On the evening of August 24, San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts Theatre will play host to a genre- and generation-spanning array of musical talent at Help is on the Way XX, the 20th annual benefit gala for the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation.
The show’s cast runs a deliciously eclectic, edge-of-camp gamut, well-suited to marking two decades of medical and societal progress: From uber-Mom Florence “Carol Brady” Henderson to Alex Newell, who plays “Unique” on Glee; from once-circumspect silver fox Richard Chamberlain to flamboyant-from-birth X Factor finalist Jason Brock.
“I have to admit,” says the wide-eyed, big-voiced Brock over margaritas at Cafe Flore in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, “that I’ve heard of Richard Chamberlain, but I’m not really familiar with his work.” This reporter—whose age falls somewhere between octogenarian Chamberlain and thirty-something Brock—felt pushed toward the Chamberlain end of that spectrum when references to “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” and “Oh my nose!” sailed over Brock’s head.
Since its first variety extravaganza in 1995, the Foundation—started by the mothers of two young showbiz aficionados who died of AIDS (John Richmond was a well-known Bay Area set and costume designer; Doug Ermet, a dedicated patron of the arts)—has cultivated close relationships with the San Francisco music and theater community. In addition to its yearly gala concert, the foundation frequently teams up with the casts of many touring Broadway musicals to host One Night Only cabaret performances; like the annual events, they are run primarily by a volunteer staff with proceeds going to local AIDS organizations. The cast of Motown: The Musical, which opens a seven-week San Francisco beginning August 15,will perform in the anniversary gala.
While there’s something inherently bittersweet in an AIDS organization’s need to have a 20th anniversary, Richmond/Ermet’s gala accentuates the positive. In parallel with the foundation’s longevity, the longevity of people living with AIDS has dramatically increased. And their benefits have had ripple effects.
“In addition to all the good work they do for people with AIDS, Richmond/Ermet has been incredibly helpful to local performers over the years,” says Brock. “I was singing in a piano bar when they first spotted me and started inviting me to be on the bill with these big names. Sure, now that I was on national TV as the big gay personality on X Factor , I get asked to play at all sorts of benefits around the country, but they believed in me before any of that.” Along with Brock, internationally renowned jazz singer Paula West will represent the local talent pool in this year’s show.
Brock says that at the Broadway-leaning benefit (additional acts on the bill include stage vets Lucie Arnaz, Maureen McGovern, Carole Cook, and Tony-nominee Lisa Vroman) he’s likely to perform “New York State of Mind,” the familiar crowd-pleaser that helped him advance on X Factor—and led to his spending a day hanging out at show judge L.A. Reid’s home with Justin Bieber. “He gave me a big hug,” says Brock, with a lift of one caterpillar eyebrow, “And you know, I was all over that!” He’s also working on his first album, a collection of original, guitar-based songs that may surprise fans with its depth and its departure from Brock’s flashy TV persona.
“I’ve got to keep moving,” says Brock. “But I’ll always turn up for shows like this one. The foundation has done so much for people with AIDS. And they put me in the spotlight really early in my career. I’m honored to help bring attention to them.”
Take a peak at Brock’s electrifying performance on X Factor.
Jim Gladstone is a San Francisco-based creative consultant and writer. A book columnist and Contributing Editor at PASSPORT, he is the author of an award-winning novel, The Big Book of Misunderstanding.