In response to the coronavirus pandemic, amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS research) has temporarily expanded its nearly four-decade study of infectious diseases and their impact on marginalized communities, as many of the HIV scientists it supports directed their attention to the immediate health crisis. In April, the organization launched its designated Fund to Fight COVID-19; this week amfAR, in its premiere work with Broadway, is presenting an all-star benefit performance of The Great Work Begins: Scenes from Angels in America.
The line-up of luminaries includes Glenn Close, Paul Dano, Linda Emond, Jeremy O. Harris, Brian Tyree Henry, Nikki M. James, Laura Linney, Vella Lovell, Patti LuPone, S. Epatha Merkerson, Larry Owens, Andrew Rannells, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Lois Smith, and Brandon Uranowitz in non-traditional casting of the iconic roles, with Alan Cumming, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jake Gyllenhaal making brief interstitial appearances. Recorded remotely by each actor, the virtual presentation will employ digital technology to collage the separate pieces together to create a unified appearance for each scene, as if the actors were performing together in the same space, and the angel, played by Patti LuPone, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Nikki M. James, and Linda Emond, will appear as a composite digital overlay of their faces (composite editing and VFX by Jess Medenbach, Christopher Ash, Kevan Loney, and Gabe Aronson; montage editing by Muneera Batool).
Along with selected scenes from the 1993-94 Tony Award-winning play, which will focus on the experience of striving to find hope while suffering through a plague, the free 60-minute livestream will feature an introduction by its Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, contextualizing COVID-19 in relation to its parallels with the early days of the AIDS epidemic. It will be followed by an exclusive 45-minute live talkback, moderated by Broadway.com Editor-in-Chief Paul Wontorek, with Kushner, amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost, director Ellie Heyman (Director-in-Residence of Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater, who proposed the present format in conjunction with amfAR), and members of the cast. The special conversation, accessible to viewers for a donation of $100 or more, will consider such momentous themes as the relevance of Angels in America to our present situation, the power of activism then and now, the similarities of government inaction and racial disparity at both times, and the experiences of the actors and crew in the current production.
The Great Work Begins: Scenes from Angels in America streams with amfAR on Thursday, October 8, at 8:30 pm ET, on the Broadway.com YouTube channel. Viewing is free, but donations are requested to support amfAR’s vital mission.