Once a year, I’ve been fortunate to attend an entertaining luncheon whose purpose is to promote group visits to Broadway theatre. The sponsor, Theatre Direct International, flys talented Broadway performers into town to sing one song or two from the current production they’re appearing in. The actors are not in costume as they would be on stage, but dressed casually. Their performances are almost always outstanding. Of all these luncheons that I’ve attended, the most memorable one took place in 1997 in Orlando, Florida. It was titled, “Broadway – London – The Road: An Afternoon of Musical Theatre.”
The host that day was the personable and entertaining Richard Jay-Alexander (pictured with me at a previous luncheon). Jay-Alexander is an accomplished Broadway professional and has been part of the stage world for over 30 years. He was executive director of the New York office of producer Cameron Mackintosh whose productions include Les Miserables, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon. Jay-Alexander ran Mackintosh’s North American operations for 10 years. He has also has staged concert productions for performers Bernadette Peters, Barbra Streisand, and Bette Midler.
After watching the seemingly star-studded Orlando luncheon, I returned to The Peabody hotel where I was staying. For those not familiar with The Peabody, since opening its doors back in 1986, the hotel has continued its traditional March of The Peabody Ducks which began at its sister property, The Peabody Memphis. These ducks actually march out of the elevator and right on and into the fountain in the hotel lobby!
It was in that lobby that again I saw the same talented Broadway performers I had just applauded during lunch. They were there waiting around until it was time to go to the airport. I had said hello to Jay-Alexander at a previous year’s luncheon, so I wasn’t shy in going over to say hello and compliment everyone on their incredible performances. Suddenly, here I was with a very talented cast of Broadway professionals that included Sam Harris, Laurie Beechman, Kevin Gray, Jessica-Snow Wilson, Joan Almedilla, and Richard Jay-Alexander!
Harris was the first season male vocalist champion on Star Search, which aired from 1983-1995 and could be considered a precursor to American Idol. Beechman had just released her third solo recording “The Andrew Lloyd Webber Album.” She was accomplished on Broadway having appeared in the original cast of Annie and been a Tony and Drama Desk Award nominee for her performance in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Beechman sadly passed away of overian cancer in 1998. Kevin Gray was the only actor in the world to have played The Engineer in Miss Saigon and The Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera. He played The Phantom on Broadway and in the U.S. National Tour. Jessica-Snow Wilson was in the Broadway company of Les Miserables, and Joan Almedilla had recently made her Broadway debut in Miss Saigon.
As I was making small talk with this talented group, someone asked if the others were hungry. A few minutes later, if I remember correctly, it was Jessica-Snow Wilson who quickly made a run to Taco Bell. I was in no hurry to leave the lobby and the rest of the group didn’t seem uncomfortable with me hanging out, especially since I was mostly complimenting them. I didn’t ask for a photo as, by this time, Taco Bell had arrived, plus the group would soon have to leave. However, a colleague of mine from Napa Valley approached and said why don’t you take a group picture?!
I was actually a bit embarrassed and dismissed the idea of a group photo. She insisted though, and the Broadway group was very nice and agreed. At first, it was a bit challenging getting everyone in order in the picture. It was then that the Broadway producer himself, Richard Jay-Alexander, took over coordinating exactly what places on stage, in this case, what places in the lobby we would take. As you can see, the picture turned out great.