “Jeffrey…” it’s not role-playing is it? Thirteen, what a tough year! I would tell 13-year-old Jeffrey there is nothing wrong with you. That’s it. Everything else is built on that. Would you believe I have never met anyone online or offline, who wasn’t told in some way or another ‘there’s something wrong with you.’ Undoing that is the most important thing we have to do.
Jeffrey Marsh is a Youtube Star and LGBT activist releasing their book How To Be You this fall.
What is your favorite Pride Month memory?
I went to school in Ann Arbor, Michigan and my freshman year it felt like the entire student body came out wearing tie-dye and we had a nice crazy, hippie, fun day. And the first parade I ever saw was when I visited my aunt in New York. I was maybe nine or ten, and I was like, ‘this is crazy. These people are having a good time.’
So you were attending pride events since you were young?
Yea, I have a very large, open-minded family. I have cousins who are transgender. So we have allies all around.
How has the Orlando tragedy affected the way you celebrate Pride this year?
I had dinner reservations right near Stonewall on Tuesday and I was able to catch a lot of the rally. There was no rage, no devastation. It was just the solid feeling of humanity supporting each other. It was palpable and it was something I hadn’t felt since 9/11. Unfortunately there’s also a lack of shock that these things could happen. If little kids are getting massacred at their elementary school, then this could happen anywhere. But the feeling of people coming together and supporting each other as people—how rational the response has been sort of comforts me. A bunch of young people died and they didn’t have to. And I think that’s a huge step forward for civil rights. It’s something positive that I’m trying to take away from this whole experience.
Is there something you’d tell your 13-year old self about being authentic to yourself?
My 13-year old self was pretty authentic. My biggest issue was that I was such a late-bloomer. I was always the smallest kid in the class. My voice was the last one to change and that sort of thing. I’d say, don’t beat yourself up. No one is critiquing you as hard as you’re critiquing yourself. The more comfortable you are with yourself, the more comfortable everybody is.
A.J. is a lead performer in Bright Star and sang Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Wanna Be.”
Sara Zweig is a theater and culture writer @shouldbesara and @lmezzanineblog