Grateful: 37 Broadway Actors Share Who They Were Thankful for in 2020
Tony winners Betty Buckley, André De Shields, Rita Moreno, Bernadette Peters, Chita Rivera, Leslie Uggams, and more express their gratitude.
As the holidays approached in a year unlike any other, Playbill reached out to a host of theatre artists and asked them to name one person for whom they were particularly thankful this year. Their varied, thoughtful responses follow.
This pandemic has caused many of us to have to pivot in this season. I am grateful for both Bernard Jordan and Larry Reid for using their platforms to guide many through the pandemic. Both of their weekly programs have encouraged people to stay healthy, exercise, seek therapy, build their financial portfolio, and learn something new. I am grateful for the valuable information I receive weekly and sometimes daily from their platforms. I celebrate these two men.
This is an impossible question to answer. I am grateful to so many people—to my phenomenal assistant of 20 years, Ms. Cathy Brighenti, who is good at everything I am not and keeps me going; my phenomenal trainer Pat Manocchia at La Palestra Gym in NYC who has kept me on course training me on Zoom twice a week, who got me strong for my shoulder replacement and is seeing me through my recovery; my brother Norman whose constant, creative focus is an ongoing inspiration; Sally Dunn for sponsoring my online workshops and to my students for needing me to show twice a week to share the tools my great teachers have taught me. There are so many friends and phenomenal people like Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley whose example of nurturing creativity and asking me to be a part of their Stars in the House have kept me on course this whole year through the pandemic. And thank you to Janis Siegel and Lauren Kinhan, who asked me to sing for their Vocal Gumbo. And many thanks to my friends: MD/arranger Christian Jacob, Matt Amato, Jamey Haddad, Trey Henry, and Oz Noy, who collaborated with me for our music projects. I am so grateful to all of these and so many friends who have kept me focused and hopeful through this trying year for all of us and personally for our family with the loss of my wonderful brother Michael Buckley. There are too many to whittle down to just one person.
This year, I’d like to thank a great artist and educator, Michael McElroy. When I didn’t know where to put my energies, leader and educator Michael McElroy invited me to participate in teaching opportunities all year that spanned from NYU to the University of Melbourne in Australia, introducing me to students who would become a lifeline of hope and creativity during these challenging times. He also inspired me to engage in real conversations with students and professionals alike about our nation’s long-overdue racial reckoning via diversity initiatives. As an artist, Michael was generous when he sang gorgeously and shared the mission of the Broadway Inspirational Voices on my show #AndreaMondays for Stars in the House. And, lastly, in a year where so many of us wondered if we’d ever get to sing live again, he led us, a performance-starved group of Broadway artists, on those signature red steps as we sang his arrangement of “Sunday” by Stephen Sondheim. We lifted our voices with the longing and joy and loss and hope we’d been carrying for months. I’ll never forget the sound of all of those voices around me, even as we all stood six feet apart. Thank you, Michael. For the light you shone in 2020.
There are many people I could thank for their help this year, but if I must choose one, it would be guitarist Peter Calo, my collaborator on our Christmas album, Comfort and Joy—An Acoustic Christmas. In deciding to create an album in October, with only a guitar (and in just three weeks!), I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. His artistry, generosity, and great spirit was an incredible gift, in this oh, so difficult year.
This year I am so grateful for my doorman, Lou, and all the door people in my building. Every time we see each other he offers a smile and a kind word (from a distance!). It makes a huge difference to my day. I think he is a real New York hero.
My Person of the Year is my wonderful husband Tom Reidy. During COVID, he has been my bubble-mate, sound designer, gaffer, tech director, script consultant, and interior designer as we reconfigured out apartment to include a viable and inspiring work space for both of us. His emotional support and sense of humor during this terrible time for artists has made the pandemic bearable. In spite of some horrible personal losses he had to endure this year, he has remained steadfast and positive, and has given us the love and spiritual support we needed to make every day seem a little bit more normal. And on top of all of that, he has become the family chef, and he makes crab cakes to die for!! Thank you, dear Tommy!
