Tituss Burgess, Telly Leung, Andre De Shields, Kandi Burruss & More to Honor Wayne Brady at The Drama League's LIGHT THE LIGHTS! Benefit, Oct 18
Last Edit: Official_Press_Release 08:42 am EDT 10/06/21
Posted by: Official_Press_Release 08:41 am EDT 10/06/21






(New York, NY)The Drama League (Artistic Director, Gabriel Stelian-Shanks; Executive Director, Bevin Ross) has revealed a slate of artists who will be participating in the organization’s benefit event, Light the Lights! A Drama League Celebration, on October 18, 2021, at The Players (16 Gramercy Park South). Honoring Emmy Award-winner and Grammy Award-nominee Wayne Brady, the event will be hosted by Grammy Award-winner Kandi Burruss and will feature performances by Broadway stars Tituss Burgess, André De Shields, Telly Leung, Bonnie Milligan, and one more to be announced; additional artists speaking at the event include Josh Bergasse, Brenda Braxton, and Jerry Mitchell, with a special video message from Chita Rivera.

The Drama League is also delighted to announce the winners of the TikTok songwriting challenge. The contest, launched earlier this month, challenged composers to post an original Broadway-style “Anthem for the Future of Theatre” on TikTok – a platform that has been instrumental in uplifting emerging theatre professionals during the pandemic. The winning composers/lyricists are Deborah Abramson & Amanda Yesnowitz, Nico Juber & Selena Seballo, Jordan Li-Smith, Paulie Pecorella & Sean McCabe, and Alec Powell. Each songwriting team won $250, and the five winning Anthems will be performed at the benefit by one of the evening's performers.

The creative team behind the evening’s program at Light the Lights! A Drama League Celebration includes The Drama League’s Artistic Line Producer Ali Skye Bennet, Director Ben Villegas Randle, Music Director David Evans, Production Manager Alberto Ruiz, Lighting Designer Jenn Burkhardt, Stage Manager Rachel Gross, Assistant Stage Manager Veronica Lee, Producing Assistant Latrice Smith, and Social Media Strategist Molly Barson. The onstage musicians include David Evans (piano), Michael Blanco (bass), Greg Skaff (guitar), and Joe Nero (percussion); prior to the main program, guests will be treated to the musical stylings of pianist Eliza Randall.

“I am a proud sponsor of The Drama League's Light the Lights benefit,” says Board President Bonnie Comley, Founder and CEO of BroadwayHD, “because I am passionate about supporting the growth of their Directors Project programs, which provide directors with opportunities and access not available anywhere else. I believe Directors are essential to storytelling and when we invest in their career growth, we help strengthen the entire theatre community.”

For tickets to the Benefit or ad space in the digital journal, call 212.244.9494 ext 111 or email events@dramaleague.org. Tickets can be purchased, and contributions made, through dramaleague.org/benefit as well.

Light the Lights! A Drama League Celebration is supported by Sceneworks Studios, the 2021 Benefit Sponsor, and BroadwayHD, the Venue Sponsor. The event is co-chaired by Drama League Board Members Mary C. Jain and Joe Pizza. Leadership support is also provided by the benefit’s Vice Chairs Bonnie Comley & Stewart F. Lane, John Gore Organization, and Stan Ponte & John Metzner. The Benefit Committee includes CBS, City National Bank, EY, Lakeview Productions, Nederlander Organization, and Talu Productions.

A major portion of every ticket purchased is tax-deductible. All proceeds from The Drama League's Light the Lights benefit support The Directors Project and The Drama League’s mission to provide a life-long artistic home for directors.

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KANDI BURRUSS (Host)is a Grammy-winning songwriter, TV sensation, actress and entrepreneur, who is thrilled to make her Broadway producing debut with Thoughts of a Colored Man. With nearly three decades of experience under her belt, the Atlanta native has remained one of music’s most steadfast and prolific songwriters, entertainers, business leaders, and is also a proud mother of four.

TITUSS BURGESS (Performer) is an Emmy- and SAG-nominated actor, musician, and writer. Tituss starred as Titus Andromedon in the Netflix comedy series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (nominations for four consecutive Emmy Awards, a SAG Award, and two Critics’ Choice TV Awards). He reprised his role in the interactive special “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend” and was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor. Tituss starred in the MGM Aretha Franklin biopic Respect and the Netflix films Set It Up and Dolemite Is My Name. Tituss currently stars in the animated musical comedy series “Central Park,” for which he was nominated for his sixth Emmy Award. Burgess made his Broadway debut as Eddie in Good Vibrations and has played Hal Miller in Jersey Boys, Nicely-Nicely Johnson in the 2009 revival of Guys and Dolls, and Sebastian in The Little Mermaid.

ANDRÉ DE SHIELDS (Performer) A showstopper at age 75, André De Shields was the triple-crown winner of the 2019 award season, garnering Tony, Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk, and Grammy Awards for his universally praised role as Messenger to the Gods, Hermes, in Hadestown. In an unparalleled career spanning more than half a century, De Shields has distinguished himself as an actor, director, philanthropist, and educator. His defining theatrical performances include roles in the original Broadway productions of The Full Monty (Tony Award nomination), Play On! (Tony Award nomination), Ain't Misbehavin' (Emmy Award), and the titular role in The Wiz. Ubuntu! www.AndreDeShields.com.

