While struggling to find work as an actor, Danny Thomas vowed that if he ever found success, he would open a shrine dedicated to Saint Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes. Thomas was a man of his word, and in 1962 the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was founded in Memphis, Tennessee. In the decades since, it has treated thousands of children for cancer, with an average of 7,800 patients visiting each year.
On Tuesday night, Thomas’ work will be honored at Spotlight on St. Jude, a musical theatre performance featuring some of Broadway’s biggest stars. The event will raise awareness and money for children fighting cancer and other deadly diseases and will include a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres reception before the concert and a dessert reception following the performances.
For Molly Ryan, who has performed in the 30th Anniversary Tour of Annie and in the Broadway production of Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, helping St. Jude is a family affair. Her Aunt Bonnie, who lives in Memphis, used to work for the organization and informed her family members of its fundraising efforts and accomplishments.
“Supporting St. Jude is a no-brainer for me,” she said. “How can you not help kids and their families in such desperate need? If I, or my brother or one of my sisters was sick with cancer, I’d want treatment to come from St. Jude, and I wouldn’t want it to be a burden on my family, who would already be going through so much.”
The lengthy success of St. Jude is quite simple to Lauren Elder, who also actively supports Broadway Impact and Broadway Speaks Out and has performed at charitable concerts for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, The Actors Fund and The Suicide Prevention Foundation and as well as others.
“Love,” she said. “It seems so simple, but that’s really what I think it is. St. Jude has shown so much love to so many children, and people recognize that and want to support that.”
Ryan shared Elder’s sentiment, saying, “I think the track record of St. Jude successfully treating and lovingly caring for so many sick kids and their families throughout the years speaks for itself. The Thomas family and their obvious love, care and ability to reach millions of people so well through the media has been so helpful.”
With The Big C on television, 50/50 in movie theaters, and The Normal Heart and Wit on Broadway, chronic illness has been receiving a great deal of attention from the entertainment industry, which many hope will increase the public’s awareness.
“I do think awareness about cancer has been raised with all the media attention,” Ryan said. “It’s helpful, too, that news programs seem to share research reports and offer interviews to specialists who can help us in the general population to become more informed on how we might be able to prevent and detect some cancers.”
“We can’t pretend that it’s not there,” Elder said, “and sometimes putting it in the spotlight is the best thing we can do. It helps raise awareness, but it also helps people deal with it in their own lives.”
Performing at benefit concerts is a popular way for members of the Broadway community to contribute to charitable organizations and support causes they believe in.
“It is important for the Broadway community to help raise awareness because art allows people to listen and be emotionally connected with something bigger than themselves,” Sheila Coyle said. “Music and theatre allow people to see and feel a personal and important involvement with the world that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.”
“I can only imagine if a child I knew and loved was in need…I would hope people would do the same for me and my loved ones,” said Melissa van der Schyff, who has performed in Big River and Bonnie and Clyde. “As an artist, it is great to feel you can do something to benefit others with your work in addition to providing entertainment.”
St. Jude’s success throughout the years has impressed the performers, who frequently mentioned how many children and families the organization has helped.
“I think the track record of St. Jude successfully treating and lovingly caring for so many sick kids and their families throughout the years speaks for itself,” Ryan said. “Word of mouth and testimonials are clearly so effective. Also, I think the Thomas family and their obvious love, care and ability to reach millions of people so well through the media has been so helpful.”
“This event is an honor to be a part of, and it is moments such as these that make you so proud of the family you coincide with in this Broadway community,” Coyle said. “I do think that the awareness being brought to attention by entertainment is effective…people admire, connect and look up to public figures as they are our world’s constant in common ground. I would like to give all of us people the benefit of the doubt to always strive to be better and sometimes we just need a little or a BIG reminder that WE can make a difference.”
Libby Servais, who has performed in Wicked and Lysistrata Jones, is no stranger to charitable organizations, having performed for and been active with Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS and Ronald McDonald House as well as St. Judes.
“I’ve performed and raised money for various children’s hospitals, and each one is equally heartbreaking,” she said. “The children are counting on us – they need our help. It is imperative that we continue raising money to find medical cures and most importantly to help save their young and innocent lives.”
“Spotlight on St. Jude” will be held Tuesday, March 6th from 6 – 10 p.m. at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street). To purchase tickets, visit www.stjude.org/spotlightonstjude.