Los Angeles Concert Feature: IDOLS & ICONS (The 33rd [and final] S.T.A.G.E. at Saban Theatre)

Post image for Los Angeles Concert Feature: IDOLS & ICONS (The 33rd [and final] S.T.A.G.E. at Saban Theatre)

by Tony Frankel on April 25, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles


It’s a bit surreal, but the the theater community’s longest-running AIDS-related benefit is having its final fundraiser on Saturday May 13, 2017. The Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event (best known by its acronym S.T.A.G.E.) will present its 33rd cavalcade of stars at the snazzy Art Deco-styled 1930 Saban Theatre (originally the Fox Wilshire). Created by Michael Kearns, Susan Obrow, James Carroll Pickett, and David Galligan in 1984, S.T.A.G.E. has raised over $5 million by showcasing luminaries from TV, stage and screen, who present a song based on a theme or composer from Sondheim to Bacharach. The money raised has gone to several HIV/AIDS organizations throughout the years including Shanti and Project Angel Food, with the majority going to APLA Health.

This year’s offering, Idols & Icons, will be a glorious and eclectic grab-bag as the stars of today will pay tribute to stars of yore. Carole Cook (the deadpan comedienne who has performed in 30 benefits) will offer something up to honor Ethel Merman; Melinda Doolittle (American Idol finalist) for Ray Charles; Jake Simpson (Star Search Champion) for George Michael, etc. The huge cast, backed up by band and music director Michael Orland, includes Christine Pedi, Anthony Fedorov, Joely Fisher, Vicki Lewis, Kimberley Locke, Jon Maher, Sharon McNight, and Jai Rodriquez (check the site for cast updates). There will also be some film elements: Dale Kristien, the original Christine Daae in the L.A. production of Phantom of the Opera, will sing a duet with the flickering version of her Phantom, Michael Crawford. Lee Martino is the choreographer, and Galligan, who has staged every year since the inception, returns to direct.

While it’s becoming a common misconception, AIDS has not been cured, and HIV/AIDS service organizations can always use donations. But this event should be attended for more than just making a donation or being entertained: I look at it as a way to salute and remember the fallen. AIDS wreaked havoc on the theater world in all of its incarnations, and the crushing effects of its devastation remain with us today. So many ingenious creators were robbed from us that imagining the works that may have been instigates an unspeakable grief so vast that, at times, it seems best not to broach the subject at all. Artists such as director Michael Bennett and writer Howard Ashman are simply irreplaceable. Certainly we can witness a revival of A Chorus Line or pop in a DVD of Beauty and the Beast, but these mavericks of the theater only left a legacy; of the thousands that nature absconded, there would be no successors.

We were also robbed of a discerning audience, who no doubt would never have allowed Cats to become one of the most popular musicals of all time. Those who were left — the ones who became a core audience for S.T.A.G.E. — are for any number of reasons not running to the yearly shindig. Whether they have simply aged and moved on, or have now passed on themselves, it’s getting tougher to find a regular audience for this kind of benefit.

Yet when death was circling our heads in the 80s and 90s, an annual trek to a S.T.A.G.E production was mandatory. It also helped that any given year contained some of the most memorable acts in show biz history (and I guarantee you will see some humdingers at Idols & Icons). I’ll never forget Florence Henderson parodying her Brady Mom image with humor, panache, and a dominatrix outfit as she sexed it up with slinky chorus boys. Those who have never been before will be dazzled as number after number is knocked out of the park, and this year will have something for generations old and new.

But since this is a farewell to an era, I submit there’s a higher purpose this year: A great work of art is the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which is a revelation in its extraordinary power to honor those who died by simply remembering their names on a panel of fabric. By supporting this last S.T.A.G.E., you’ll get more than an unforgettable night while helping a worthy cause — you’ll ensure that those who succumbed to AIDS will not be forgotten.

photos of the 29th annual S.T.A.GE. benefit by Chris Kane

Idols & Icons
S.T.A.G.E. 2017
The Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills
Saturday May 13, 2017, at 7:30 (lobby opens at 6; doors at 7)
for tickets, visit StageLA

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