Broadway Stars Bring Pandemic Joy By Way Of The Singing Telegram
NOEL KING, HOST:
With Broadway shut down, performers in New York City have had to put their careers on hold, but some of them have found a way to use their talent. Here's Arun Venugopal of member station WNYC.
ARUN VENUGOPAL, BYLINE: These are highly accomplished performers. Deon'te Goodman is in the ensemble of "Hamilton" on Broadway.
DEON'TE GOODMAN: There's a moment where you're like, oh, am I ever going to do the thing that I love to do again?
VENUGOPAL: Jenni Barber has performed in "Wicked," "The Nance" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." For the last year, she's been at home.
JENNI BARBER: You want to sing to someone that's not your cat, maybe (laughter).
VENUGOPAL: So in December, Barber and G.T. Hederman, a theater director and, full disclosure, a friend, launched A Generous Act: Singing Telegrams - old-timey songs in the public domain, all performed over the phone.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T WE GOT FUN?")
BARBER: (Singing) The rent's unpaid, dear. We haven't got a car.
It just felt like a really lovely, nonjudgmental, tiny sugar bomb of joy.
VENUGOPAL: Some performers like Mylinda Hull were initially wary.
MYLINDA HULL: You know, when you think about a traditional singing telegram that - knock, knock, knock - shows up on your door, and it's a crazy gorilla suit or it's a tap-dancing nut job, and your neighbors are looking, your co-workers are mocking you - that sounds awful.
VENUGOPAL: But then the orders started coming in - 30 bucks for a performance, $20 of which goes to the singer, the rest for the Actors Fund and overhead. And the performers were caught off guard by the power of singing over a phone to one person.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALWAYS")
UNIDENTIFIED BROADWAY PERFORMER: (Singing) Days may not be fair always. That's when I'll be there always.
VENUGOPAL: Kimberly Chatterjee recalls singing a Christmas carol.
KIMBERLY CHATTERJEE: It was a mother, and her son had requested it for her. And she, at the end, started crying, and it makes me a little bit emotional because she wasn't going to be able to see him for the holidays, because she was lonely.
VENUGOPAL: Think of artists - the people who help us feel, even through a pandemic - as first responders of a different sort. Now, these performers are hoping to return to the stage and to the songs that lured them there in the first place.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROADWAY")
GOODMAN: (Singing) Give my regards to Broadway. Remember me to Herald Square. Tell all the gang at 42nd Street that I will soon be there.
BARBER: You talk about "Give My Regards To Broadway" - like, remember me to Herald Square, tell all the gang at 42nd Street that I will soon be there - I mean, it makes me so - it makes me sad.
VENUGOPAL: And now they're waiting for the city they love to return.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MANHATTAN")
CHATTERJEE: (Singing) We'll have Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, too. It's lovely going through the zoo.
I still have that moment once a year where I'm like, oh, my God, I live in New York City, I'm an actor, and I'm doing it.
VENUGOPAL: So far, the singers of A Generous Act have performed around 230 singing telegrams with more to come. For NPR News, I'm Arun Venugopal in New York City.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GOT RHYTHM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.