In New York City, a cultural mecca teeming with performers from every artistic discipline, the worlds of ballet and Broadway can easily appear to be entirely unrelated. Yet for young artists in both spheres, the obstacles — financial, political, emotional — that lie in the path of progress bear striking similarities. A recent benefit, staged by a small contingent of New York’s musical theater community on behalf of non-profit dance academy Manhattan Youth Ballet (MYB), bridged the gap between the two artistic arenas with charming simplicity.
Broadway Salutes Ballet was the invention of Francesca McGrory, notorious Jill of all trades and star of the off-Broadway children’s show Freckleface: The Musical. In developing her plans, McGrory enlisted the support of MYB founder and Executive Artistic Director Rose Caiola, whose extensive background as a performer and producer spans from stage to screen. Caiola established MYB as Studio Maestro in 1995, providing a new resource for high-quality pre-professional classical dance training to students from around the nation — many of whom would not be able to attend the academy without the scholarships that McGrory’s benefit will help to fund.
In assembling the lively program, McGrory called on both her fellow Freckleface cast members, and performers hailing from Broadway hits such as Memphis and Evita, all of whom donated their time to the cause. Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, home to both MYB and Freckleface, hosted the event in its impressive blackbox theater, eschewing its standard expandable seating in favor of artfully-arranged candlelit tables upon which attendees could rest their complimentary drinks.
The evening’s offerings included poignant performances by Antoine Smith (Memphis) and Chelsea Waller (national tour of Gospel Girls), who sang “Your Side” and “Welcome the Rain,” respectively. Lightening the bill were Michael B. Flynn (Freckleface), with a delightfully dry delivery of “The Ladies Who Lunch,” and his off-Broadway colleague Sarah Haines, who chirped a disconcertingly adorable rendition of “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.” The most commendable performance, however, came from host Christian Castro, whose infectious energy and absurdist humor truly carried the show.
One element noticeably absent from the program was dance. Interspersing a few pieces performed by MYB students, faculty, and alumni amongst the musical theater numbers, in the spirit of a classic Broadway revue, would have been a wonderful way to tie the benefit to its cause. Nonetheless, the concept behind the evening — to honor and promote one performing art with another, facilitating an intersection of audiences in the process — was admirable, and certainly memorable for everyone involved.