Superstars of the stage and screen congregated inside Royce Hall at UCLA on the evening of Saturday, September 21st, for another installment of the well-received 13th “Concert for America,” which debuted nearly three years earlier on inauguration day in 2017. Live-streamed on Facebook Live around the globe, the extravaganza was for an altruistic cause: to advance awareness as well as defend the honor of low-income immigrants and their families. In fact, all the proceeds benefited the non-profit National Immigration Law Center for this purpose.
The production — which was co-presented by Robbie Rogers, Greg Berlanti, and the Berlanti Family Foundation, as well as created and co-hosted by the charismatic duo of SiriusXM’s Seth Rudetsky (who also doubled as the event’s pianist) and James Wesley — was a heartwarming artistic collaboration intended for the greater good of the persecuted individuals whom these luminaries regularly entertain on TV and in a live setting. The impressive collection of Tony and Grammy-award winners, backed by an ensemble led by “Unauthorized Musical Parody Of” series creator Kate Pazakis, showed off their singing and comedic talents as they put on a variety show for the ages to shine a spotlight on those oppressed by unjust measures. It was, without a doubt, a big and beautiful ray of light, as bright as a grand marquee, that shone in Westwood, CA and triumphantly did away with any notion that the call-to-arms topic of immigration reform could be left in the dark anymore.
On hand for the cause were newlyweds Melissa Benoist and Chris Wood, both of “Supergirl” fame, as well as Wayne Brady (“Whose Line Is It Anyway,” “Hamilton” in Chicago), Marcia Cross of “Desperate Housewives,” Eric McCormack of “Will & Grace,” Kate Flannery of “The Office,” Pasha Pashkov (“Dancing with the Stars”) and wife Daniella Karagach, singer Carrie Manolakos, in addition to actress Laurie Metcalf, recording artist Liz Callaway, legendary pop singer Melissa Manchester, comedienne Caroline Rhea, Grant Gustin (“The Flash”), Broadway’s Eden Espinosa, Yuri Sardarov (“Chicago Fire”), Marielena Hincapié (Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center), Dr. Colleen Kraft (pediatrician), and much more.
The most popular female performer of the night was Melissa Benoist, who received raucous cheers whenever she stepped onto the stage in her black blouse and pants. She began with a rousing solo performance of Carole King’s “Beautiful”– in a callback to when she performed the lead role on Broadway last year — and then later returned with her husband Chris Wood for the sweet-and-saucy duet of Irving Berlin’s “An Old-Fashioned Wedding.” Likewise, the male star with the most fervent followers in the audience was Grant Gustin, who impressed with Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s “Runnin’ Home to You.”
Moreover, Wayne Brady and Dedrick A. Bonner (“Spamilton”) performed an emotional duet of “Dear Theodosia” after the former recounted a time when, as Aaron Burr in Chicago’s “Hamilton,” he looked out into the audience and inadvertently spotted his adoring daughter before singing the piece. The song, which underscores the promise that parents have to their children, has taken on a new meaning for him since that day. Two more strong vocal performances came by two women who have both played Elphaba in “Wicked” — Eden Espinosa and Carrie Manolakos. The first sang a passionately intense version of “Defying Gravity” from the musical and the second belted a chillingly moving rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Not to mention, in the lone dancing spectacle, Pasha Pashkov and Daniella Karagach feverishly danced the rumba, with incredible footwork and spins that energized the crowd.
Providing levity at the event, while at the same time still reminding of the significant cause, were Caroline Rhea, Eric McCormack, Jane Lynch, and Kate Flannery. Rhea was effortless in earning laughs as she poked fun at an audience member for taking an unflattering photo of her (from below in the first row), which was then followed up by a quick history lesson of her Scottish roots, replete with hilarious quips about their (sometimes) unintelligible accents. McCormack was uproarious in his own right as he satirized the irrational fear of “immigrants taking jobs” by joking how Canadians like him have usurped all the great vocations in America. Lastly, Lynch and Flannery were terrific in displaying their physical comedy — along with their underrated singing ability — in a lighter take on “Far From the Home I Love” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”
When the evening became more earnest during certain points, Dr. Kraft, the former President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, spoke poignantly about the adverse effects that families experience when they’re detained against their will at the Southern border. She opined that even the slightest exposure of this experience can be particularly harmful to children from a psychological perspective, so much so that it could linger into adulthood, inhibiting their development. Similarly, Marielena Hincapié of the National Immigration Law Center reiterated her organization’s fight to side with immigrants, insofar that it sued to defend DACA, and reminded attendees to continue resisting the Public Charge Act (set to go into effect on October 15th), which disincentives immigrants from using public services like medical assistance for the fear that they might be deported because they would be considered a financial burden on society. Lastly, Yuri Sardarov, who is of Georgian and Armenian heritage, cogently retold his very personal story as a refugee in 1989, which culminated by urging people to do everything they could to be a diligent social activist.
Overall, after having put on a wildly beneficial 12th “Concert for America” in NYC in the summer of 2018, Seth Rudetsky, James Wesley, and company were once again successful in casting an invaluable limelight on the trials and tribulations that beset disadvantaged groups domestically in this iteration of the show that mixed a must-have dialogue with fine entertainment. The battle cry for human rights is not one that the organizers and participants of this event will ever back away from, and it was invigorating to see the passion and hope for societal change on display at UCLA’s Royce Hall.
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