A joyous, tuneful 25th anniversary cabaret called A Labor of Love took place at the Smith Theatre of the Howard Community College Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center on December 2, 2013. As in past years, all the money raised will support an Emergency AIDS Fund, by the Howard County Health Alliance. Some of the money will be given to the Howard County Healthy Families fund that helps individuals living with HIV/AIDS, or those at risk, meet their daily needs. The event also celebrates those people who have worked towards the cause since its inception.World AIDS Day is usually commemorated on December 1, but since that day fell on a Sunday, events are also celebrated on the 2nd as was this one. Significant news emerged on this day as President Obama announced that the National Institutes of Health plans to redirect AIDS research funds to expand support for research directed toward a cure for HIV. NIH plans to invest an additional $100 million over the next three fiscal years on this increasingly promising area of HIV/AIDS research.
A Labor of Love began in 1988 when too many young entertainers from the theatre community were being lost to the scourge of AIDS. Through improved medication and treatment, a significant number of people living with HIV have been able to extend their lives. But with tens of millions with HIV, clearly the job is not completed.A Labor of Love creator Carolyn Kelemen and other organizers of the event acknowledged the job is not over and hoped that someday there would no need to hold such fundraisers. This one was masterful.
Director Carole Graham Lehan, with artistic support from Toby Orenstein, founding director of Toby’s Dinner Theatre, and Jenny Male, who is coordinator of musical theater at Howard Community College, put together this cabaret themed “A Homecoming.” A large roster of professional performers from Hollywood to New York as well as local artists combined with the deft piano artistry of Patty Hammer, who, along with others in the ensemble had been part of this event from the beginning, put on an outstanding show. All volunteered their talents for this event.You knew you were in for a treat from the get-go when Mike Tillford backed-up by several vocalists who appeared later in the revue covered the Turtles’ big 1967 hit single “Happy Together.” Mr. Tillford then continued on as a smooth, jovial emcee, introducing the remaining 18 acts.
Performing a wide array of music but with a solid Broadway presence, every one of these performances was stellar, but some should be highlighted as exceptional. The Young Columbians, a musical ensemble founded by Toby Orenstein in 1975, keeps regenerating through the years and have performed at such venues as the White House and Disneyworld, soared with a medley of well-known Broadway show stoppers with some singing solos and others participating in group numbers.
Winner of the 2012 Catch a Rising Star competition that seems to always discover new local talent, the always radiant Samantha McEwan delivered a smooth, soulful rendition of “I Got it Bad.”Broadway performer Ric Ryder, who resides in New York City, explained a very personal connection to friends who died from AIDS. With outstanding vocals, he proceeded to sing “Somedays.”
Delores King Williams performed the Broadway standard, “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” followed by a stirring rendition of “Summertime” by Patty Hammer who sang at her piano along with Rick Aspel. Mr. Aspel was excellent on the horn later on during the “Boogie Woogie” number.Larry Friedman was the front man for a rousing version of the Mamas and Papas classic hit “California Dreamin’” with about nine other back-ups. He later performed in “This is the Army, Mr. Jones” and “Grateful.” In the latter song, Mr. Friedman was accompanied by the graceful dancing of Charlie Abel and Elaine McHale. Mr. Friedman has a magical tenor voice that is simply amazing. He reminds me of a young Michael Crawford; his voice is that good.
Robin Baxter presented perhaps the most unique act in this cabaret: a very emotional, intense version of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” with Hippie Lou on guitar. There isn’t a note too high for Ms. Baxter’s voice to reach. This was followed by Patrick Prebula singing “Why?” from Tick Tock Boom.Betsy True performed an original light-hearted novelty song “Paper or Plastic.” Broadway performer Alan Wiggins did a nice job with “They Live in You” from The Lion King.
A wonderful duet from Maria Rizzo and the cabaret’s director Carole Graham Lehan performed the medley “Get Happy/Happy Days.”The ninety-minute show ended up with “All Good Gifts” led by Ray Hatch backed up by the company.
Other performers included Betsy True, Tico Wells, Mark Staggers, Carol Tilford, Cathy Mays, Danny Mays, Laura Fetters, Janelle Broderick, Grace Anastasiadis, Santina Maiolatesi, Kurt Boehm, Bill Diggle, and Maria Egler.While the audience cheered loudly throughout this high-quality cabaret, the real winners of this benefit are the folks in Howard County living with AIDS and receiving the daily necessities to keep on living until that elusive cure can be found.