Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Lia Chang Multimedia: The 52nd Street Project Benefit Photos: Michael Cerveris, James Monroe Inglehart, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Matthew Morrison, Greg Naughton and Kelli O’Hara

The 52nd Street  Project lyricists Brandon Leon, Elizabeth Vasquez, Adnan Ahmed, Melissa Rebolledo and Wendell Jenkins.  ©Lia Chang

The 52nd Street Project lyricists Brandon Leon, Elizabeth Vasquez, Adnan Ahmed, Melissa Rebolledo and Wendell Jenkins. ©Lia Chang


Rebecca Naomi Jones, who is currently starring in American Idiot on Broadway, with Denise Burse. Photo by Lia Chang

Rebecca Naomi Jones, who is currently starring in American Idiot on Broadway, with Denise Burse. Photo by Lia Chang

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.

Willie Reale, an actor, playwright and 1994 MacArthur Fellow founded The 52nd Street Project in 1981. Photo by Lia Chang

Willie Reale, an actor, playwright and 1994 MacArthur Fellow founded The 52nd Street Project in 1981. Photo by Lia Chang

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.

Martha Plimpton emceed The 52nd Street Project's Spring Sing Thing Benefit at Espace in New York on Monday, May 10, 2010. © Lia Chang

Martha Plimpton emceed The 52nd Street Project's Spring Sing Thing Benefit at Espace in New York on Monday, May 10, 2010. © Lia Chang


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).

James Monroe Inglehart is currently appearing on Broadway in Memphis. © Lia Chang

James Monroe Inglehart is currently appearing on Broadway in Memphis.© Lia Chang


‘Immortal Powers’ with lyrics by Melissa Rebolledo, age 13, was composed and sung by Michael Cerveris (Assassins).
Michael Cerveris © Lia Chang

Michael Cerveris © Lia Chang

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).
 American Idiot's star Rebecca Naomi Jones © Lia Chang

American Idiot's star Rebecca Naomi Jones © Lia Chang

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).
Lyricist Wendell Joseph, age 13 and Glee's Matthew Morrison © Lia Chang

Lyricist Wendell Joseph, age 13 and Glee's Matthew Morrison © Lia Chang


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.
Greg Naughton and Kelli O’Hara © Lia Chang

Greg Naughton and Kelli O’Hara © Lia Chang


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.

Lia Chang, Matthew Morrison and designer Selena Evans Photo by Robert Evans

Lia Chang, Matthew Morrison and designer Selena Evans Photo by Robert Evans

Lia Chang is an actor, performance and fine art botanical photographer and an award-winning multimedia journalist. Lia’s portraits and performance photos have appeared in Vanity Fair, Gourmet, German Elle, Women’s Wear Daily, The Paris Review, VIBE, TV Guide, Daily Variety, Interior Design, American Theatre, Life & Style, OUT, New York Magazine, InStyle, Timeout.com, Villagevoice.com, Playbill.com, Theatermania.com, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, USA Today, The Boston Globe, New York Times and Washington Post. A former syndicated arts and entertainment columnist for KYODO News, Lia is the New York Bureau Chief for AsianConnections.com. She writes about culture, style and Asian American issues for a variety of publications and this Backstage Pass with Lia Chang blog. As a photographer, Lia collaborates with artists, organizations and companies in establishing their documentary photo archive. She has been documenting her colleagues and contemporaries in the arts, fashion and journalism since making her stage debut as Liat in the National Tour of South Pacific, with Robert Goulet and Barbara Eden. Her HERRINGBONE Backstage Pass with BD Wong photography exhibition was on view at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, N.J. Lia currently plays Nurse Lia on One Life to Live. She has appeared in Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman, As the World Turns and New York Undercover.
Other Articles by this Author
Michael Cerveris, Matthew Morrison and Kelli O’Hara Lend Vocal Talents for 52nd St. Project Benefit
Peter Jay Fernandez and Jane Summerhays in star in Mr. Lincoln at New York Historical Society
Angela’s Mixtape Opening Night
Zooman and The Sign Opening Night Party
Peter Jay Fernandez and Laura Heisler Star in Too Much Memory
BD Wong to Star in Asia Society Benefit Concert of Heading East, May 24-26
Achieving the American Dream, Professional Charmer Andre De Shields Sees Theater is a Way to Life
Multimedia: Yellow Face Reading and Book Signing with David Henry Hwang, Kathryn Layng, Francis Jue and Special Guest Edward Albee
Multimedia: NAATCO’s LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION! with special guest Terrence McNally
The Bacchae Opening Night Photos: Andre De Shields, Jonathan Groff and Anthony Mackie
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive.

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