Cathy Renna

Heroes Old and New

Filed By Cathy Renna | February 12, 2009 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Entertainment, Media
Tags: Broadway, Broadway Backwards, celebrity gossip, Florence Henderson, John Lewis, media, South Pacific

January 9 was one of those indescribable days where it not only felt good to be alive but a privilege to be working in the LGBT community. The best part is that much of it was unexpected.

florence_henderson.jpgI started the morning off by meeting John Lewis (one of my and my wife's great heroes) who just happened to be on the same Amtrak train as we all headed to New York City. I was on my way up to work on the NY LGBT Center's extraordinary annual event, Broadway Backwards, and looking forward to meeting other kinds of heroes of mine like Alan Cumming, Whoopi Goldberg and Cheyenne Jackson.

It certainly turned out to be quite a day. Heroes who have moved political mountains and others who prod our culture surrounded me all day. And the biggest surprise of all come in the form of meeting an unlikely hero you all know best as Mrs. Brady.

But first a word about John Lewis. He is someone who, without fail, makes my wife cry when he speaks. She grew up in the South and he represents so much of her history and past (in good ways and bad). Also, his unwavering support of the LGBT community is an inspiration and example of what we can achieve across communities. But here is what demonstrated the true measure of this hero.

I was getting my boots shined as I waited for my train, and he made it a point to come over and greet the young African-American men working in the shoe-shine booth. We all knew who he was and the emotion in this moment of intentional recognition of these hard working men of color was not lost on any of us. I managed to sputter out a thank you for all he has done for equality for all, that he was our hero and he had done so much for my family and the LGBT community.

We all got a good laugh when I explained to the guys where I was going and why - big celebs don't intimidate me, but in the presence of John Lewis we were all humbled and a little flustered. Oh, and he didn't let go of my hand the entire time I spoke with him; it was an amazing feeling of connection.

What a way to start the day. No second cup of coffee necessary. After a day of meetings in the city, I headed up to the American Airlines theater for "Broadway Backwards." In a nutshell, the show takes Broadway standards and other theater favorites and puts them through a queer lens. This is not simply gender bending, but allowing us to see our lives in a genuine and celebratory manner on the stage. For the many LGBT folks who work in theater, the dearth of same-sex loves ballads is glaring.

The event was sold out - as always - but this year's line up was extraordinary. Cheyenne Jackson, Sandra Bernhard, Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Cumming, Gina Gershon, Michael Urie, Becki Newton, Aaron Lazar, and last but not least Florence Henderson.

The show opened with Alan Cumming singing Rainbow High and just went up from there. Whoopi did "Gee Office Krupke" from West Side Story with a gaggle of female juvenile delinquents (whose outfits screamed "Madonna called, she wants her clothes from the eighties back") and Cheyenne and Sandra did a duet of "You're the Top," which you should use your imagination as to how they gave it a whole new meaning.

However, it was meeting Florence Henderson, who was clearly so happy to be there, give "There's Nothing Like a Dame" from South Pacific a raunchy, fun and totally lesbionic run for its money that almost set off my asthma. (Theater queen alert: she was in the actual musical years ago.) She even squeezed in a joke about Alice with the pretty young thing in a maid's outfit. It brought the house down. Chatting with her backstage, it was apparent that this is one person who has a clear grasp of and commitment to our community; it made her my newest hero on the spot. That, and her wanting full credit for the line about Alice and noting it would probably be on YouTube soon.

After the performance I had the difficult job of wrangling paparazzi and celebs for photo ops and generally having a wonderful time. But for all the fun there was a true sense of the spirit of the Center in that room - the fact that all of us, LGBT and allies, are in this together and need to celebrate exactly who we are, as queer or mainstream we seem - and by midnight everyone in the room was my hero.

In these times of economic, political and cultural challenge it was renewing to be in a space with so many who get the struggle and bring their talents to the table (every person donated their time to this, from the musicians to the producers to the theater) and it raised a lot of money for a great cause. Even better, it did it in a way that reflected the spirit, resiliency and diversity of our community.

Google "Broadway Backwards" -better yet, go to www.gaycenter.org - and you will see what I mean.


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I've always loved Florence Henderson.

Pam Daniels | May 3, 2009 10:50 PM

Cathy,

Some of my "Heroes Old And New!" Newest to oldest...

My younger brother, who came out to us as a gay man 5 years ago and as of this writing hasn't learned yet, though soon will that his older brother was always his oldest sister.

My cousin Terry who stood up for freedom and the "American Way" as a proud gay man in the early 70's but died of AIDS in '92.

Renée Richards, who inspired this timid soul in the 70's while I was in college and continues to inspire me to this day!

Jim Kolbe, an extraordinary gentleman and patriot who hasn't met Pam yet.

Thomas Jefferson, who I'm sure, would revel in our diversity while cheering on our struggle for individual freedom and liberty!

Pam