By Byrne Harrison
Photos by Mike Ruiz
5th Annual Broadway Beauty Pageant. Join host Tovah Feldshuh and celebrity judges Bruce Vilanch, Rachel Dratch, and Carson Kressley as they encourage this year's contestants Matt Anctil (La Cage aux Folles), Michael Cusumano (Chicago), Raymond J Lee (Anything Goes), Brandon Rubendall (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark), and James Tabeek (Mary Poppins) to strut their stuff in the talent, interview, and swimsuit portions of competition. Featuring a special performance by Lee Roy Reams.
The event benefits The Ali Forney Center, NYC's primary housing resource for homeless LGBT youth.
I had a chance to talk with Matthew Oberstein, one of the producers of the Broadway Beauty Pageant, about this year's event.
This marks the 5th year of the Broadway Beauty Pageant. How did the Pageant first get started?
The Broadway Beauty Pageant was the brainchild of Ryan J. Davis and Jeffery Self, who thought this was the perfect way to feature some of Broadway's very talented chorus boys, to bring the Broadway community together for something different than anything else out there, and to raise money for the great cause that is the Ali Forney Center.
There are five very talented--and very handsome--contestants this year. Matt Anctil is making his Broadway debut in La Cage aux Folles, and previously showed off his legs in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the Fire Island Dance Festival, and Night of 1000 Gowns. Michael Cusumano currently stars in Chicago, but made history as the youngest company member in the history of American Ballet Theater, before moving on to become a principal dancer Alabama Ballet and then a soloist with Boston Ballet. Raymond J. Lee is featured in the current revival of Anything Goes, but he made his Broadway debut in Mamma Mia. He is the co-creator of the web series Thank You...Next, which has been selected for this year's LA Web Series Festival. Brandon Rubendall is making his Broadway debut in Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, but comes to Broadway from a versatile career as a model and commercial actor for Nike and Lord & Taylor, and he has danced for Beyonce and Livvi Franc. Mr. Mary Poppins, James Tabeek, covers too many tracks in the show to count. His other Broadway and touring credits include Wicked, Taboo, Beauty and the Beast, and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
You've got some great judges: Bruce Vilanch, Carson Kressley and Rachel Dratch. And Tovah Feldshuh will be hosting, which is great. Tovah and Carson are Ali Forney Center honorary board members, and have been very active in supporting the event in the past. How did Bruce and Rachel get involved?
The Broadway Beauty Pageant is planned, in great part, by a committee of very dedicated volunteers. In both Bruce and Rachel's cases, it was a connection that a committee member had to them, and once they heard about the event, they couldn't say 'no'!
Tell me a little bit about the Ali Forney Center and the work that they do for homeless LGBT youth.
Ali Forney Center is the nation's largest and most comprehensive organization dedicated to homeless LGBT youth. We provide homeless LGBT youths, aged 16-24, with the support and services they need to escape the streets and begin to live healthy and independent lives. We offer an innovative continuum of services that includes a day center, where we provide street outreach, case management, primary medical care, HIV testing, food and showers, and an employment assistance program; an emergency housing program, where LGBT youths are able to reside in save, staff-supervised homelike apartments for up to six months while we assist them in moving on to more permanent housing; and transitional housing, where residents are able to live for up to two years while we assist them in maintaining employment and continuing their education. We place a great deal of emphasis on helping our residents to prepare to live independently, and our goal is that, upon graduation from this program, they will move on to their own apartments.
While I hope that everyone will come to the Broadway Beauty Pageant, what are some other ways that people can support the Ali Forney Center's mission?
Absolutely! We're always in need of non-perishable foods, toiletries, cleaning supplies, bed sheets and towels, and school supplies. We love to welcome volunteers to AFC, particularly people to help with meal preparation, workshop facilitation, event planning committees, and just spreading the word throughout the community about the work that we do, and the work that is necessary to help the many homeless LGBT youths living in New York City.