TELLY LEUNG (Performer) has appeared on Broadway in Disney's Aladdin, In Transit, Allegiance, Godspell, Rent (final Broadway company), Pacific Overtures, and Flower Drum Song. In 2010, he starred as Angel in Rent at the Hollywood Bowl opposite Wayne Brady, directed by Neil Patrick Harris. Regionally, he's performed at Philadelphia Theater Company, Pittsburgh CLO, The St. Louis MUNY, Dallas Theater Center, The Shakespeare Theater Company in D.C., North Carolina Theater, and North Shore Musical Theater. He has appeared on television in “Glee," "Instinct," “Odd Mom Out,” “Deadbeat,” “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” and the PBS documentary, "Broadway or Bust." www.TellyLeung.com

BONNIE MILLIGAN (Performer) was nominated by both The Drama League and the Outer Critics Circle for her Broadway debut in Head Over Heels, for which she also won the Theatre World Award. She will soon be appearing at the Atlantic Theater Company in Kimberly Akimbo. Bonnie was the original Pat in the 1st National Tour of Kinky Boots. She has appeared Off-Broadway in Promenade (Encores!), God Bless You Mr. Rosewater (Encores!), Gigantic (Vineyard Theatre), andJasper in Deadland (Prospect Theater). Her television credits include recurring roles as Katherine Witherbottom on “Search Party” (HBOMax) and Bitsy on “Escape at Dannemora” (Showtime), and appearances on “Chicago Fire” (NBC) and “Happy” (SyFy). Instagram @beltingbons; Twitter @beltingbonnie.

JOSH BERGASSE (Featured Speaker) choreographed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, On the Town (Tony and Astaire awards), and Gigi on Broadway. Off-Broadway work includes Sweet Charity (Chita Rivera Award), Cagney, Bomb-itty of Errors, and Captain Louie. For City Center Encores!: The Golden Apple, Little Me, and It’s A Bird...It’s A Plane... It’s Superman!. At Carnegie Hall: Candide, Guys and Dolls, and Sound of Music at Carnegie Hall. He directed and choreographed A Crossing (Barrington Stage), I Married an Angel (Encores!), Smokey Joe's Café (Stage 42/Ogunquit Playhouse), Hazel (Drury Lane Theater), West Side Story (North Carolina Theater), and The Bodyguard in Osaka, Japan. Television/Film work includes “Smash” (Emmy Award), “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Sinatra: A Voice for a Century,” “Jessica Jones,” “A Capitol Fourth,” “Hawkeye,” “The Kennedy Center at 50,” Little Monsters, and Grown Ups 2.

BRENDA BRAXTON (Featured Speaker) began her Broadway career in Guys & Dolls starring Robert Guillaume and Ernestine Jackson. Her performance in Smokey Joe’s Café earned her a Tony Award nomination, the NAACP Theater Award, the city of Chicago’s Jefferson Award, and a Grammy for Best Cast Album. She went on to star as Velma Kelly in Chicago opposite BeBe Neuwirth, Rita Wilson, and Wayne Brady. Other Broadway credits include Jelly’s Last Jam, Cats, Legs Diamond, and the original production of Dreamgirls. TV credits include “Nurse Jackie,” “Smash,” and “The Good Fight.” For her work as founder of Leading Ladies Just for Teens, she received the Dr. Martin Luther King “Living the Dream” Award, the Josephine Baker Award, and the Community Service Award. Brenda is also the author of The Little Black Book of Backstage Etiquette.

JERRY MITCHELL (Featured Speaker) received the Tony Award for Best Choreography forLa Cage Aux Folles (revival) and Kinky Boots (also nominated as Director) on Broadway. Additionally, he directedOn Your Feet, was the Director and Choreographer ofPretty Woman and Legally Blonde (Tony nomination and West End), and choreographed You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown;The Full Monty (Tony nomination); The Rocky Horror Show;Hairspray (Tony nomination, West End and NBC telecast);Gypsy; Never Gonna Dance (Tony nomination)’Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Tony and West End Olivier nominations); La Cage Aux Folles; and Catch Me If You Can. 30 years ago Mr. Mitchell created Broadway Bares, a yearly charitable global fund-raiser benefit, that he continues to Executive Produce.

“Anthem for the Future” Contest Winners:

Nico Juber (Music & Lyrics) is a musical theatre composer, lyricist, and bookwriter. Her debut theatrical work, Millennials Are Killing Musicals, is a new, original musical that sits at the intersection of motherhood and the Millennial existential crisis. Songs from the show have been performed at the ASTEP Art of Wellness Benefit, New York Theatre Barn's New Works Series, Feinstein’s/Vitellos, and The Green Room 42. Millennials... has an upcoming concert performance at Feinstein’s/54 Below in April 2022. Her sci-fi short musical, Holo, won one of the top awards in the 2020 NAMT Challenge and had its premiere earlier this year at the Beck Center for the Arts.

