Big Year for Bill Russell, One of Broadway's Best!
BCEFA Benefit Premieres an Exciting 2016 for Lyricist Russell
By: Deborah Heineman - Mar 25, 2016
On the final day of February, the fabulous Bill Russell (Side Show) brought talent and friends together at Birdland in NYC for a one-night-only benefit performance of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, Russell’s tribute to people lost to the scourge of AIDS in the early days of the disease, all to benefit Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS.
Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens should be performed far more often than it has been. A series of monologues from souls of all varieties who succumbed to the virus in the waning of the 20th Century, interspersed with magnificent songs that echo their stories, Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens is a time capsule as well as a tribute, It captures a moment in history when so many barriers were broken. NYC and San Francisco represented all the energy, freedom and rebellion of the Baby Boom generation.
There are both heroes and villains in Russell’s story: The chilling fellow who wantonly has sex with as many men as possible after finding out he is HIV+, maliciously announcing his status post-coitus to partners and watching their horror. There is a hero nurse, who cares for AIDS patients in hospitals while others shun them, only to be accidentally pricked by a needle and infected.
But what Russell’s lyrics and monologues magically manage to convey, is that this plague affected everyone and was a crazy quilt of individual lives and stories. It is a fact too often forgotten. Russell was, in fact, inspired by the “Quilt of Remembrance,” which was created during the peak of the scourge, and to which anyone could contribute a memorial patch (In one humorous vignette, an AIDS victim bemoans the fact that his patch is just not “fabulous” enough!).
The benefit production of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens was directed by Jill Sapenoff with Musical Direction by William Waldrop, and had an all-star cast including Caroline Bowman (Evita, Wicked), Jaime Cepero (Smash), Natalie Douglas (Mac Award Winner), Sean MacLaughlin (Evita, Phantom of the Opera), Karen Mason (Mamma Mia, Sunset Boulevard), and Josh Young (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita). All were amazing!
Most importantly, many more wonderful Russell shows are in the cards for the rest of 2016:
- Side Show is finally opening in London at the Southwark Theatre, where it runs from October 21 – December 3 (tickets available at: southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/; or call 020-7407-0234).
- Pageant starts performances June 25 (and plays in rep with Nunsense) through July 15 at the Black Hills Playhouse in South Dakota -- Russell’s home state! (tickets available at: http://www.blackhillsplayhouse.com/; or call 605-255-4910).
- Unexpected Joy gets its world premiere on Cape Cod at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater (WHAT) on July 21 and runs through August 20 (tickets at: what.org/unexpected-joy/; or call 508-349-9428).
- And Brave New World, for which Russell wrote the lyrics, will have its world premiere at North Carolina Stage in Ashville, with performances starting on May 11, and an Opening Night on May 14 (tickets at: ncstage.org/productions/brave-new-world/; or call 828-239-0263).
If your Summer/Fall plans include a trip to any of the above locales, try your best to get to one of these performances. If Bill Russell is part of a production it will not disappoint!