The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts became more than a cultural hub Monday night — it turned into place of healing for 2,700 Central Floridians.
A legion of musical talent headlined in “From Broadway With Love: A Benefit Concert for Orlando” to honor the 49 victims of the Pulse massacre and raise funds for the LGBTQ+ community. Net proceeds were equally divided and donated to the Hope and Help Center of Central Florida, Zebra Coalition and the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida.
“You can see that the Orlando community is incredibly grateful, and they’re giving that back to the actors and performers on stage,” said Joe Saunders, a UCF alumnus and former state representative. “And I have to believe that that’s special to them just like it’s special to us.”
In addition to the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orlando Voices United Choir, the sold-out performance featured Broadway and Orlando icons, including Tony-award winner Kelli O’Hara, SirusXM radio host Seth Rudetsky, Glee sensation Darren Criss and UCF alumnus Justin Sargent.
Almost every musical number received a standing ovation, from Chita Rivera’s rendition of “All That Jazz” to Liz Callaway’s performance of “Once Upon a December.”
Both Rivera and Callaway were part of the ensemble of Broadway performers who added their collective voices to the outcry against the Pulse rampage last month.
Along with more than 60 other renowned artists, including Idina Menzel and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the two women recorded a special version of Burt Bacharach’s “What the World Needs Now Is Love” to benefit the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida.
The session was orchestrated by Rudetsky and his husband James Wesley, who produced the song, just days after a heavily-armed gunman opened fire at Pulse nightclub.
To clear his mind after the shooting, Wesley biked through the streets of downtown New York while listening to “What the World Needs Now Is Love” on repeat. Its heartfelt lyrics inspired him to honor the 49 victims in the way he knew best — through music.
“I can’t imagine what it was like to live in the city and be here on that Sunday,” Wesley told the audience. “How do you go on with your day? … I realized that this [song] was what the Broadway community needed to do.”
Wesley and Rudetsky welcomed the performers onstage to sing “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” signaling the finale of the three-hour benefit concert.
Audience members raised their arms in the air and made heart shapes with their hands. Others placed their arms around each other and swayed to the beat of the music.
“This comes from my heart tonight Orlando — for you,” said Andrea McArdle, who starred as Annie in the original production of the Broadway musical Annie. “From my heart to yours.”
Shana Medel is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Email her at ShanaM@CentralFloridaFuture.com.