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Remember the past. That’s exactly what a cross-section of artists will do next weekend at Judson Memorial Church where Quilt, a Musical Celebration will make its New York City debut.

The fundraiser, benefitting the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center and Frontline AIDS, will unite several organizations with professional and community performers to reflect on one of the deadliest health epidemics in our nation’s history. The show has a book & lyrics by Jim Morgan, book by John Schack and music by Michael Stockler. Justin Kirkeberg will direct.

Producer Mark Perry recently spoke to  Manhattan Digest about the event, which originally premiered in Washington D.C. in 1993. “We’ve really approached this as a period piece…looking back through that chapter in LGBT history,” he said. “So many people think of this as something from the past and  I’m discovering a sense of disconnect from the issue as we live in the age of Prep.”   The recent anniversary of D-day and the memorials  surrounding it has paralleled the sentiments of his production. “If we forget…not just that it happened,but also the consequences…and in this case the government’s lack of response, then we are really dooming ourselves to relive those sorts of things.”  He went on to discuss the uptick in the number of LGBT hate crimes and the adversarial  dynamic by our current political leaders.

Photo courtesy of NAMES Foundation

Still. He’s managed to find the joy. “It’s important to take a minute to look inward and recognize that we have this history of banding together and supporting one another to solve problems as a reminder that we can and need to do it again,”  quoting a repeated phrase found in the piece: ” ‘Out of something terrible comes something beautiful.’ That is really the theme here,” he explained.

He’s been overwhelmed by the number of people who have already been moved by the program. Recently, he learned that a 74- year- old trans woman from Minneapolis would be taking the Greyhound to take part in the program because “the sense of community in building this show is so important to her.” Perry quickly bought her a plane ticket home.

The cast is enormous and he credits Actors Equity for allowing the diverse level of performers. “They  allowed us to produce this under a guest artist contract. Because of that, we were able to include the non-union Greenwich village orchestra, which is very, very good.  We were also able to hire professionals like Diana DeGarmo, a widely recognized recording artist  who was in Hairspray. We also have Andrew Leeds who spent 4 years playing a murderer on television’s  Bones. He has a dark gravitas but he’s also very funny. And we have a really great kid who is about to play his fifth Billy Elliot.

Photo courtesy of NAMES Foundation.

Originally, the piece was performed with a piano and synthesizer but now, they’ve added an orchestra and choir. “We are doing as much as we can to connect with the original creators,” Perry noted. “John Schack, our book-writer, has been with us every step of the way. We’re trying our best to connect past players with present players.”

In addition to the music, pieces of the AIDS Memorial quilt will also be displayed. “We are the largest installation of the AIDS Memorial Quilt at World pride this year,” Perry explained.  “I believe we’re the largest installation in New York City in over a decade. We’ll have about 2,000 feet of the quilt. We’re getting some of the more prominent panels like the first panel ever made, Arthur Ashe, Liberace, and Freddie Mercury. We’ve had some audience members who have asked us to present a quilt panel on behalf of a lost loved one,too”

There will likely be tears, but Perry–along with the entire cast-want to emphasize the celebration. “I would say that nearly a third of the songs are uptempo and fun,” he said, “The color of this  show will be more about memory and the joy of connecting to other people.”

QUILT, A MUSICAL CELEBRATION will be presented Friday, June 21 at 8 pm; Saturday, June 22 at 2 pm; Saturday, June 22 at 8 pm (VIP Cocktail Reception); and Sunday, June 23 at 4 pm at Judson Memorial Church (55 Washington Square South, NYC).  Tickets are $50-$65 ($50 for Saturday’s VIP Reception) and can be purchased by visiting www.quiltmusical.org.

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