NC artists rally against HB2, extend to NYC

by Lenise Willis

When the North Carolina General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory passed House Bill 2 on March 23, the arts community certainly wasn’t top of mind. Neither was the response it would get nationwide. But now our little state is in the limelight and artists across the country are using their spotlight to speak out against HB2.

This weekend, on June 13, more than a dozen North Carolina-native Broadway performers are joining renowned composers Stephen Schwartz and Jeanine Tesori for a fundraising concert, Broadway Voices for NC, which will be hosted at The Cutting Room in New York City. The concert is aimed at fighting HB2, more commonly known as North Carolina’s “bathroom law.”

“We’ve been outraged and disappointed in our home state for passing this horrendous and insulting bill and wanted to do something about it from our new home in New York City,” said co-organizer Laurel Harris, a Raleigh native and Broadway performer. “We hope that by pulling together some of our fellow thespians and composer friends, many of whom are fellow North Carolina natives, we’ll be able to create a stir and get Gov. McCrory’s attention.”

All proceeds from the event will benefit Equality North Carolina, an organization focused on securing equal rights and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer North Carolinians. Additional proceeds will go to local LGBTQ centers whose members are affected by the passage of the bill.

Harris’ husband, Rob Marnell, is also a Raleigh native and Broadway performer, and is the second co-organizer of the concert. Marnell is known for his role in Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, whereas Harris is known for her role in Wicked.

The married cou ple met in their youth at a production of Cinderella at Raleigh Little Theatre and remains close to their North Carolina roots. Additional producers are Michael McCorry Rose and Tralen Doler, who is also serving as the director of the event.

“We believe change and forward progress will ultimately win out over oppressive steps backwards, and we’re raising funds for those leading the fight,” Harris continued about their mission.

Other backers include non-North Carolina natives, but supporters of the cause just the same. Both award-winning composers Jeanine Tesori and Stephen Schwartz, who protested the bill earlier this year by withholding performance rights to his musicals for North Carolina productions, will be involved, as well. Tesori and Schwartz’ involvement is a big win for North Carolina’s theatre community, putting us on the radar of artistic geniuses.

Tesori (Shrek the Musical) won the Tony Award last year for Best Score for Fun Home, which also won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Schwartz, who has written 18 musicals, is a Grammy and Academy Award winner with high notoriety in the arts community, especially for his works of Wicked, Godspell, Pippin and Children of Eden.

In addition to performances by Harris and Marnell, the concert will feature performances by many high-profile North Carolinians, now living and performing in New York City, including Tony Award-winner Beth Leavel, from The Drowsy Chaperone and Mamma Mia!, Ariana Debose (Pippin, Motown the Musical), Daniel Watts (Memphis, In the Heights), Lindsay Northen (Wicked), Melvin Tunstall (Beautiful — The Carole King Musical), Tally (School of Rock) and Brandon Ellis from Once.

The keynote speaker will be trans writer and advocate Vivian Taylor, former executive director of Integrity USA and fellow North Carolina native, and hosting the event is Geena Rocero, a model, TED speaker and activist. She is also the founder of Gender Proud, an advocacy and aid organization that stands up for transgender rights worldwide.

With such high-quality and renowned names involved in the concert, North Carolina’s arts scene is certainly making a name for itself nationwide. Harris and Marnell are certainly well representing North Carolina’s abilities — both artistically and politically. !

LENISE WILLIS, a graduate from UNC Chapel Hill’s journalism school, has experience in acting and ballet, and has been covering live performances since 2010.