Broadway Cares

A Little History Behind Broadway Backwards

Share This Article

This month, Broadway comes together once again for a fun spirited fundraiser “Broadway Backwards”, a role reversal of show tunes where the men sing the traditional female roles and the ladies take on the male roles. QLife caught up with Robert Bartley, the creator and director of the show for some history on Broadway Backwards and what fans can expect in this year’s production.

This 12th annual evening is produced by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and benefits Broadway Cares and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City. Last year’s inspiring performance raised a record $480,287. It featured a 67-person cast of Broadway and television’s best, backed by a live onstage orchestra.

QLife: Hi Robert, thanks for taking time with us today. Can you give our readers a little history on how Broadway Cares got started?

Robert: I’ve been involved with Broadway Cares since I was an actor 20 years ago in Miss Saigon. It was early on in the AIDS crisis. All the Broadway shows decided they were going to raise money for people in the community living with AIDS. At the end of the shows, we hold red buckets, and one of the leads would do a pitch from the stage. If everybody gave a dollar, a show could easily raise $2,000 a night.

QLife: Broadway Cares does other fundraising events, too, correct?

Robert: The collections periods would run in the spring and the fall. Then Broadway Cares started doing its own shows and events. After the fall collection period they started doing the Gypsy of the Year where all the ensemble members of shows would compete for fundraising, but the would also compete in a talent show. In the spring they would do the Easter Bonnet competition in the basement at the Palace. That’s moved to the stage after the spring collection period. More events like Broadway Bares have been added on. Now Broadway Cares raises money for over 450 AIDS and Family Service organizations around the country. 

QLife: You’re getting ready for Broadway Backwards this month. That’s a separate production. How did it get its start? 

There was nothing the Broadway community and the gay community was doing hand-in-hand. My husband and I said we should do something, so we created our first event at the LGBT community center twelve years ago.

Originally I thought we should do an all-male version of Hello Dolly. Then we branched out even further and opened up to all Broadway songs and do reverse-gender songs.

Something really magical happened that first year. We were packed. There was one moment in the show where Cheyenne Jackson and Matt Cavanaugh sang “We Kiss in the Shadow” from “The King and I” and it took on a whole new subtext of meaning—two leading men who couldn’t come out of the closet and the just wanted to be together.

Ticket sales were so good, the next year we moved to a small off-broadway theater. Terrence McNally and his partner Thomas Kirdahy came to see the show and said, “Man this needs to be in a Broadway theater.” We thought sure. But sure enough they got us into a Broadway theater the 3rd year, and we’ve been in a Broadway theater ever since.

By year five, the even had grown—I don’t want to say “bigly” (chuckles)—that we had to have help. Broadway Cares and the LGBT Community Center partnered on the event, now Broadway Cares produces the event, we rehearse at the center, and it’s a joint effort of both organization.

QLife: What are your plans for this year?

Robert: When we started Broadway Backwards there weren’t a lot of LGBT events, so we were more political. As the years progressed, we could be ourselves. Now we seem to be going backwards politically, but this year my goal is to be a celebration of us and go to the theater. We’re celebrating love this year.

Broadway Backwards performs one night only on Monday, March 13, 8 pm at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

This exhilarating evening will include one-of-a-kind, unforgettable performances from celebrated stars of stage and screen including Sierra Boggess, Tony winner Len Cariou, Tony nominee Carolee Carmello, Robert Creighton, Ariana DeBose, Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo, Tony nominee Santino Fontana, Lora Lee Gayer, Tony winner John Glover, four-time Grammy Award nominee Josh Groban, Tony winner Cady Huffman, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Rachel Bay Jones, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Tony winner Levi Kreis, Eric Petersen, Tony nominee Andrew Rannells, Megan Sikora, Elizabeth Stanley, Bobby Conte Thornton, two-time Golden Globe winner, Tony nominee and Oscar nominee Kathleen Turner, six-time Emmy Award winner Bruce Vilanch, Rachel York and Jersey Boys original cast members Dominic Nolfi, Michael Longoria and Daniel Reichard.

Russ White