Chad Kimball, Brody Grant, and Ana Villafañe perform at 54 Below for Broadway Back to School
Chad Kimball, Brody Grant, and Ana Villafañe perform at 54 Below for Broadway Back to School

Broadway Stars Give Back to School Theatre

A standing room only crowd packed Feinstein’s/54 Below on Sunday for the third annual International Thespian Society alumni benefit concert. The event, produced by the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA), home of the International Thespian Society, was chaired and hosted by Hunter Bell ([title of show]Found).

The evening featured Broadway stars performing alongside high school students who are inducted members of the International Thespian Society, and supported access and excellence in theatre for underserved schools. The stars—Ryan Haddad, Chad Kimball (Come From Away), Marla Louissaint, Lesli Margherita (Matilda), John McGinty, Q. Smith (Come From Away), Carla Stickler (Wicked), and Ana Villafañe (On Your Feet)—told personal tales of how they got started, complete with high school production photos. The Thespian cast represented 12 area high schools, the largest student cast to date for the event.

In celebrating the power of theatre education, Broadway Back to School raised funds to increase access to theatre for all students. EdTA Executive Director Julie Cohen Theobald spoke of the importance of theatre in building life skills. One way EdTA is addressing this need, she explained, is through its JumpStart Theatre program that creates sustainable school musical theatre programs where there previously were none.

Theobald thanked all involved saying, “The most incredible Broadway stars brought the house down, shared their stories and hearts, and gave back to high school student Thespians. The audience was filled with generous people who care about putting students on a positive path for success through theatre education.”

In an evening filled with touching, memorable moments and highlights, among the standouts was the duet by Lesli Margherita and John McGinty, who performed “What I Did for Love” from A Chorus Line where McGinty interpreted American Sign Language.

The evening had a fairy-tale like ending when EdTA Hall of Fame theatre teacher Ruben Van Kempen of Seattle went on stage with his Broadway star student Chad Kimball, who originated the role of Huey Calhoun in Memphis, and Brody Grant, a newly graduated Thespian who is just a few months away from his own great performance as Huey at the International Thespian Festival in the Georgia All-State cast of Memphis.

The Educational Theatre Association is an international association with approximately 125,000 active members. EdTA’s mission is shaping lives through theatre education by: honoring student achievement in theatre; supporting teachers by providing professional development, resources, and recognition; and influencing public opinion that theatre education is essential and builds life skills. EdTA is the home of the International Thespian Society, an honorary organization established at more than 4,700 schools, that has inducted more than 2.3 million theatre students since its founding in 1929. EdTA also produces the International Thespian Festival and publishes Dramatics magazine for high school theatre students, and Teaching Theatre, a journal for theatre education professionals.