The Red Ribbon Revue
A Concert with Javier Munoz and Broadway Luminaries Commemorates World AIDS Day
by Hank Trout
At the opening ceremonies of one of the early San Francisco AIDS Walks, other walkers and I stood silent, enthralled as HIV-positive artist, songwriter, activist, singer Michael Callen sang an a capella rendition of his composition, “Love Don’t Need a Reason.” Although weakened by the virus, his voice rang out strong, filling Golden Gate Park with Michael’s crystal-clear tenor and aching words. When he sang, “Love is all we have for now / what we don’t have is time,” hundreds of us openly wept. I continued crying with every step of the Walk.
All present recognized and felt the poignancy of an HIV-positive gay man singing his own lyrics about the love and death that surrounded us, staking his claim that love don’t need a reason. His message was even more powerful than his voice——we must love each other in whatever time we have left.
Recognizing the poignancy and power of one HIV-positive individual singing the music and lyrics of another HIV-positive individual, singing from their hearts into ours, the Abrons Arts Center in New York City has put together a unique concert to commemorate World AIDS Day. According to their website, “The Red Ribbon Revue is a World AIDS Day celebration of songwriters with HIV/AIDS. A cast of HIV-positive performers will bring new life to songs by those lost to the virus and those who survive. From The Little Mermaid to Dreamgirls, from Paul Jabara to Freddie Mercury, from ‘It’s Raining Men’ to ‘Forget About the Boy,’… The Red Ribbon Revue is a night for those able to live openly to raise their voices in hope of dismantling stigma one note at a time… a night to say to the world: we’ll be here tomorrow.”
The concert will feature emcee Cecil Baldwin (Welcome to Nightvale); Javier Muñoz (Hamilton, In the Heights); three-time Tony nominated writer Dick Scanlan (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Everyday Rapture), Broadway’s Dimitri Moïse (Beautiful, Book of Mormon), and Bistro Award winner Aaron Lee Battle, among others. Tony nominee Beth Malone (Fun Home) will make a special appearance; Rona Siddiqui (A Strange Loop) is the evening’s musical director.
This unique line-up of performers living with HIV, from Broadway to opera, will pay tribute to songwriters Howard Ashman, Peter Allen, Michael Friedman, Jerry Herman and more. The concert will raise awareness for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and mothers2mothers to help combat the stigma attendant upon HIV. The evening is presented by Lortel Award nominee Sam Bolen (Midnight at The Never Get) and baritone/conductor Brian Mummert (ChamberQUEER) as a part of the Abrons series.
“People still don’t know that HIV no longer has to be a death sentence. Many don’t realize that the stigma is often the most powerful force keeping people from getting tested, from getting the medication they need, and from living openly,” producer Sam Bolen said in a press release. “HIV-positive folks taking the stage to sing these songs we all love will be a celebration of the lives we are able to live today and a reminder that to win the fight against HIV we must cast off stigma and shame.”
All these years later, I can still hear Michael Callen singing, I can see him on the stage at AIDS Walk San Francisco in Golden Gate Park, the wind tousling his thinning hair, his voice and words opening cracks in hearts. The Red Ribbon Revue should be just as powerful and memorable for those lucky enough to see it.
The Red Ribbon Revue: December 1; 7:00 p.m. at the Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street), New York, NY 10002; (929) 266-7377. Tickets are priced at $25 and $55 and are available here: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe.c/10466098. Ticket sales benefit Broadway Cares and mothers2mothers. Donations are also being accepted via GoFundMe to benefit mothers2mothers here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-red-ribbon-revue. For questions, email [email protected].
Hank Trout, Senior Editor, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a forty-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his husband Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.