E. Clayton Cornelious
I am thankful for my mother, Yvonne, for being a nurse on the front lines of this pandemic and surviving her COVID diagnosis at the age of 75. I lost my dad in 2015 and couldn’t imagine losing my mom in these darkest of times. I’m thankful for her life!
Darius de Haas
I would say I’m grateful for my husband, Kyle Rudy, who I have been quarantining with. In a year that has tested many relationships on so many levels, I’m so thankful for his love, companionship, and care, even when he drives me crazy (as I’m sure I’ve done the same). I realize how lucky I am that I didn’t have to go through all of this alone day by day, and that is a blessing. Others have had to do this on their own, and I bow down to them. Also—even though you said one person—I have to shout out the Actors Fund Home, where my parents are now. I am so grateful we got them in there before the pandemic hit. While I’m sure we would have found a way to take care of them, it would have been extremely more challenging, and I am just counting my blessings that they have what they immediately need in terms of care, companionship, and medical needs.
André De Shields
I am thankful for Jahmere Daley. Jahmere is coal-black in complexion, infectiously optimistic, of Jamaican descent and . . . unbreakable, the sort of constitution that qualifies him to be my personal trainer. 2020, a year like no other, produced people disconnections like none other. Arguably, the most visceral advantage lost to the COVID moratorium on Broadway productions is the physical fitness derived from choosing to perform eight shows per work. Perhaps surprisingly, even completely dramatic plays—that appear sedentary when contrasted with fully realized musical productions—offer, with each performance, cardio benefits, maintenance of lean body muscle, and wellness inducing neurotransmitters (brain chemicals). When gyms and health clubs became immediate casualties of the pandemic, my concern was for the loss of my relationship with my trainer of many years. My daily morning isometric exercises simply and fundamentally paled in the absence of the customary rigor and vigor Broadway. When the health clubs reopened, my former trainer had moved on, but introduced me to Jahmere, who—with a strong, slow, and steady technique of using one’s own body weight—is guiding me in restoring and elevating both my corporal and spiritual homeostasis. Jahmere calls me Mr. André, and I call him Master Jah.
Governor Andrew Cuomo. In this incredibly dark and terrifying time, he has been the only person that gave me comfort. With his honesty and directness, he was able to address this city that has lost so much and so many, that we are going to get through this together. He values people over politics, and he has tried to protect us from a President that has openly denied relief funding because he doesn’t like New York…anymore.
Seth Rudetsky did something important this year. I think we haven’t fully registered the long-term impact of what he has generously done, and I would say I’m grateful to my core for it. He got right out there—daily!—and started connecting the community. We didn’t know back then that this shutdown of our work would be indefinite—we didn’t know anything! Seth just held out his arms, fearlessly, selflessly; made us laugh and carried everything on his shoulders, with his amazing husband James. Immediately, Stars in the House was sassy and fun; it was also community service, it was education, it was live theatre—all inspired by his incredible sense of humor and equally enormous musicianship. I feel like Seth set the tone for this difficult era, and gave everyone permission to be where they are, and to sing out when they wanted to. Because of him, so many performers have felt together—though separated online—and been able to reach out to others. A hero! All this to support the Actors Fund! With so many spiritual rewards for individuals and the greater family of Broadway. He’s made all of us feel infinitely less lonely and reminded us of everything good about our crazy actors lives. Thank you, Seth Rudetsky!
Leo Ash Evens
I am especially thankful this year for Broadway actor Telly Leung. Telly navigated this difficult year with flying colors. Even during a pandemic, he never let his guard down. Always successfully pivoting every step of the way. Always hustling, always innovative with new ideas. Speaking up as a proud Asian man in support of not only the Black Lives Movement, but welcomed and encouraged conversations to occur to push people into necessary difficult conversations we must all have in order to grow. I watched him push himself technically as a producer, a singer, a host, and, most importantly, a support system for the theatre community. My best friend for over 20 years now inspired me more this year than any other.
Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris. To me she is an embodiment, a symbol of the positivity, hope, intelligence, aspiration, fight, grit, decency, femininity, and empathy we need as nation. Kamala is blazing a path. One that we can all follow. I actually breathe easier, sleep better, smile more, and hope unapologetically knowing that she is going to be in office. She belongs there. She has the service of our country and its citizens forward in her mind and actions. I’m so thankful for her and the courage she had to say “Yes.”
