By Logan Culwell-Block
Education Theatre Foundation’s annual Thespians Go Hollywood benefit raised more than $180,000 to support theatre education in underserved schools.
Held November 18 at Hollywood, California’s The Avalon, the gala honored three-time Tony recipient Bernadette Peters with performances from Rachel Bloom, Merle Dandridge, Megan Hilty, Cheyenne Jackson, Jennifer Kumiyama, Matthew Morrison, Juan Pablo Di Pace, and Marissa Jaret Winokur. The evening was hosted by Nia Vardalos. Watch highlights from the even above.
The evening also marked the announcement and launch of the ETF Initiative for Racial Equity in School Theatre, inspired by the late film and TV producer Craig Zadan, whose lifelong commitment to addressing issues of diversity led to projects like the Brandy- and Whitney Houston-led Cinderella on ABC in 1997. The initiative will award grants annually to schools in communities facing racial disparity to produce a musical or play with the support of industry professionals of color who will serve as mentors to students.
Performances at the event kicked off with Dandridge, last seen on Broadway in the 2017 revival of Once On This Island, singing “Part of the Human Heart” from the Flaherty and Ahrens score. Kumiyama got a standing ovation from Peters for her rendition of Song and Dance‘s “Unexpected Song,” first introduced by Peters in her 1985 Tony-winning performance on Broadway. Peters’ Smash co-star Hilty performed a medley of songs from Annie Get Your Gun (another Tony-winning role for Peters), with Jackson joining for “Old Fashioned Wedding.”
Peters was presented with the inaugural Craig Zadan Theatre for Life Award by Zadan’s producing partner Neil Meron, recognizing Peters’ lifelong dedication to promoting and preserving the joy of theatre, inspiring young artists, and leaving a lasting impact on generations to come.
“The only job that young people have is to stay open, open to your teachers and your inspiration,” said Peters when accepting the award. The Follies and Gypsy star then sang one of her signature pieces, “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods.
Broadway Hairspray co-stars Winokur and Morrison presented the ETF Entertainment Industry Award to Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures Executive Vice President Mark Kaufman, in recognition of the organization’s commitment to ETF’s mission of shaping lives by supporting school theatre, making theatre more accessible, and building the national audience through high standards in theatrical production.
“We’re really proud to create shows that can be performed at schools all around the country because we understand the value of theatre—and it’s a mission we really believe in,” shared Kaufman. “At a time when education budgets are being cut with arts programs often the first to go, ETF is creating a lifeline for millions of young people to experience theatre for the first time in schools, not only teaching them life skills of collaboration, hard work, and creative expression, but also inspiring the next generation of theatregoers and artists on stage and behind the curtain.”
Local student members of the International Thespian Society were also on hand to perform at the event, singing The Greatest Showman‘s “A Million Dreams,” Follies‘ “Broadway Baby,” and Kinky Boots‘ “Raise You Up/Just Be.”
Donations to ETF can be made by visiting EducationalTheatreFoundation.org.