Monday nights, Broadway is typically dark. But on one particular Monday last month, some of the biggest stars on the theater scene took center stage when the curtain went up at the Franciscan Friars 2023 Night of Stars.
The March 20 event at Second Floor in Midtown Manhattan was the annual Holy Name Province fundraiser whose proceeds, which surpassed last year’s affair, help to educate young friars for future ministry, care for elder friars who have served so many for decades, and provide outreach service to those fighting the obstacles of poverty, hunger, homelessness, and mental illness.
It was an extraordinary evening that exceeded expectations, with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres flowing, and live entertainment by Broadway performers, who, as in years past, were generous with their time and enthusiastic in their performances.
But the real stars of the night were the nearly 30 friars from Holy Name Province and other US-6 provinces in attendance. That was the feeling of guests, who delighted in meeting the friars and turning out to support the good works and outreach programs of the Franciscans.
The event was sold out for two months, even after additional tables were placed into the venue seating plan. At least one friar sat at every table, a highlight of the evening for guests who enjoy hearing about their ministries, according to David Convertino, OFM, director of HNP’s Development Office, which conceived the Night of Stars event in 2018.
The theme of this year’s Night of Stars was The Wizard of Oz. By all accounts, Fred Dilger, OFM – who was tasked with using his creativity to transform the venue into set designs reminiscent of the iconic movie – succeeded in taking guests on a whimsical journey through Kansas, Oz, and the Emerald City.
As guests poured into the building, they were greeted by familiar scenes – first, the black-and-white “Kansas” landscape. They were then swept away by Hollywood’s most famous twister (spoiler alert: it was really the elevator taking everyone to the second level). When the dust settled, they landed in Oz and all its technicolor, greeted by a full house set design with the ruby slippers of the wicked witch of the east sticking out from under the foundation. Guests found themselves walking along the yellow brick road and crossing through a field of poppies to get to the Emerald City (the dining room), which was lit in bright green for effect.
In his message to the gathering of supporters, David connected the similarities between Dorothy’s journey and Franciscan service to the poor.
“Dorothy wandered along the yellow brick road through the land of Oz to seek the wizard – but remember, she didn’t make this journey alone. She was accompanied and protected by her three companions – the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. When I think of her journey, I am also reminded of the thousands of children, women and men who are wandering through life, alone and hungry, homeless, cold and scared,” said David.
“The friars walk every day with the more than two million people we feed, clothe and care for through our outreach ministries, food centers, breadlines, shelters, soup kitchens, residences for the mentally ill, housing for the homeless, and programs that provide drug rehabilitation and medical, dental and immigration assistance. We are able to do this through the generosity of our supporters and friends,” added David.
Guests at the Night of Stars enjoyed outstanding performances of renowned Broadway talent, including Sherz Aletaha, who most recently appeared in the sold-out Off-Broadway run of Merrily We Roll Along; Kate Baldwin, a two-time Tony Award nominee; Tony-nominated (Come from Away) Jenn Colella, who had just ended a sold-out run of the musical, Suffs; Taylor Iman Jones, currently playing a lead role in SIX on Broadway, and Samantha Williams, the Grammy-nominated performer who most recently starred in City Center’s Encores production of Dear World. The Broadway stars sang selections from The Whiz, Wicked, and The Wizard of Oz.
The Night of Stars entertainment program was directed by Lonnie Price, the legendary Emmy Award-winning and Tony Award-nominated producer, director and writer whose major titles, among many others, include Sunset Boulevard and 110 in the Shade. The production was musically directed by Joseph Thalken, an award-winning composer, conductor and pianist who has served as music director/arranger for Julie Andrews, Liza Minnelli, Patti LuPone, and other stars.
“The cast was extraordinary in their performances and artistry. To have all of this talent under one roof at such an inspiring event was special for our guests and the friars,” said Danny Gorman, manager of media and special projects for the Development Office, who organizes and oversees all aspects of the Night of Stars event, and who has numerous credits as a theater director.
Added Peter Mazzei, director of marketing, media and communications: “It was wonderful to have the friars mingling with guests, and for guests to network with each other. It was an amazing celebration of the friars, their mission, and their ministry in service to others.”