Broadway Stands Up for Freedom and Tony Kushner Salutes the NYCLU

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July 22, 2008 —  The sixth annual Broadway Stands Up for Freedom concert was a smashing, sold-out success. Dozens of Broadway's finest - including musical director Seth Rudetsky and leading actors from Jersey Boys, Wicked, the original cast of Rent, Spring Awakening, Spelling Bee, Les Miz and the entire cast of Godspell - took to the stage to salute the work of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Though honorary chair Tony Kushner was called away at the last minute because of a family emergency, he still managed to bring the house down with a message read by Kathleen Chalfant, who starred in Kushner's Angels in America:

Dear NYCLUers,

I apologize profusely for my absence. A family emergency has kept me away. Alright, really I stayed home to watch Project Runway. No, no, it’s an emergency, of course it is, what else could keep me away from this night, from this super way to support the NYCLU? Nothing else could. Not even Project Runway.
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If I had managed to come, I would have done my usual thing, cheap jokes about the always funny-in-a-not-funny-way Bush administration, mixed with froth-at-the-mouth apoplectic indignation over the ten zillion really appalling, terrifying things that happened this year that we all know about and are all shocked, stunned, staggered by or we wouldn’t be here, supporting the NYCLU, and thank you for doing that, by the way. So pretend that I’ve done what I usually do, and while you’re at it you could also pretend that I was brilliant and hysterical and the best thing you’ve seen onstage all year, go on, pretend, why not, it won’t cost you anything.

When you’re done pretending, you’ll be entertained by this year’s gathering of prodigious theatrical talent, every one of them a bonafide shining star in the heavenly firmament! You should know that among these glorious performers, entertainers and actors, all of whom have donated their time and talent because, like you and me, they’re totally freaked out about the ten zillion appalling, terrifying things that happened this year and like you and me they believe the NYCLU is one of the few bulwarks remaining, and a very fine bulwark it is, against madness, chaos, apocalypse and the kind of people who believe the telecommunications giants deserve immunity from prosecution.

You should know that among them these fabulous, fabulous performers have won 15 Tony Awards, nine Drama Desk Awards, 11 Outer Critics Circle Awards, five Emmys, three Oscars, four Pulitzers, a Nobel Prize and oh never mind I made all that up. But they’re a swell bunch of kids, really, and probably they’ve won many many impressive awards and prizes, I don’t really know how many or what kind because I don’t know who’s showed up this year because, well, I didn’t.

Apologies again.

But how great, and of course how appropriate, that people who work in theater come out to make it possible for people who ensure the continued existence of our civil liberties to do their work. Donna Lieberman asked me when I started doing this to talk about what makes this connection appropriate. I’ve suggested it has to do with a shared understanding of the tireless work it takes to make both art and a decent world, which is itself a work of art; I’ve suggested it has to do with a common capacity for going forth into the world with joy rather than fear. Maybe this year I’ll suggest that what we share, theater people and the committed civil libertarians of the NYCLU, is hope.

Everyone who’s ever worked in theater knows how absolutely predicated on hope the rickety, looney enterprise always is, and how little encouragement hope receives along the way, and how seldom, in fact, our fondest hopes are realized, and yet also how essential theater is to life, and hence how essential hope is to life. The NYCLU shares a faith of a similar kind: A determined faith in the future, predicated not on metaphysics but on the magnificent curiosity, vitality, generosity, generativity and decency of human community. Without which, there would be no audience for theater, nor any necessity to keep our civil liberties alive, to make sure we don’t forget Abraham Lincoln’s admonition: “A government had better go to the very extreme of toleration than to do aught that could be construed into an interference with, or to jeopardize in any degree, the common rights of its citizens.”

Have a wonderful wonderful night, it breaks my heart that I’m not there. Thanks again for supporting the NYCLU and the hope-inspiring soul-enlivening nation-and-world-saving work it does.

-- Tony K