◄The Lucy Lawless Files - Help Is on the Way Benefit - 2 August 2004
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... And All That Jazz
A beautiful event was held by the REAF, Help is on Way charity organization. Barbara Richmond and the late Peggy Ermet have inspired a tremendous number of people to commit themselves to the fight against AIDS by raising funds for Bay Area (another name for the San Francisco area) AIDS organizations. To give you some idea of the high level support of this charity organization, Dianne Feinstein is the Honorary Co-Chair. The Richmond/Ermett AIDS Foundation has contributed in excess of $1.5 million dollars to various AIDS organizations. This year's Help Is on The Way was the Tenth Anniversary Gala and all sales of tickets went directly to the following organizations: New Leaf (Services for Our Community), UCSF AIDS Health Project, Center for AIDS Services, Meals of Marin and BAY Positives.
Needless to say, REAF contributes to "the greater good."
Lucy Lawless, in her never-ending generosity towards charitable organizations, participated along with a score of incredible talent. The Palace of Fine Arts was teeming to the brim with luminaries, both from the San Francisco political arena and from the entertainment industry.
What had me star-struck, though, was the sea of food and drink offered at the Gala reception. By the gods, it was like walking into a culinary paradise. Can you say hors d'oeuvres? When you say hors d'oeuvres, better say it with a French accent, that's how gourmet I'm talkin' about. We are not talking cheese and crackers here, folks. Martha Stewart would be drooling in cellblock B, let me tell ya.
Upon walking in to the Palace of Fine Arts, we were greeted by women in boas and men in tuxedos who ran up to us and greeted us as though they had been waiting for us all night long. I knew I was completely out of my element at this point, but I re-applied my Lesbian lipstick, straightened the blouse I borrowed from my girlfriend, and strutted in.
There was wine from virtually every winery in the area - and all free.
Trying to look like I knew what kind of wine I was choosing, I picked out a nice Merlot, swirled it like I saw my girlfriend's restaurant-owning father do, and inspected the legs. Through my glass, I could see legs all right - from all the beautiful women dressed to the 9's.
Now, I am a lesbian and I love my girlfriend, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the male form. The waiters were all shirtless - Adonis's adorned in well-pressed tuxedo pants and black leather suspenders only. One of them sashayed up to me and asked me if I would like to buy a set of raffle tickets. As I stared at his stomach, I answered that I'd like a six pack.
He frowned, replying they only came in sets of five. I fumbled for some money and he happily snatched the bill out of my hand. I watched as he re-sashayed away. How in the world do men get their butts to be so tight?
Anyway, back to the wine. The merlot I had chosen was fine, but then I noticed that everyone was drinking delicately tinted pink martinis. Cosmos? They have Cosmos?
I discarded the wine on the tray of a passing boy-toy, forgotten. They were serving watermelon Cosmos. And it was an open bar! Now, I knew I had died and gone to the great Broadway party in the sky. Watermelon Cosmos in hand, and trying to look as though I knew how to hob-knob on Nob Hill, I went searching for my people - sashaying as well as my pink drink would allow.
I had no problem finding them.
They were gathered around the Valkerie costume display taking pictures.
As you know, there were three costumes offered up for silent auction and they were the centerpiece of the room, surrounded by some of the finest hors d'oeuvres I have ever delicately held between the tips of my fingers and devoured (followed by a generous sip of my Watermelon Cosmo).
Funny though, but most of the crowd didn't seem to be giving those costumes a second glass ... er, I mean glance. We, however, were drooling over them like we were tourists at a Planet Hollywood.
Like an old family, I found my fellow Xenites. Greeted by some I knew and met new ones I didn't. Some of us were dressed for the occasion; some of us thought it was a Creation event. Oh well, you can take the Xenite out of the convention, but I guess ya can't get 'em all to wear pumps.
We naturally flocked to the head goose, Sharon and made arrangements to meet in a particular spot at the back end of the room after the show, and Sharon promised she would lead Lucy over to us.
I thought, cool this ought to be nice.