Alyssa May Gold
I am thankful for Dr. Edith Eva Eger, who wrote the two books we’ve been reading this fall in Pocket Universe Survival Club, a group that has been meeting every week since April in an effort replace live theatre with communal exploration of aspirational survival stories: The Choice, about her incredible survival of both Auschwitz and the mental prison she says she built herself once she made it safely to America, and The GIft: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life, which she released in October. She is a clinical psychologist…and both of her books are written with a clear guide for how you can use her lessons in your own life. One that has changed my whole perspective this year is from The Gift, where she says that hope consists of the awareness that suffering is temporary and the curiosity to discover what happens next. Staying “hopeful” feels a little bit vague in the midst of “gestures to all 75 months of 2020,” but staying aware and curious has made me not only feel more positive, but also like I’m actively identifying ways to contribute to a more positive future.
Randy Rainbow. Need I say more?
This year, I am especially grateful to Jim Caruso, impresario of all that says nightlife, both live and virtual, for talking me into doing Virtual Halston, our popular YouTube web series. He literally asked me quite a few times and finally said, “I’ll produce it.” I guess it was then, I couldn’t refuse. I was skittish about how to do anything virtual as I am old enough to remember the invention of fire, but with his help we created a fun format, and I got to talk with all the great talents that I am happy to say are my friends. Still, I learn new and surprising things about our guests every week. It’s great for us and for our viewers, and it was Jim who suggested we give a portion to the charity dear to my heart, The Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, in honor of my late husband. Over the years I’ve helped raise millions of dollars for this incredible organization, and Virtual Halston has helped raise thousands of dollars since just May of this year. So, there it is. I am grateful for Jim, and I might add by extension our terrific tech director, Ruby Locknar.
The person who has got me through this past year is my wife, Carol. When the only person you see for most of the past year is a single solitary soul, it helps if this person shares your anger, tears, laughter, and passion for life. I am extremely lucky in my life partner, and this pandemic has proven this to me in a million little ways.
Easiest question in the world to answer. My wife, Shannon Lewis. It’s challenging enough living the quarantine life in a tight space for almost 10 months, but to do it with your love, partner, best friend, your mirror, and better conscience makes all the difference. There’s no way I could have stayed sane and balanced without having shared the experience with her. And truth, I’ve enjoyed the time, the quiet we wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Richard Nelson. In the earliest days of the pandemic, locked in and hearing ambulance sirens cut the night, art seemed like a luxury quickly disappearing into the ether. I remember vividly the phone call where Richard broached the idea of doing an Apple Family reunion play online. This was before Zoom was in the lexicon and online theatre ubiquitous. I didn’t even let Richard ask the question before I replied, “Yes. 100%.” What arrived in my email a few weeks later was the first of the three Apple Zoom plays, What Do We Need to Talk About?. I don’t think I’ve ever needed purpose, a rehearsal room, a company so badly. To return to this ensemble, this family, and find kinship, healing, and context through not only these other amazing actors, but these characters we’ve embodied over a decade…is the greatest example I have experienced of the necessity of Art. The fact that this time capsule exists to mark my own personal journey through the pandemic is something for which I will forever feel gratitude. If you have been lucky enough to work with Richard as a playwright or director…you are keenly aware that the experience is unique. The bespoke quality of The Apples is a testament to an artist working at the height of his considerable powers as writer, director, and producer. To get to play even the glockenspiel in this orchestra is a “consumation devoutly to be wished” and quite literally saved me from spinning down the rabbit hole into despair.
Just one person I’m thankful for in 2020?? Impossible. I gotta pick two. My little boys, Kie (five) and Ashe (three). Because through all of the bonkers-ness of 2020, they provided me critical perspective. Instead of being idle and depressed, I had a purpose. Two relentlessly spirited boys who needed me everyday. They kept me grounded in what was always immediately most important. They also wore on my every last nerve. And then they charmed the hell out of me. And then they threw tantrums. And then cuddled with me by the fire. Last year, my boys were the cause of 100 of the most frustrating moments of my life, but they were also the cause of 100 of the sweetest moments of my life. I have been so grateful for the copious amounts of quality time with them. And, I am also very much looking forward to going back to work in 2021 and having the opportunity to miss them. Both are true.
