Broadway Sings for Autism Speaks

Cary Hughes
Carly Hughes

“Autism is not a tragedy.  Ignorance is the tragedy.”  This was the message Autism Speaks staffer and best-selling author Kerry Magro delivered to a cheering crowd at the first ever Arts for Autism Benefit Concert on Monday, June 20th, held at the Gershwin Theatre.  The evening, hosted by Tony-award-winning Broadway star Kelli O’Hara, was a celebration of how profoundly the arts can impact all students, and students on the Autism Spectrum in particular. Broadway’s finest shared the spotlight with theater students from schools around the country to sing messages of hope, joy, and inspiration.  Students on the spectrum got the chance to share their stories on the Broadway stage.  And if that were not celebration enough, the event raised over $36,000 for Autism Speaks.

O’Hara’s warmth and vivacity set the tone for the evening as she opened up about her personal connection to the cause.  Having watched her best friend raise a son on the Autism Spectrum, O’Hara is particularly sensitive to the power of the arts to change lives. Her hopefulness, which culminated in her beautiful performance of “Make Someone Happy,” captured the spirit of the night.  Backstage, O’Hara emphasized the importance of an arts education, and the power to give a voice to those who don’t feel they have a voice.

Riviera Preparatory School - Miami, Florida
Riviera Preparatory School – Miami, Florida

Students from performance groups from across the country were abuzz backstage as they curled their hair and stretched in the dressing rooms usually reserved for the Broadway cast of WickedEducational Travel Adventures and Believe NYC produced the concert together, offering accomplished young performers the opportunity to sing and dance on a Broadway stage.  Dominic Nolfi, from the original cast of Jersey Boys and a member of the Doo Wop Project, said a highlight of the evening was sharing the stage with a new generation.  “I love performing with kids that are excited about theater – that’s exciting for me.”  The feeling was mutual.

From Left to Right; Jacque Carnahan, Producer; Kelli O'Hara, Show Host; Michael Holzer, Producer
From Left to Right; Jacque Carnahan, Producer; Kelli O’Hara, Show Host; Michael Holzer, Producer

Artistic Director Jacque Carnahan was inspired by how eagerly so many Broadway actors jumped at the opportunity to support this worthy cause.  Their generosity of spirit modeled for a new generation of performers the importance of using their artistic expression to make the world a better place.  Directed by David Alpert, the concert featured actors from Pippin, Newsies, Side Show, and more.  Favorite moments include a delightful mash-up from the cheerful Doo-Wop project, a soulful re-imagination of “Defying Gravity” sung by three of Broadway’s Elphabas, and a gripping rendition of “Falling Slowly” sung by Paul Alexander Nolan, Erikka Walsh, and danced by The Moving Youth Dance Company.  The evening was full of joy, reflection, and inclusiveness.

Giana Hitsos
Giana Hitsos

A true highlight of the night, however, was the Broadway debut of Gianna Hitsos.  While her name is not one many audience members have heard before, her performance is one they are not likely to forget.  Though Hitsos stopped speaking for a period of her life at age two, she found her voice again through her love of music.  “Because I have music in my life,” says Hitsos, “I can conquer my dreams like everyone else.”  It is tough to imagine there was a time when Hitsos could not speak given how beautifully she sings.  Her riveting rendition of “Never Never Land” brought the audience to their feet.  She is currently pursuing her dreams, studying music and theater at Gordon College in Massachusetts.

The final number of the show, “If the World Only Knew,” was written by Scott Evan Davis in collaboration with the students of the P94m Spectrum School.  One of those students, Russell Whitaker, spoke backstage about how the arts education he received in middle school helped him find his confidence, become more open and engaged, and even helped him become his class’s graduation speaker.  The full company joined together on stage to perform this final number – proving that Autism doesn’t just speak – it sings.

