I had a great time at The 52nd Street Project’s Spring Sing Thing: A Garden Variety Benefit at Espace on Monday night, thanks to my hosts Mildred and Borah Walton, whose daughter Denise Burse (House of Payne) invited me to the party. Ms. Burse and her husband Peter Jay Fernandez (FX’s Damages), are among the countless professional theater artists who have mentored and nurtured kids of The 52nd St. Project for almost two decades.
Looking for a way to improve the quality of life for New York’s inner-city children, actor/playwright and 1994 MacArthur Fellow Willie Reale founded The 52nd Street Project in 1981.Mr. Reale, an actor, playwright, and company member of the Ensemble Studio Theater (EST), used his company privileges to reach out to the children of the neighborhood by creating theatrical endeavors specifically for them. This was done with the cooperation and support of EST and its across-the-street-neighbor, the Police Athletic League’s Duncan Center. The Project is an independent not-for-profit organization that creates over eighty new plays and serves over 115 children every year.
For 29 years, The Project’s mission has been dedicated to the creation and production of new plays for and by kids between the ages of nine and eighteen that reside in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in New York City.
Cocktails and dinner were followed by a delightful show, emceed by Martha Plimpton, featuring songs with lyrics written by kids of the Project and music supplied by professional artists.
Spring Sing Thing was written by John Sheehy, directed by Jonathan Bernstein, and featured musical direction and piano by Kimberly Grigsby, Thad DeBrock on guitar, Jeff Potter on drums, and backup singers Emma Hunton and Gabriel Violett. With music coordination by Kim D. Sherman, lighting design by Greg MacPherson, sound design by Charles Coe and set design by George Babiak.
Memphis’ star James Monroe Inglehart, who sat at our table, was adorable singing ‘She the Best’ by lyricist Adnan Ahmed, age 10, and composer Brian Lowdermilk (Henry and Mudge).
‘Immortal Powers’ with lyrics by Melissa Rebolledo, age 13, was composed and sung by Michael Cerveris (Assassins). American Idiot’s star Rebecca Naomi Jones (Passing Strange) rocked ‘To The Beat of New York’ by lyricist Elizabeth Vasquez, age 12, and composer Tom Kitt (Next to Normal). Glee’s Matthew Morrison, who has charmed Broadway audiences in South Pacific, Hairspray and Light in the Piazza, sang ‘Need U’ by lyricist Wendell Joseph, age 13, and composer Jeanine Tesori (Caroline or Change, Shrek The Musical).
Greg Naughton of the band The Sweet Remains was joined by his wife Kelli O’Hara (South Pacific, Light in the Piazza) to sing ‘Springtime the Joyful Time’ by lyricist Brandon Leon, age 12, which Naughton composed as well.
Proceeds from Spring Sing Thing will support the project’s original writing, performance and tutoring programs.
The 52nd Street Project now has a home of their own, their very first theater located at 789 Tenth Avenue between 52nd & 53rd Streets, in the Archstone-Clinton development, which is slated to open later this summer. For more information, visit: www.52project.org.
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