We’re Putting on a Show!
We’re thrilled to return to Joe’s Pub for the GMHC Cabaret and Howard Ashman Award on March 24—and to honor the multi-talented comedian Lea DeLaria, who’s also a TV and Broadway actor, and jazz singer.
The Cabaret’s producer, Ron Dodd, shared with us how he pulls it all together, as he and the cast get ready for the first live show since 2019. Dodd, a former GMHC board member, is used to tight schedules, thanks to his day job as the producer for the “Rachel Maddow Show”.
Now on his fifth Cabaret, Dodd said the first thing he does is ask the honoree what performers they’d like to have, since it’s their evening. “I am so excited about Lea,” he said of the LGBTQ trailblazer, who was the first openly gay comic to appear on American television.
“She truly lives up to what the award is meant to do—to recognize a member of the performance community whose art and activism has made a difference in the lives of LGBTQ people and the fight to end HIV/AIDS,” he said.
DeLaria will be joined by a bevy of friends from Broadway, cabaret, movies and TV, including Gabriel Ebert (“Pass Over”), Katie Finneran (“The Gilded Age”), Gina Gershon (“Emily the Criminal”), Cady Huffman (“Cady Did”), Amy Jo Jackson (“Hatchetation”), drag legend Dina Martina, Kate Rigg (“Family Guy”), and The Maine Attraction. There will also be a video from Jesse Tyler Ferguson (“Modern Family”).
Well before “Orange is the New Black” brought her national fame, DeLaria spent years performing in Provincetown, famous for its LGBTQ nightlife. “I wanted to somehow bring a piece of P-town to Joe’s Pub to honor Lea,” Dodd said. “She spent a lot of time there at the height of the AIDS crisis helping gay men, many who’d gone there to live out their last days.”
Enter the incomparable Dina Martina, a summer fixture in that “delightful little ashtray of a town,” as she famously calls it. “Dina is like no other drag performer. You’ve got to experience her kind of nuttiness to understand what I mean,” Dodd said.
“Every performer in the show has a connection to Lea,” he added. “I plan a program around whatever they do, whether it’s singing or acting or comedy.”
Kate Rigg, who’s known DeLaria for years, was one of the first performers Dodd lined up. “I’m totally psyched to see what she comes up with,” he said of the actor, singer, comedian, and activist. “I think she will surprise us.”
Dodd discovered that another star, actress Gina Gershon, is also a talented singer, when he heard her at Bob Dylan’s birthday celebration a couple of years ago. “She happens to adore Lea, so this will be a real treat for everyone,” he said.
For the music director, Dodd said he’s partnered with the “amazingly talented” Lance Horne for almost every Cabaret he’s produced, who’s worked with an array of musical stars, including Alan Cumming, Rufus Wainwright, Liza Minnelli, Carol Channing, Kylie Minogue, and Kristin Chenoweth.
The Howard Ashman Award
Acclaimed lyricist Howard Ashman is the inspiration for the Cabaret.
In 2013, Jason Cianciotto, GMHC’s vice president of public policy and communications, was trying to think of a creative fundraiser to benefit AIDS Walk New York, when he watched a documentary about Disney’s animated films, “Waking Sleeping Beauty”.
He learned from the film that Ashman, who wrote the lyrics for “Little Shop of Horrors”, “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and “Aladdin”, had died of AIDS-related complications in 1991. He was only 40.
Cianciotto was stunned. “I had no idea. I can’t think of a lyricist and storyteller who has had more of a global impact than Howard Ashman. It was so important to memorialize and honor Howard in a way that shines a light on how HIV and AIDS affected him, and so many other artists and entertainers.”
Cianciotto and his husband, Courter Simmons, a Broadway performer, created the first Cabaret in 2013 around Ashman’s music as a benefit for GMHC, featuring an award in his name to recognize people who have used their fame to make a difference in the fight to end the AIDS epidemic.
The very first Howard Ashman Award went posthumously to the lyricist and director himself. His sister, Sarah Ashman Gillespie, accepted it on his behalf.
Gillespie has supported the Cabaret from the beginning, Cianciotto said, even sending him recordings and sheet music for unpublished songs with lyrics by Ashman, including “Call Me a Princess,” which was cut from “Aladdin”, and others from an unfinished musical he was writing with Alan Menken about Babe Ruth. “Howard was a huge baseball fan,” he said.
All proceeds from the Cabaret and Howard Ashman Award benefit GMHC’s services for people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS. Buy tickets here to join us at Joe’s Pub, or to watch the livestream from anywhere in the country.
Photo: (Top row, L–R) Lea DeLaria, Gabriel Ebert, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Katie Finneran, Gina Gershon; (Bottom row, L–R) Cady Huffman, Amy Jo Jackson, Dina Martina, Kate Rigg, The Maine Attraction