by Ryan Leeds
Actor Tony Danza. Opera diva Renée Fleming. Former Metropolitan Opera General Manager Joseph Volpe. Accounting firm partner Christopher Cacace. It seems like an unlikely quartet, yet each of these individuals share a common goal: advocating for live theater and arts education. On Monday evening, they were each honored with a Broadway Beacon Award presented by Inside Broadway, a non-profit organization that offers theater workshops, seminars, backstage tours, and in-school programs to students and senior citizens. The organization hosted their annual Broadway Beacon Awards at the swank JW Marriott Essex House on Central Park South.
Shortly after gala attendees settled into the ballroom, students from PS/IS 104K burst onto the stage in fully choreographed and vocal renditions of “On Broadway,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Baby that is Rock and Roll.” The Brooklyn-based school is one of 90 that collaborate with Inside Broadway.
NY1 personality Roma Torre followed the performance and served as the evening’s host. Usually known for her sound bite critiques of the New York theater scene, Torre assured the crowd that she was only bringing praise to the evening’s proceedings. “If anyone is concerned about the future of Broadway, they needn’t worry after seeing these kids perform,” she raved.
Inside Broadway’s Founding Director, Michael Presser, spoke briefly, citing that over the past year 25,000 kids participated in one of his team’s numerous offerings.
Danza was the night’s first award recipient and discussed the challenges of growing up in today’s world, but added that, “When you teach a kid to act, you teach a kid how to communicate.” Danza, whose Broadway credits include The Iceman Cometh, The Producers, and the recently short-lived Honeymoon In Vegas, joked about the name of his Broadway Beacon Award. “Because Honeymoon in Vegas closed in such a short time and was overlooked by Tony voters, some people feel as though it never existed,” he explained. “So I would like to re-name this the ‘Honeymoon in Vegas did exist award’.”
Bass-Baritone James Morris presented the next award to his former boss, Joseph Volpe. Volpe, who began his career at the Metropolitan Opera, climbed the ranks and spent the last 16 of his 42 years as the General Manager of the prestigious company before retiring in 2006. Volpe expressed his thanks for the honor and shared the belief that the “world of theater happens both onstage and off and presents opportunities to dream.”
The cast of Kinky Boots rocked the gala with some mid-evening entertainment. Andy Kelso, Timothy Ware, and Jeanna De Waal sang “Step One,” “Hold Me in Your Heart,” and “The History of Wrong Guys” respectively.
Following a brief live auction, Volpe returned to the microphone and lavished praise on opera star Fleming, otherwise known as “the people’s Diva.” “When Renée performs, she’s magic,” said Volpe before inviting her to the stage for her award. Fleming, who recently appeared on Broadway in Living On Love, was quick to convey her awe for the dedication of theater actors, who perform eight shows a week.
Cacace was the final recipient of the Broadway Beacon award. As Partner-In-Charge of Theater, Media, and Entertainment at Marks Paneth accounting firm, Cacace has been a strong ally for arts education and thanked his other law partners and his wife.
To learn more about Inside Broadway and how you can get involved, visit www.insidebroadway.org.
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.