Showtunes and more at the Northern Jersey Autism Speaks Walk

Actions speak louder than words….but taking action is a lot more fun when you add music to the mix. Just ask the crew at Educational Travel Adventures (ETA) and Believe NYC. On Sunday, May 22nd, ETA and Believe NYC will team up to support the Northern Jersey Autism Speaks Walk.   They don’t just talk the talk and walk the walk…they also sing some darn good music along the way. Believe NYC Artistic Director Jacque Carnahan is guaranteed to brighten up your day with her rich and lively soprano sound. She will be joined by the accomplished Assaf Gleizner on the piano and Bjorn Ingelstam on trumpet. They will perform together on the main stage – giving you one more reason to walk for this noteworthy cause.

Jacque Carnahan is also heading up the Arts for Autism Benefit Concert on June 20th at the Gershwin Theater. The event, hosted by…wait for it….Tony-Award Winning Star Kelli O’Hara!…will feature music from your favorite Broadway stars to raise money and awareness for Autism Speaks. Carnahan believes that music has the power to go beyond mere entertainment and can make a lasting impact on a person’s life. You can make an impact, too, by stepping up and joining them at the Arts for Autism Walk. Make sure you stop by the Arts for Autism Booth to buy your tickets for the Benefit, or enter their raffle for a chance to win free tickets!

The Autism Speaks Walk is the world’s largest fundraising event in the autism community. Your support can help raise awareness and money to finance new research projects and provide a wide range of services to people in the autism community and their families. Join ETA and Believe NYC from 11:00am to 1:00pm at the MetLife Stadium for a memorable performance. Step by step, note by note, help join the movement!


More information is available here:

Emily Padgett & Erin Davie to join Arts for Autism!

You’re not seeing double. Emily Padgett and Erin Davie, fresh off their performances as conjoined twins Daisy and Violet in last year’s critically lauded revival of Side Show, will reunite at Arts for Autism’s Benefit Concert on June 20th. They’re living proof that two voices are better than one. While the riveting revival of Side Show opened to rave reviews in 2014, the run closed too soon. If you missed a chance to see this duo in action, now is your chance!

While playing conjoined twins, Emily and Erin got…you could say…close. After all, they were attached at the hip via ultra strong magnets sewn into their costumes. But their connection goes deeper than that. When these two Broadway stars sing, they prove that music is about more than just notes. Or as The New York Times put it, these actors exhibit “pin-you-to-your-seat vocal chops” to bring you a message that will “burrow deep into your spirit.”  Padgett believes that this production made her stronger, not only for giving her a chance to carry a show, but for giving her the chance to carry a show with a trusted scene partner at her side every step of the way. Davie notes what an honor it was to work on a show with not one, but two incredibly strong female leads. She wishes there were more roles out there for women as rich and compelling as those of the Hilton twins.

While they make a convincing pair of twins, Padgett and Davie are by no means identical. They both have impressive resumes in their own right. Padgett got her Broadway debut in the revival of Grease and then joined the cast of Legally Blonde. She then played Sandy on the National Tour of Grease before landing a role in Rock of Ages, where she later took on the leading role of Sherrie. Her latest project is the role of Lucy in the original Broadway production Bright Star. Davie trained at the Boston Conservatory. She got her Broadway debut with the role of Young “Little” Edie Beale in Grey Gardens. Other Broadway credits include Curtains, A Little Night Music, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It is tough to believe these stars hadn’t even met before their first rehearsal a few short years ago. Their different vocal styles (Padgett is known for her powerhouse belt, Davie for her classical and tender soprano) only makes their dynamic stronger.

The tour-de-force ballad from Side Show “Who Will Love Me As I Am?” asks a question that we all grapple with as we come of age. Padgett and Davie explored what it means to be different – and how that makes life at once more challenging and more rewarding at the same time. Their deep understanding of perseverance and self-respect makes them all the more fitting as spokeswomen for the Arts for Autism Benefit Concert.

On June 20th, they will be joining the Sandra Day O’Connor High School Choir to sing “When You Believe.” When these professionals share the spotlight, they will give you something to believe in! Get your tickets now for this one-night-only event!

