Concert For America YouTube Spiral! Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley Look Back on Some Of Their Favorite Showstoppers
April 13th, 2017
by Seth Rudetsky & James Wesley
As stars from Broadway and screen gear up for the fourth edition of Concert for America on April 18 at Town Hall, BroadwayBox catches up with the series' producers Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley to look back on some of their favorite videos from the first trio of star-studded concerts.
Scroll on as they share the videos and stories behind 11 epic moments.
When it was announced that the NEA might possibly have all of their funding cut, it was the day before our inaugural concert. We had just been rehearsing with Chita that day, and James suddenly said that Chita was the perfect person to speak about the importance of the arts because she had received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award of the United States. He wrote up a speech, I “punched it up”, Chita added her own sass, and it was one of the highlights of the concert. As a matter of fact, Graciela Daniele got a copy of it and sent it to the entire cast of Sousatzka, the show she was working on that month because she was so moved by the message.
When we decided to do the concert in Chicago, James started researching TV shows that filmed there and got in touch with Yuriy Sardarov because he was outspoken on social media about immigration. Yuriy wound up giving an incredible speech about his family’s harrowing escape from Azerbaijan. What’s amazing is when we asked him to speak, he asked his family how they got here and he found out this amazing story only a week before the concert!
Andrea Martin’s grandfather was an immigrant. She told a beautiful story about visiting Armenia and the aftermath and then recreated one of my favorite comedy sketches EVER!!!!!
Right before our inaugural concert, we lost the rights to a song. Carrie Manolakos recommended another song and it wound up being one of the highlights of the concert. Her voice is like no other. And by her “voice” I mean her crazy high notes. Literally F’s!
We asked Stokes to sing his stunning version of “Wheels of a Dream” and he did us one better by adding an a cappella version of “America the Beautiful” to start. It was so beautifully moving and James’ mom, Elizabeth, now loves him even more because he changed the lyric “brotherhood” to “sisterhood”. #Feminist!
We knew we wanted songs that had to do with America for the concerts. Well, what better song than a song literally entitled “America”! Chita agreed to do it the minute we asked, and then I asked her if she’d add a dance break. Yes, it’s been 60 years since she played the role on Broadway, but she still has those moves! Check out that extension!
Can we overcome some of the distressing things that are happening to this country? Can we help all the disenfranchised? The failing environment? The immigrants being deported? It seems impossible…but not after Keala sang (belted) “The Impossible Dream”. AMAZING!
Enough is Enough
We knew we wanted “Enough Is Enough” but wanted to make it special. Well, I had just seen Spamilton and became obsessed with Nora Schell’s incredible forward vocal placement. But who to sing with her? How about her Spamilton co-star? Yes, JuWan is a man, but he literally has a woman’s range. INCREDIBLE!
Ben Vereen has been there. He was in the original run of Hair on Broadway, the first musical whose theme was civil rights. We knew we had to have him sing in our concert. We didn’t want anything negative and he wound up picking one of the most uplifting songs there is: “What A Wonderful World”. In the middle he had a spontaneous, very emotional moment. How wonderful to hear him tell us “It ain’t over” over and over again because…it ain’t!
Chicago Children’s Choir
Chicago was our first city we travelled to (many more are coming starting in May) and we always want to use local talent. We hooked up with Chicago Children’s Choir and were incredibly impressed by them. They have kids from every zip code in Chicago and they sing in perfect harmony. Their first song was a cappella and their pitch never wavered! And they’re so amazingly well-behaved! There were a ton of them onstage during rehearsal and none of them were talking. If anything, James and I should have been reprimanded from our non-stop chitter chatter. Basically, we’d be kicked out of this choir if we tried to join because they’re more professional than us! Listen.
A main focus of the concert is making people feel joy and connected. So, we asked everyone in the audience to call or facetime or Skype someone they loved. When everyone had their cell phones up, we brought on Stephanie Mills who brought down the house! SING!
Don't miss the fourth installment of 'Concert for America' at Town Hall on April 18 featuring Barry Manilow, Vanessa Williams, Andy Cohen & more and raising money for the NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Immigration Law Center, the National Coalition against Domestic Violence & the Sierra Club Foundation.