Sunday, July 26, 2009

SF AIDS benefit features Jersey Boys, American Idol stars

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This Sunday, August 2nd (yikes, two days before my birthday!) The San Francisco-based Richmond / Ermet AIDS Foundation ( features the 15th annual presentation of "Help Is On The Way: No Business Like Show Business." I've attended this gala over the last four years and I've got to tell ya it’s a load of fun; a mix of a little serious, a lot of energy, and a ton of talent. (The video above is from last year's event, where San Francisco luminaries like Harry Denton were holding court in the pre-show auction lounge, joined by "Austin Powers", "Dean Martin", and others.) Before I explain why you should attend, let me give you some background.

REAF was founded by Barbara Richmond and the late Peggy Ermet in memory of their sons, John Richmond and Doug Ermet, who both lost their lives to AIDS. In 1995, the two women launched a musical AIDS benefit to honor their sons by raising funds for AIDS service organizations. Ken Henderson is the organization's executive director, and together with his partner Joe Seiler have produced the event with the founder Barbara Richmond. I started going to the annual event after some prodding from a good friend of mine who's on the foundation's board of directors and now it's an event drug I can't do without.

What "Help Is On The Way" is known for are appearances by name entertainers who, while they give their time for free, put in knock-you-outta-your-seat performances. Cast performers from the musical "The Jersey Boys" have graced the stage in the past and this year, show star John Lloyd Young comes in. The show has also been the focal point for "American Idol" stars and this year is no exception. Melinda Dolittle, who wowed Idol audiences in season six, and now has a new album called “Coming Back to You", will be joining him as well as the amazing Joely Fisher. Fisher's currently in a new Fox TV show called "Til Death" and is on “Desperate Housewives” as well, in addition to a wealth of credits on TV shows like "Normal, Ohio" and movies like "Inspector Gadget". I had the pleasure of meeting Fisher at last year's event; what an incredibly nice person she was to go with her many accomplishments.

With Fisher, Dolittle, and Lloyd Young comes the legendary actress Tyne Daly from the "Cagney and Lacy" TV series, and "Judging Amy". Carole Cook, who created the role of Maggie Jones in "42nd Street" and was the first to star after Carol Channing in "Hello Dolly" will come back for her 13th show. David Gaines, who played "The Phantom" in "The Phantom of The Opera" 2,000 times (not kidding), is on board, too. He will be joined by Bay Area-performer Maureen McVerry, Shawn Ryan of "America's Got Talent" (who comes back for the third time), the incredible dancers Cate Caplin and Gary Franco, who are coming for their seventh and third time respectively, and singer Welsla Westerfield, who's making her 10th show. Singer Jeanie Tracy comes for her first show as well as comic musicians BaulPointPen. Jon Maher's back and he's performed in 14 of the 15 annual performances of "Help is On The Way". But the one singer you've got to hear is Susan Anton.

This is Anton's fifth show and if you can sit through her performance and not come away breathless, something's wrong with you. I'm serious. Her career spans 30 years (she doesn't look at day over 30) from the play "Hurleyburly" to “The Ben Stiller Show” and includes most recently Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues”.

The show starts with a pre-event Gala Reception with choice offerings from some of San Francisco's best restaurants and Northern California's best wineries and distillers. Steak? It's there. Noodles? Yep. Merlot? Certainly. But the impersonators are a kick, as the video shows, with "Marilyn Monroe" and other stars. Plus, there's a silent auction for those who want to win, say, a vintage guitar used by a certain rocker. The reception starts at 5 PM, with the show itself at 7:30 PM this Sunday, August 2nd at the Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave.

"Help Is On The Way" benefits four Bay Area AIDS service agencies including Aguilas, AIDS Legal Referral Panel, PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support), and Shanti. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, State Senator Mark Leno, and SF Treasurer Jose Cisneros are the event's honorary co-chairs. Come down, and have a great time, and I've got to be frank, for those single straight bachelors holding out because you think it's not for you, get over it! There are a lot of great looking women there, everyone's nice, and its for a real good cause.

For ticket information visit or call 415-273-1620

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