Arts for Autism announces the Doo Wop Project to the Stage!

Arts for Autism is thrilled to welcome the Doo Wop Project to the stage for their first annual benefit on June 20th. When these stars from the Broadway smash hits Jersey Boys and MoTown: The Musical team up, “Oh, What a Night” it will be! Known for their tight harmonies, these triple threats take the audience on a musical journey, reimagining America’s greatest music from the 50’s to today. Their sound is as authentic as the musical icons you know and love from days past, but revitalized to bring a modern audience to its feet. Mixing in stories and memories from backstage at Jersey Boys to growing up with Broadway dreams, the Doo Wop Project honors the classics while exciting a new generation with their doo wop flair.

Before Dominic Scaglione Jr, Jevon McFerrin, Russell Fischer, John Michael Dias, Dwayne Cooper, Dominic Nolfi, and Sonny Paladino were Broadway professionals, they were developing their vocal chops while singing along to oldies on the car radio. Now they’re eager to spread their passion for music with the amazing organization, Autism Speaks. The Doo Wop Project has a long history supporting arts programming for individuals with autism. Through Music for Autism, they created interactive concerts customized for kids with autism and their families. Seeing firsthand how engaged and enthusiastic the children were was deeply gratifying.   Parents were brought to tears by the power music had for their children, and for all populations, to express what mere words often can’t. Music Director Sonny Paladino writes that, “As a band we were deeply touched by this experience and we’ve always made time to help spread autism awareness.” When it came time for the Arts for Autism benefit, the band was immediately on board. Sonny Paladino will in fact be Music Directing the concert. Don’t miss a thrilling evening of music and memories with the Doo Wop Project and more! “Ooo Baby Baby” we hope you “Get Ready” for this spectacular one-night only event!

Oboist Keve Wilson is a study on resiliency and staying true to yourself

“You’re not an oboe player, your mouth isn’t right to play the oboe.”

 Almost 20 years after hearing this from an oboe teacher in graduate school, Keve Wilson is every bit an oboe player and plays on the current Broadway hit show, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.

It takes a pretty unique personality to hear a criticism like that and not be completely derailed. After meeting Keve in 2012, I soon began to realize what an inspiring, gifted and generous artist I was lucky enough to be spending time with. Keve is one of those people who lives in the moment and is truly herself both as a human and an artist. She creates opportunities for herself and for others with seeming ease. She has been hailed by the New York Times for her “magnificently sweet tone” and has played all over the world. Her repertoire spans the genres from pop to classical to Broadway to her favorite, Irish jigs. Her personality is warm and friendly with a kookiness that matches her mane of gorgeous blonde curly hair. Whenever I watch her play the oboe no matter the venue, I feel deeply that she is exactly where she is meant to be, doing exactly what she should be doing in that moment. She is truly herself. And her unique life and career embodies that sense of self.

Ten years after hearing that awful statement from her professor, Keve got an orchestra gig performing in Germany from a flutist she had worked with. She was offered the opportunity to choose the second oboe player and it was suggested by the conductor that she reach out to that same professor she had had in graduate school. She was to ask him to recommend one of his students. Keve, trusting that 10 years and her career would speak for itself, made the call. Unfortunately, time hadn’t changed anything in her former professor’s eyes. He called the conductor and told him that Keve did not have the chops to play the piece. Since Keve had signed a contract, she couldn’t be fired, but she knew she would have to nail the piece including a large oboe solo. After the first concert in Germany the conductor received a huge bouquet of flowers from the people sponsoring the event. During the bows the conductor took the bouquet and handed it to Keve. Once again, she had proved herself. And, once again, she did not accept someone else’s imposed limitations for herself. She knew she could play it, and she did. Pressure was no match for her passion and joy in the music.

