Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Lia Chang Photos: Edie Falco, Bryce Pinkham, Stephanie McKay, Lena Hall, Nick Blaemire, Jacob Ming-Trent, Matthew Saldívar at The 52nd Street Project’s Gala FANCY THAT

I had a fancy time at The 52nd Street Project’s Gala, FANCY THAT, A Project Extravaganza, held at the Edison Ballroom on May 4, 2015, thanks to my hosts Denise Burse and her husband Peter Jay Fernandez, who are among the countless professional theater artists who have mentored and nurtured kids of The 52nd Street Project for more than two decades.

(seated) Selena Evans, Robert Evans, MaameYaa Boafo, Jeremiah Abiah, Denise Burse Fernandez, (standing) Akwasi Taha, Marva Hicks, Peter Jay Fernandez, Garth Kravits attend The 52nd Street Project's Fancy That Benefit at The Edison Ballroom in New York on May 4, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

(seated) Selena Evans, Robert Evans, MaameYaa Boafo, Jeremiah Abiah, Denise Burse Fernandez, (standing) Akwasi Taha, Marva Hicks, Peter Jay Fernandez, Garth Kravits attend The 52nd Street Project’s Fancy That Benefit at The Edison Ballroom in New York on May 4, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

The gala dinner raises money for The 52nd Street Project’s theatrical and educational programming and this year Edie Falco hosted the evening, which kicked off with a cocktail hour, followed by a seated dinner, a live auction and a suite of performances.

Lewis Black, Nancy Giles, Jessica Hecht, Judy Kuhn, Mark Linn-Baker, Tim Blake Nelson, and Frank Wood were among the 330 attendees who packed the elegant retro Edison Ballroom. The gala was a smashing success, drawing the largest crowd in a couple of years.

The 52nd Street Project's Fancy That Benefit at The Edison Ballroom in New York on May 4, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

The 52nd Street Project’s Fancy That Benefit at The Edison Ballroom in New York on May 4, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

Ms. Falco acted as emcee and reminisced about her experiences volunteering for the Project over the past 15 years. The focus of the entertainment portion of the evening was original songs with lyrics by Project kids on the theme of “Fancy,” set to music and performed by professional adult artists.

The performance got started with “The Not So Fancy Bulldog” with lyrics by Ethan Zenteno, age 10, music by Peter Lerman and performed by Tony nominated Bryce Pinkham with backing vocals by Kendal Hartse and Akron Watson.

Next was “What You Had To” with lyrics by Stasia Bree Quiñones, age 17, composed and performed by soul singer/songwriter Stephanie McKay.

Following this came “Super Regular Harmless Turtle Squad” with lyrics by Justin Bannister, age 13, composed by Broadway legend David Yazbek and performed by Kendal Hartse, Taylor Trensch and Adrienne Warren.

Then there was “What is Space?” by Jayda Camacho, age 13, composed by singer/songwriter Elizabeth Ziman and performed by Tony winner Lena Hall.

Concluding the evening was “Lifestyle” with lyrics by Chamel Rodney, age 17, and set to music by Nick Blaemire, and performed by Mr. Blaemire with 2015 Lucille Lortel Award winner Jacob-Ming Trent and Broadway star Matthew Saldívar.

The kids introduced their songs, commenting on the inspiration for each, sat at the corner of the stage while there work was performed, and took a bow with the singers at the end.

Lyricists Justin Bannister, Ethan Zenteno, Jayda Camacho, Stasia Bree Quiñones, Chamel Rodney take a bow after the performances at The 52nd Street Project's Fancy That Benefit at The Edison Ballroom in New York on May 4, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

Lyricists Justin Bannister, Ethan Zenteno, Jayda Camacho, Stasia Bree Quiñones and Chamel Rodney take a bow after the performances of their songs at The 52nd Street Project’s Fancy That Benefit at The Edison Ballroom in New York on May 4, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

Written by John Sheehy, the show was directed by Jonathan Bernstein, with musical director Kimberly Grigsby on piano, Freddy Hall on guitar and John Epcar on percussion, lighting design by Greg MacPherson, sound design by Drew Levy, set and prop design by George Babiak, Stephanie Berger, Iris Brown and Crystal Thompson, with stage management by Colleen Sherry.


The income from the evening exceeded expectations, topping $310,000 or over 20% of the Project’s annual expenses. All of the Project’s year-round programming is free to the children who participate and the presentations of the Project’s theatrical programming (28 performances of 8 productions each year) are free and open to the general public at their Five Angels Theater, 789 Tenth Avenue, in Manhattan.

Willie Reale, Denise Burse Fernandez and Peter Jay Fernandez attend The 52nd Street Project's Fancy That Benefit at The Edison Ballroom in New York on May 4, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

Willie Reale, Denise Burse Fernandez and Peter Jay Fernandez attend The 52nd Street Project’s Fancy That Benefit at The Edison Ballroom in New York on May 4, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

About The 52nd Street Project
The 52nd Street Project (The Project) was founded in 1981 by actor/playwright and 1994 MacArthur Fellow Willie Reale in response to a deepening need to improve the quality of life for New York’s inner-city children. 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 now an independent not-for-profit organization that creates over eighty new plays and serves over 125 children every year.

The 52nd Street Project has been a place where many preeminent theater-makers have volunteered their efforts to mentor kids from Hell’s Kitchen. To name just a few: Billy Crudup, Peter Dinklage, David Lindsay-Abaire, Frances McDormand, Cynthia Nixon, Oliver Platt, Theresa Rebeck, Jose Rivera, Martha Plimpton and Lili Taylor.

The Project is about making children proud of themselves. The Project is not about teaching children to act, although they will learn to. It is not about teaching them to write plays, although they will learn that as well. What it is about is giving a kid an experience of success. It is about giving a kid an opportunity to prove that he or she has something of value to offer, something that comes from within that he or she alone possesses, something that cannot be taken away.

In 2010 The 52nd Street Project, opened a theater—the first of their own—at 789 Tenth Avenue between 52nd & 53rd Streets.

Related articles:
Photos: Willie Reale, Frances McDormand, Lewis Black, Bela Fleck, Renee Goldsberry, Duncan Sheik, Lisa Benavides, Abigail Washburn, Tim Blake Nelson at The 52nd Street Project Benefit
Multimedia: The 52nd Street Project Benefit Photos: Michael Cerveris, James Monroe Inglehart, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Matthew Morrison, Greg Naughton and Kelli O’Hara

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers,  musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Examiner.comJade Magazine and Playbill.com.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2015 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s