Selena Seballo (Music) is a singer-songwriter and emerging playwright. As a dual citizen of the United States and the United Kingdom, Selena has collaborated with various producers and artists and has performed at various music festivals and venues throughout the United Kingdom. With her Master’s degree in Writing for Performance & Dramaturgy from Goldsmiths University of London, Selena has had the privilege of seeing her work performed in London’s Soho Theatre. She has also collaborated with Eugene O’Neill award-winning playwright, Ken Eulo, as musical composer & lyricist for Paradise Walk in Orlando, Florida.

Jordan Li-Smith (Music & Lyrics) Based in London, Jordan is a composer, lyricist & playwright, as well as an award-winning music director and orchestrator. He is currently writing a musical based on the British novel, The Boy who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair, by Lara Williamson. He recently conducted The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with a 25-piece orchestra at Manchester Cathedral. Other music direction credits include the UK premieres of Amour, Dave Malloy’s Preludes, and Michael John LaChuisa’s Queen of the Mist, as well as the acclaimed actor-musician production of Ragtime. He made his West End conducting debut with City of Angels. Jordan trained at the Royal Academy of Music. www.jordanli-smith.com

Alec Powell (Music & Lyrics) is a Utah based composer. He holds a degree for Utah Valley University in music education. As a writer he has had the pleasure of writing for a multitude of musical groups and is published under the Hal Leonard corporation. As a musical theater writer he has been the composer/arranger on Prisoner of War: the Musical/ Search For New Skies, as well as several Shakespeare adaptations. Alec was also a featured composer on the Seaview production of the Webby award-winning Ratatouille the Tik Tok Musical .

Deborah Abramson (Music) has served as Music Director or Associate Music Director for several Broadway and Off-Broadway premieres, including Spring Awakening, James Joyce’s The Dead, Bernarda Alba, Dessa Rose, The Glorious Ones, and Broadbend, Arkansas. First Children's Music Director on Broadway, for Matilda the Musical. Music Director for world premiere of The Gardens Of Anuncia (Old Globe) and English-language premiere of Maybe Happy Ending (Alliance Theatre). As composer, she has written Old Older Oldest (with William Finn), Young Marco Polo (with Peter Mills), The History of War (with Amanda Yesnowitz and Chip Zien), and While I Wait (with Amanda Yesnowitz). https://soundcloud.com/deborah-abramson/sets/songs-ive-written .

Amanda Yesnowitz (Lyrics) Winner: Kleban Prize, Jonathan Larson Award, Dramatists Guild Fellowship, Dottie Burman Award, Jamie deRoy Award, Berklee Alumni Achievement Award; 8 MAC noms. Selected projects: Christmas in Connecticut (Broadway Licensing), Somewhere in Time (Portland Center Stage, NAMT finalist), Do No Harm (Davenport Theatrical, Rhinebeck Writers Retreat), Caucasian Chalk Circle (Hangar Theatre), By The Numbers (Goodspeed Mercer Colony, ASCAP showcase), History of War (NYMF), May/December (Oldcastle Theatre). Notable: Gotta Start Small (Stephanie Block, This Place I Know, PS Classics and Live From Lincoln Center/PBS), No Looking Back (Keith Lockhart and Boston Pops at Symphony Hall), full-time NYU faculty, New York Times crossword puzzle constructor.

Paulie Pecorella (Music) is a New York-based composer/lyricist, actor, and entertainer. His music has been performed at Barrington Stage Company in a cabaret directed by William Finn called Good Times and Sleepless Nights. His work has also been performed at 54 Below, The Green Room 42, Lincoln Center’s Library for the Performing Arts, The Plaza Hotel, The Duplex, North Carolina School of the Arts Opera Division, and the Tilles Center. Paulie is an LA New Voices (ANMT) winner for his original musical Daniel. He continues to work on his Sicilian adaptation of King Lear entitled Mamma Laudicina, which he began working on at NYU Tisch’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, where he earned his MFA in 2018.

Sean McCabe (Lyrics) is a lyricist, bookwriter and composer whose work has been presented at Lincoln Center, Two River Theater, New York Theatre Barn, and elsewhere. His musical Saint Sebastian (music by Jinhee Kim) was a semifinalist for the O'Neill National Music Theater Conference and was presented in concert by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’ Broadway's Future Songbook Series, as well as being produced by the NYU Tisch New Musical Theatre Workshop. This year, Sean was in residence at the Catwalk Art Institute to develop his new musical King David. Sean has his MFA from NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program.

The Drama League advances the American theater by providing life-long artistic resources for directors and a platform for dialogue with audiences. Founded in 1916, we are one of the longest-running arts service organizations in the country. We enable directors to make the most powerful, impactful work possible across multiple mediums reaching ever-wider audiences, and build sustainable careers. Uplifting directors of all economic classes, races, abilities, genders and identities is a cornerstone of this mission. We provide support to directors throughout their artistic life, and our work in education offers both continued learning to professionals and introduces the skills of directing to young people. Underpinning our work is the support of our members, a community of ardent theater fans and industry professionals whose commitment to advancing the art form helps develop the careers of the talented directors we champion.
Link http://dramaleague.org/benefit

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