Stars from stage and screen made their way to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre November 6 for Make Believe on Broadway, a benefit concert-gala raising funds for the non-profit organization Only Make Believe, which brings live theatre performances to children suffering from chronic ailments.
The event, hosted by Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong, honored Tony-nominated singer-actor Josh Groban, seen on Broadway in last season’s Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. Groban was the evening’s recipient of the Sir Ian McKellen Award, recognizing his philanthropic work with his own organization, the Find Your Light Foundation, which enriches the lives of young people through arts, education, and cultural awareness.
Accepting the honor, Groban was emphatic that arts education is only becoming increasingly vital. “With this award, I pledge to keep fighting the good fight,” he said. “We need arts education more than ever,” he added, calling for the broadening of “compassion and togetherness, and using art as a tool to do that.”
To present Groban with the award was his friend, Tony winner and Hedwig and the Angry Inch star Lena Hall, who also performed David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” in Groban’s honor.
Waitress star Betsy Wolfe opened the show with Cabaret’s “Maybe This Time,” which, as she aptly described it, was “an 11 o’clock number, right out of the gate.” Anastasia star Ramin Karimloo was also on hand, accompanying himself on guitar for an acoustic take on Show Boat’s “Ol’ Man River.” And Montego Glover, currently starring in the sitdown production of Hamilton in Chicago, trekked in from the Windy City to sing a tune from Memphis (the show for which she was Tony nominated).
The evening’s performers also included Phantom of the Opera and School of Rock star Sierra Boggess, two-time Tony nominee Brad Oscar, Sunset Boulevard’s Siobhan Dillon, Bryan Terrell Clark (Hamilton), Greg Hildreth, who will play Olaf in Broadway’s incoming Frozen, and star of the original Broadway production of Jekyll & Hyde, Robert Cuccioli.
Accompanying the performers was Sarah Seiver on the cello, Adam Kolker on the saxophone and flute, and background vocalists Michael Dossett, Melissa Musique, and Talia Thiesfield.
In one of the evening’s particularly touching moments, two of the Only Make Believe company members were joined onstage by one of the children who benefits from the organization’s work. The trio then led the audience in a call-and-response singalong typical of an Only Make Believe performance.
In addition to Groban, the evening also honored Chief Legal Officer of Apollo Global Management, John Suydam, who fondly recalled visiting his then-girlfriend decades prior while she worked in the children’s ward of a hospital. He spoke of the joy that his visits would bring the young patients, and how that memory heavily informs his work with Only Make Believe today.
Only Make Believe Board President Sue Emanuel, and Executive Director Amy Fiore were also on hand to introduce the entire OMB company.
Since its beginnings in 1999, the initiative of Only Make Believe has been to bring interactive theatre performances to children living in hospitals and other care facilities throughout New York and the metropolitan area, as well as across the boroughs and in Washington, D.C. Its efforts are free of charge at every location and for every family it services.
Today, Only Make Believe performances are held across 51 facilities and have been seen by more than 52,800 sick children to date. The plays are performed with minimal frill, against a plain backdrop, using a trunk filled with costumes and toys, that both the actors and the children watching utilize.