I’m very thankful to Cathy and Elliott Masie. They were producers of mine from Godspell and Allegiance, but they are also leaders in the world of corporate Learning and Development. When COVID first hit, they started a series of virtual Empathy concerts on Zoom that was not only a great way to promote the importance of empathy in our ever changing world—from COVID to the #BLM movement to teachers and students returning to school—but it was also a way to employ Broadway artists during a challenging time and also raise some money for The Actors Fund. I stepped in as co-host and began filling the roster with my talented Broadway friends.…We’ve done 25+ live Empathy concerts in 2020, and they can all be seen at Masie.com. The Masies also stepped up to sponsor The Nice List, an original, family-friendly holiday musical that was created during quarantine. Their sponsorship not only created employment for so many out-of-work artists, but it also made it streaming free this holiday season to anyone who needs a bit of holiday cheer. Cathy and Elliott have truly stepped up to be angels to the Broadway community during this challenging year.
You know, for me this year, I cannot simply say there is one person in particular that I am thankful for. In a time where we have lost so many loved ones, near and far, I am reminded of how every relationship we have is a gift to be cherished. All of this to say, I’m thankful for every person in my life this past year, because together we have gotten through some of the most tumultuous moments and seen the world change in such vast ways. We’ve been able to confide in one another and still connect, whether it be through the phone or through Zoom, email, etc. Every person (from my family, friends, reps, collaborators, front line workers) in their own way, helped me keep a positive light during some of the roughest times we’ve faced, and for that I am forever grateful.
I cannot name one person in this moment. It has been friends and family members holding each other up that got me through 2020. But I can narrow it down to a few groups: Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Actors Fund for ongoing assistance for my fellow artists through these unbelievable times while our industry is in stasis. The most important group for me since the beginning of this pandemic is Black Theatre United. As a founding member, it has been this organization with 18 other amazing artists that has provided a space for laughter, camaraderie, and most importantly a way to focus my anger, hurt, sorrow, into creating change. We have met every Sunday night since April to strategize how we move our industry towards ongoing development of inclusive structures and spaces. We believe in the theatre and want to partner with the groups that make up the industry we love so much in order to step into our fullest potential. We also utilize our voices and platforms to advocate for a better country. So often the fear of change can paralyze or feel incredibly overwhelming. But it’s the steps that are smaller, mindful, and taken with wisdom, intention, and great care that lead to the greatest transformation. BTU threw me a lifeline and I am truly grateful for Audra, LaChanze, Lillias, Billy, Lisa Dawn, NaTasha, Capathia, Stokes, Allyson, Darius, Carin, Wendell, Kenny, Anna, Vanessa, Norm, Schele, and Tamara!
Having a friend like Tracy Less is always a gift, and in this roller coaster of a year she went above and beyond in the friendship department. Always just a FaceTime away, Tracy (a Commander in the U.S. Navy) and I spoke just about every day. Sometimes it was just to keep each other company as we went though our day, play a round of banangrams, have a good cry, rant our political frustrations, or for her to check my sound, background, and outfit for a video shoot. During this COVID experience, she let me borrow her car for two months until I found my own. To celebrate my Outer Critics Circle honor, she had bubbly delivered to my door. When I got my first directing/choreographer gig, she basically became my private production stage manager, and I had a birthday like never before with all her surprises and thoughtfulness. Life with Tracy as a friend is always fun, soulful, uplifting, loving, easy, grounded, an adventure and appreciating the smallest things. In this crazy pandemic year, I have never been more grateful she chose me as a friend.