The lights flickered (just like at the opera) and we shuffled into the theater.
Curtain up! Light the lights! You got nothin' to hit but the heights!
It was time for Help is on the Way X - Broadway and All That Jazz!
After some poignant opening remarks by Ken Henderson & Joe Seiler (keep the name Joe Seiler in mind, because I have a story to share at the end of this report), the acts began.
I won't go into a review of all of them, just a couple. And really, I'm the wrong person to be reviewing because I'm not exactly a Broadway-song aficionado. If it doesn't have a beat, I tend to get glassy-eyed. But there were some stellar performances that even I could appreciate.
It was a two Act show:
Brian Boitano joined Mary Jo Catlett and performed a medley of Couple of Swells (from Ester Parade) and Class (Chicago) (the only reason why I know where the songs are from is because I am referencing a program, so don't go getting impressed). Brian, as you know, is a skater. Mary Jo Catlett, in case you didn't know, has done some of the voices on SpongeBob Squarepants - plus a number of other things. Mary Jo hit the notes like she was an old theater pro (maybe she is, for all I know). Brian Boitano, though his voice was not as strong, did a fine job. The act was very entertaining.
Teri Bibb, Karen Culliver & Mary D'arcy performed a Phantom of the Opera medley with just a touch of tongue-in-cheek that was really entertaining. They were joined by Franc D'Ambrosio for a more serious version of Music of the Night. It was terrific and actually made me sort of interested in seeing Phantom (or at least remixing some of the music).
Opened with Nita Whitaker singing I Don't Know How to Love Him and followed by Sean McDermott singing Gethsemane, both from Jesus Christ, Superstar. Nita Whitaker did a simply breathtaking version of I Don't Know How to Love Him. Absolutely full of emotion. Then Sean McDermott sang Gethsemane. Now, the audience seemed to be enthralled by his extremely unusually singing style. Myself, not being Broadway-versed, could only describe it as something like a cross between a cat being strangled and an aging eunuch singing in a boy's choir. It wasn't my thing, but the crowd seemed to love it.
The Grass is Always Greener came next, sung by Jill Eikenberry & Michael Tucker - a wonderful, light hearted performance and a real show stopper. I found myself worrying that Lucy was going to be next, because this was going to be one hard act to follow.
Thankfully, a not so stellar version of Steam Heat by Jane Lanier, Cody Green & Eric Robertson came next, so Lucy had nothing to worry about.
The lights dimmed, the media screen flashed her name and yes, you could hear warrior yells fill the room as Lucy's name appeared.
Let me tell you something, I may be a fan and therefore, far from impartial, but of all the stars, Lucy as the most spectacular among them. She took that stage as elegantly as any Broadway luminary. There was not a hint of Xena swagger whatsoever as she walked across the stage to take the mic. She was all elegant, all woman - and all that jazz.
The girl has cahunas, let me tell you. She stood on that stage, nothing between her and the audience but a microphone. Before a roomful of armchair Ethel Mermans, she sang her heart out like she had been doing Broadway all of her life. She sang, They Say it's Wonderful/Last in His Arms, two songs from Annie Get Your Gun by Irving Berlin. They were NOT easy songs to sing and she did a stand-up job with them. She virtually floated off the stage with all the presence of a true princess to waves of applause from all.
Lucy was followed by the incredibly hysterical Bruce Vilanch doing a side-splitting half stand-up comedy, half musical comedy Everything is Beautiful at the Ballet. At one point, a couple of people (women I think) left there seats quickly, distracting him. His comment: "These women will do anything to meet Lucy Lawless". His act brought the house down.
Lucy Arnaz sang Something's Gotta Give/It's Alright With Me. To be honest, I can't remember it. I think I was still in Lawless land. Carole Cook performed a side-splittingly deadpanned version of Strike up the Band. (Example: Lyric - "Let the drums roll out" - a big, huge bass drum came slowly rolling out, thunk, thunk, thunk, until it rolled all the way center stage right into her. Her comment - "What the fuck?")
