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Even as thousands of people across the country gathered to protest the so-called Zero Tolerance immigration policies of the Trump administration, a gallery of Broadway stars performed the latest edition of the Concert for America series. Tina Fey, Audra McDonald, Chita Rivera, Patrick Wilson, Idina Menzel and Andrea Martin were among the performers who participated in the show benefiting four nonprofit organizations (Al Otro Lado, Texas Civil Rights Project, ACLU Foundation of Texas and Florence Project) working on the country’s southern border to protect the civil rights of families seeking entry to the U.S.
The concert was held in the Great Hall at the Cooper Union, the historic venue where Abraham Lincoln gave a speech decrying slavery while campaigning for president in 1860. One shudders to think what Lincoln would have thought of our current crisis, even if Donald Trump has graciously allowed that, of all the past presidents, the only one more presidential than him is Lincoln.
Hosted by Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley, the show was inspirational. It offered a balanced mix of powerful musical performances and onstage interviews with representatives from various organizations dedicated to helping those immigrant and asylum-seeker families currently detained in legal limbo.
Much of the music revolved around themes of family and multiculturalism. Menzel sang “I See You,” the lyrics of which include “Here to the hopeless, the almost forgotten/ To those who get lost along the way, I see you.” Rivera, who originated the role of Anita in West Side Story on Broadway 61 years ago, kicked up her heels while performing “America,” garnering cheers as she belted out the line “Nobody knows in America/ Puerto Rico’s in America.” Mandy Gonzalez, currently appearing in Hamilton, sang “Fearless,” a new anthem written especially for her by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Olga Merediz, who appeared in Miranda’s In the Heights, performed that show’s “Paciencia y Fe.”
McDonald brought the house down with her soaring rendition of “Climb Every Mountain,” while up-and-coming singer-songwriter Shaina Taub performed her original song “Huddled Masses,” written in response to the worldwide refugee crisis. Jeremy Jordan delivered an artfully woven medley of “Over the Rainbow” and “Home” (from The Wiz). McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell dueted on “Wheels of a Dream,” a song about immigrants from the musical Ragtime in which they co-starred. Keala Settle performed the Oscar-nominated “This Is Me,” from The Greatest Showman. And the entire ensemble joined in on a show-closing performance of “Let the Sunshine In,” from Hair, a 50-year-old musical that now feels all too relevant.
Fey, standing behind the same lectern from which Lincoln gave his speech 158 years ago, joked, “Other than my personal resemblance to Mary Todd, I have no business speaking at this lectern.” She said that she immediately said yes when the show’s organizers asked her to participate, adding, “I said I would like to sing ‘Climb Every Mountain.'” She hoped that the evening would help immigrants “complete their journeys from Mexico to Canada,” and introduced a children’s choir by assuring us that they were not “crisis actors.”
But it was the horror stories about the current situation, delivered by those on the front lines, that galvanized the crowd. A representative from the Southern Poverty Law Center compared the detention centers in which children were being held to prisons.
“They’re looking to lock up families,” said Adriana Pinon of the Texas ACLU. David Hansell, the head of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services, said that approximately 300 children separated from their parents were currently in the city and that the organization had received no information about them from the federal government. “They’re in New York City, and it’s our moral obligation to see they’re well cared for,” he announced. A representative from Al Otro Lado introduced a woman who said, in Spanish, that she had been separated from her children for eight months until they were finally returned to her. “We’re not trying to do damage to this country,” she added, tearfully. “The children need your help so much.”
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