On September 26, my daughter Fernanda was born. She brought with her a light that, through the years, has grown into a perpetual incandescence where I warm myself more and more as the years go by. You could say she is the gift that keeps giving…
I am thankful for the wonderful Arnetia Walker. I met Arnetia when I was at Hunter College High School in New York City and she was Lorrell in Dreamgirls on Broadway. She was kind and inspiring then. We reunited in 2009 when I was directing Camelot at the Olney and began a friendship and looking for a collaboration. In May, she called me inspired by Obama’s Graduate Together speech and encouraged me to found Just One Step for Democracy with her. Arnetia would be executive producer and I was artistic director. We hit the ground running. We were frustrated and angry with the administration and COVID and social issues and wanted to take some action. In one day, she was given a kernel to start with, a new song “Just One Step” by Henry Krieger (with Bob Joy). We brought together a core group of amazing artists from Broadway, Hollywood, and beyond to create virtual art to inspire people to vote for change and help turn the tide. Arnetia tirelessly inspired me and all of us to use our creativity, talents, and years of experience in show business to stay creative, resilient, and hopeful. Take a look at JustOneStepforDemocracy.com to see what her passion and inspiration began and what we’ve accomplished… so far.
I am most thankful for having the most amazing husband in these past months. It has been so difficult having my livelihood and my life’s passion snatched away by this virus, and the unconditional love and support he has shown me has given me the perspective to see past the moment, to really understand what is true and important, and I couldn’t love Diego Prieto more!
I do believe this is the year that companion animals are fulfilling their purpose here on earth. All these beautiful dogs and cats were here to help us get through this very difficult time! Wasn’t it fun to realize your pets understand full sentences?! My Charlie and Rosalie included! They gave me great love and companionship and were very centering when we had so much uncertainty. I’m so happy we will have a rescue dog and a rescue cat in the White House. I know they are animals, but this is humanity!
Someone I’m particularly thankful for this year is my friend Colleen Gannon Cook at the Holmdel Theatre Company. Thanks, Colleen, for believing in me!
I’m thankful for my most treasured production, my daughter Lisa Mordente, who has been by my side this past year, especially during the pandemic and all the losses we’ve had to endure.
I’m most thankful for my daughter Elliot this year. Amidst the unknowns, leaving the city, her friends, remote schooling, and only having her parents to play with since March, she has maintained a positive, adaptable attitude. In the darkness of 2020 she is the light. Having to be completely present with her, trying to shield her from most of the trouble and sadness of this time, has been a gift we didn’t consider. You can’t sit and watch the news or sleep all day in a cocoon of sadness when a six year old needs you. She has kept us going, and far more positive than we otherwise would’ve been—I just know it.
The first person that comes to mind is my partner, Alexa Cepeda. Through all the crazy ups and downs that 2020 has thrown our way, she has been right there with me, helping me stay grounded and making me laugh like no one else can. This year has brought us even closer together and, for that, I am truly grateful.
I am particularly grateful for my father Roland Simard and his generosity of spirit. He is a living example of what family is and should be, and I am grateful for his example.
The tremendous kindness and support of my mother, Melinda Skinner, has always been the defining factor in my life. This difficult year has only reaffirmed the enormous gratitude I have for her love and empathy. I’m incredibly proud to be the offspring of this excellent human and am constantly aspiring to be as solidly good and wise as she is. She’s truly my inspiration, the ultimate badass.
When I didn’t know how I would get food at the beginning of the pandemic shutdown in March, my friend, director Jessica Bauman, offered to shop for me and has been keeping me fed ever since. Her kindness has allowed me to stay safe, and I am immeasurably grateful for this very necessary gift she has given and continues to give me so freely. We are all interconnected, and this is just one example of the millions of acts of care and kindnesses that continue to demonstrate the very best in us.
I’m supremely grateful for all the workers who have been putting their lives on the line from Day 1 to provide healthcare and other essential services. Collectively, they are the heroes. The country would collapse without them.
I am particularly thankful for Sue Frost, producer of Come From Away. Sue has been there for me—for all of us—throughout this entire shutdown. All of our producers are deeply committed to bringing the show back safely and completely. Sue, specifically, has allowed and welcomed my texts and phone calls, answering every question and worry with kindness, strength, and truth. She’s been my rock and steward through this unfathomably difficult time and I am so thankful.