Mary Wilson sang, I am Changing from Dreamgirls. I dunno, I thought she missed a few notes and strained a few times. Maybe it wasn't her night.
Tyne Daly sang a very Ethel-esque version of Rose's Turn, from Gypsy. She had them armchair Mermans out of their seats.
The grand finale was the theme song written by David Friedman, Help Is on the Way which brought the entire cast back out on stage as chorus to a well-deserved standing ovation.
We filed out in very orderly fashion, back into the party for, what I hoped, would be Lucy Lawless for dessert.
I pushed through the throngs and made my way back to the designated Xenite gathering area. Sure enough, there seemed to be about 50 of us milling about waiting for Lucy. I chatted with a few friends and felt my heart fluttering thinking that FINALLY I was going to be seeing Lucy in a non-Creation gathering.
My mind wandered, imaging she would come over all flush from the excitement of her performance and happy to see us, her adoring fans, here in support of her. We waited. And waited. Apparently, she was not coming over so quickly. Some of us got anxious and left the area in search of her. There were reports filtering back that she was talking with people and stopping to have a drink - activities like that.
Perfectly understandable. It was her night to shine, wasn't it?
Some of us, though, began to get pissed. Where was she? Why wasn't she rushing over to us? My friend asked me if she thought we should go looking for her. I said, no. Give her a chance. Let her enjoy the moment. She'll come to see us, I was sure of it.
Others didn't look at it that way. They went out specifically with the intention of bringing her over to us.
I guess it worked, because there was a surge of movement and the flashing of camera lights. Sure enough, Lucy's fair head was clearly visible towering over the crowd in the room. Lucy is a tall women and she also has a presence like no other - so when I say towering, believe me, I mean towering.
All thoughts of a nice visit were dashed. Like paparazzi, we swarmed the poor woman. She was quickly ushered to the protection of a table and we rushed forward, surrounding it. Things were shoved at her. People called her name, pushed forward to try to get a clear picture of her.
I couldn't believe it, and I was a bit overwhelmed.
I couldn't imagine what Lucy felt.
The woman though, gods bless her, was so calm and charming. She smiled and nodded, took items to sign. Smiled, nodded. Listened, smiled, nodded. Signed and signed.
But the energy was frantic. It was though we thought that any second Lucy was going to disappear. I began to worry that I wouldn't get an autograph. I have to admit, I got caught up in it all and made my way to her, eventually getting my chakram in front of her. She smiled at it and placed it on the table so she could sign it. She said something to me, like - this is the real thing and I tried to say thank you to her, but she was already turning away and reaching for the next item, smiling at the next person, nodding, signing.
I backed away, in awe of the signature on my chakram and the grace and patience of the woman who had signed it.
Then, Sharon started taking cameras from people and directing Lucy to turn to take pictures with fans. Shoot. I was right there next to Sharon so no way I was going to miss out for the chance to get a picture with her. I waited in the rear while Sharon and an unidentified woman tried to keep control of a situation that was quickly getting out of control as people like me, who had already gotten an autograph starting coming back for pictures.
Now, I'm aware of some comments against the unidentified woman who was sort of acting as body guard. But, let me tell you, I was right there for a long time, waiting while she and Sharon funneled people both in front of Lucy and behind, and she was as polite as a person could possibly be given that situation.
And Lucy, my god! The woman turned, posed for a picture, spun back around and signed an autograph, spun and posed. Just try to imagine this scene - complete with all these digital cameras - you know how they are - they turn off after a while, they don't take the photo when you depress the button. Sharon had to deal with all that. Lucy, too - waiting patiently with as sincere a smile on her face as she could muster, posing until each and every digital camera decided to work.
It was a nightmare.
I look at the chakram now hanging proudly on my wall. I look at the beautiful picture I have of Lucy and me, but there is no nice memory to go along with them.
For me, the memory is the reason for the autograph. I don't intend to ever sell these items. They are for me and me alone. But there is no memory to go with them, save the memory of a throng of hazed people, myself included, ruining what should have been a beautiful night for Lucy Lawless - and all of us.
