BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Charitable enterprises are a way of life for Broadway mainstays Seth Rudetsky and his husband, James Wesley.
In 2015, the pair, who for years worked with myriad nonprofit organizations, formed their own — Your Kids, Our Kids — dedicated to helping children.
But by the end of 2016, Rudetsky, a noted host on SiriusXM’s Broadway channel, and Broadway/record producer Wesley decided that the number of people “at risk” in the U.S. stretched beyond children.
After the June 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Wesley conceived the idea of uniting the Broadway community to sing the Hal David/Burt Bacharach classic, “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” with proceeds benefiting the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida. What became Broadway for Orlando — starring Carole King, Bernadette Peters, Idina Menzel, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Gloria Estefan, Sara Bareilles, Audra McDonald and Jessie Mueller, among others — has raised more than $100,000 for the Orlando LGBT community through the song.
Then came November, which sparked another charitable thought.
“After the (presidential) election, we thought, all of these arts groups are going to suffer,” Rudetsky said this week in an interview from New York, “and our go-to is music.”
The result was a live concert staged at the Town Hall in New York City on Jan. 20 (Inauguration Day), dubbed the “Concert for America: Stand Up, Sing Out!,” along with a vow to hold a similar concert every month in various cities for the foreseeable future.
After trips to Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and a couple of more outings in New York, the “Concert for America” — edition eight — will pull into the Ferst Center for the Arts on Monday with a lineup boasting Mueller, Hal Sparks, Lillias White, Melissa Manchester, Sharon Gless, Randy Rainbow, Kim Fields, Keala Settle and more.
“The concerts are really to bring people together and make them happy and help them become active citizens again,” Rudetsky said. “I call them a refueling station. Every month, it gives you energy to go out.”
Mueller, who is making her maiden trip to Atlanta to participate in her first “Concert for America” since the original production in January, said that she wanted to be involved not to make a political statement, but “to put my energy into something positive. No matter what your political views, (after the election) it felt like things were going to change. People were really concerned about who this was going to affect — people who weren’t as privileged or had the support they need. I love the theater community because we’ve always been an army of misfits, so we were able to say, ‘We’re with you. We’re open, we’re safe. Come to our camp.’”
Atlanta was tapped thanks to one of Rudetsky’s numerous connections. Atlanta native Jonah Verdon starred in the 2013 off-Broadway show “Disaster!,” which Rudetsky co-wrote and starred in. Jonah and his mother, Margie, traveled to the Seattle and San Francisco installments of the “Concert for America,” and Margie nudged Rudetsky into an Atlanta booking.
Proceeds from the Ferst Center show — which will also livestream on the Concert for America Facebook page and concertsforamerica.com at 7:30 p.m. Monday — will benefit five human rights organizations: the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Immigration Law Center, the Sierra Club Foundation, the NAACP and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
At each show, Rudetsky said, “the zeitgeist changes.” While other concerts included discussions about the immigration travel ban and deportation, this month, he said, “obviously, is about Charlottesville and the flagrantly pro-Nazi comments of the government.”
As well, Wesley located 94-year-old Norbert Friedman, a Holocaust survivor who lives in Atlanta and will speak during the show.
“People have to have encouragement,” Rudetsky said.
But, of course, there will also be plenty of music.
The production will open with the cast lining up together on stage to sing “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” and each participant will perform a song relevant to a cause.
Mueller, who won a best actress in a musical Tony in 2014 for her work in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” will sing the title song to relate to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“(That song) came into the mix because it’s a beautiful message of hope and positivity and getting up in the morning and choosing to love,” Mueller said. “It’s a positive outlook and message.”
She added that at this point, the fundraising aspect of the “Concert for America” series is paramount.
“Now it’s about moving forward and generating some revenue — that’s going to be the real impact,” Mueller said. “People always need help. It’s important to remember that the work doesn’t stop.”
“Concert for America: Stand Up, Sing Out!”
With Seth Rudetsky, Jessie Mueller, Hal Sparks, Lillias White, Melissa Manchester, Sharon Gless, Randy Rainbow, Kim Fields, Keala Settle, Christopher Morgan, Royce Mann, Nora Schell and more. 7:30 p.m. Monday. $25-$75. Ferst Center for the Arts, 349 Ferst Drive, Atlanta. 404-894-9600, http://arts.gatech.edu/ferstcenter/.