No wonder Creation treats us as they do. I have a new respect for the way they organize the talent for autograph signing.
I urge us all to reconsider our behavior at any event where the autograph signing is not controlled by the appropriate security.
In looking back, I have no doubt that Lucy would have stayed with us until every last one of us had given her something to sign. She probably would have also posed for as many pictures as possible, too. We could have had a moment to say thank you for the 10 years of fun, for a miraculous show, and for her generosity and her support of women and children, of the Gay community (especially for her never-ending support of the Lesbian community who often get shadowed by the more vocal Gay male community). I'm sure she would have taken a moment to speak on cell phones to the more disadvantage, the ones who couldn't be here.
What we would have come away with was not only an autograph, but a moment, not to mention a night, to remember.
Isn't that worth more than an autograph?
Now, I do have a couple of insightful stories to share with you. Remember, I mentioned the name Joe Seiler - he was one of the chair-people of the event, and I think of REAF itself. I happened to be standing back, away from the crowd and next to him. We were both watching Lucy deal with the crowd. I looked up at him and he had the obvious expression of a person deep in Lucy haze. Sure enough, he looked down at me (I say down, because I am vertically challenged) and he said, "She is simply gorgeous."
I said, in typical fan fashion, "You got that right. We adore her."
"She's incredible," he continued, awestruck, "Look how she deals with all this. So calm. She's amazing."
I looked back, seeing it through his eyes.
Lucy was simply amazing. She did not, not once, give an attitude or the impression that she had had enough. Though at one point, I did hear her turn to Sharon and say, "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea."
Next anecdote: My friend and I really made this an event for ourselves. We hired a car to drive us to San Francisco. It was one of those nice town cars, not a limo. It dropped us off and then picked us up at the end of the show - surprisingly affordable, but let me continue.
I had arranged for a pick up at 11:30, but the Lucy thing was making us late and we ended up getting out of the door closer to midnight. We stood under the awning at the front door the Palace of Fine Arts, but there was no car. I called the service and they said they would have the driver call me and let me know where our ride was.
About 10 minutes later, I got the call and went out to the car. It was waiting for us up the block, directly in front of the backstage door. The driver greeted us (a woman) and we got into the car and drove away. My friend and I began to discuss the night and when we mentioned the name "Lucy Lawless," our driver looked at us in the rear view mirror.
"Lucy Lawless? She was just sitting right in the seat that you are," she said, pointing at my friend, who was sitting in the back seat to my right.
We both looked at one another, stunned.
"What? Did you take Lucy somewhere?"
Was that why we couldn't find our car?
No. What happened was this: our car was waiting for us, up the block, a short distance away, by the stage door. Lucy had come out and gotten into our car thinking, it was hers. When the driver found out she wasn't us, she told her she couldn't take her anywhere. A woman who was with her (that unidentified woman, I suppose) begged the driver to take her, but she said she couldn't just leave her clients. Anyway, Lucy asked if she could just wait inside the car until her own car was found.
To make a long story short, apparently Lucy had left our car for her own and drove away just a few bare seconds before we walked up.
Needless to say, we would have let Lucy take our car anywhere she wanted to go, with or without us, but that is not the point to the story.
What was important to me was the statement our driver made in passing. She said that Lucy seemed upset about something.
Now, she could have been upset about any number of things. Maybe it was just her missing car?
But I got a sinking feeling in my heart, believing that maybe we had ruined her night. It pains me to think that I was amongst the reasons for her being upset.
I urge us all to reconsider how we approach our beloved actors at these performances. I know it is easy to look at yourself and say, "but I didn't yell, I didn't push."
I know, because I didn't yell and I didn't push either. But I was there and when I stood next to Lucy for a picture, I'm sure Lucy stood next to me and smiled, but what she was feeling in her heart might have been something else. And this saddens me to no end.
Thank you, Lucy for your grace and patience under fire. I make a solemn promise to you that if the opportunity for a moment with you ever arises again, I will behave in an equally graceful and patient manner - or I will not approach you at all.
Do good and you are good.
Let's end the cycle.
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