Keve and I sat down for dinner last week and I asked her where she thinks her strong sense of self came from. The first thing that came to mind was her name. This is one of the many things Keve and I have in common. Having a unique, or, in my case uniquely spelled name can begin to shape who you are. It gave us both a sense of being different, apart from the crowd and unique. When you are constantly explaining your name as a kid, it’s no wonder you start to think of yourself as different from everyone else. The second answer she gave me was the influence from her parents. Her parents let her make her own decisions from a very young age. She spent her Saturdays in High School taking the train into New York to study at Manhattan School of Music. She says her parents also made her take responsibility for her actions from the beginning. As I’ve come to get to know her, I believe it was these two things and an undeniable passion for music that fueled the fire for becoming the artist she is today.

I asked Keve what her goals are and what she hopes to accomplish next. Without hesitation, she replies, “An arena tour! I want to be the oboist that goes on tour with Lady Gaga!” I laugh a little at her certainty and because it wasn’t what I expected her to say at all. But a moment later I realize how right she is. This is exactly what she should do next, and from what I can see, Madison Square Garden better get ready.

In addition to playing on A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Keve Wilson performs her one-woman show, From The Band Room To The Orchestra Pit, for Believe NYC music students from around the world.

Arts For Autism 2016 brings students to New York to perform on Broadway and support a great cause.

At Believe NYC, we say that dreams are achievable and our mission is built solidly on the belief that if you love something; art, dance, astronomy, whatever, that you should do it. And you should never give up on it. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the kids who are told You Can’t. Or, the kids with physical or mental challenges that can make doing what they love seem impossible.

A few summers ago, I had the opportunity to work with some students that had been told just that. One student in particular I will never forget. We will call him John. John was going into his junior year in high school and he was OBSESSED with musical theatre. This kid knew more about musical theatre than the entire staff (which included 10 BFA’s, 5 MFA’s, and countless hours of study and experience) John’s favorite show was The Producers. He could quote the whole thing by heart. John was funny, extremely focused, and was one of the hardest working students I’d ever met. John is also on the Autism spectrum. If I asked John to do something differently, he would loudly repeat what I had said several times to make sure he had it right. This would sometimes interrupt rehearsal, and, to be honest, took up allot of my time. But, once given a correction, John never made the same mistake again. He did everything I asked of him, without fail, every time. Just before opening night I was having a conversation with the owner of the theatre and she mentioned that John had not been allowed to audition for his school play. Confused, I asked why? I learned his public school drama teacher told his mother “It just wasn’t the right fit” for John. Wait. WHAT? I couldn’t think of any place where John would “fit in” more than in the theatre! I was disappointed at this teacher’s lack of understanding, courage, imagination, and well, human decency. It was upsetting enough that John was not in his school show, but even more unbelievable that a theatre teacher of all people wouldn’t even let him try. I was so proud of John’s performance that summer. John was the supporting lead and he got a laugh on every line. He sang beautifully. It was a truly wonderful performance. I wish his teacher had come to see just how wrong she was.

Next season, Believe NYC will produce an event to raise money for kids, like John, who are told, You Can’t. 300 children, some with special needs, will have the opportunity to perform in the ultimate venue: on a Broadway Stage. The Gershwin theatre, home of Broadway’s Wicked, will be transformed into a place where You Can’t doesn’t exist. Broadway performers will sing and dance alongside our students in a one night only event to support children with Autism. All proceeds from the evening’s performance will be donated to Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

If you are in New York next June, we hope you will join us for this inspiring evening of Arts For Autism. These children are going to do what they love. And we believe they can.

For information on performing in the Arts For Autism Concert, visit us at:

What is Believe NYC? Artistic Director, Jacque Carnahan talks about how Believe NYC began

“Do what you love”. Steve Jobs has said it, Coco Chanel said it, Confucius said:

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

I love to sing and dance. Performing in the theatre has always been what makes me feel most alive.

I followed my heart from California to New York City and I’ve lived there as a musical theatre performer for the last 12 years. Let me tell you, it can be tough. I’ve worked with some of the best in the business, and I’ve also not worked at all. I’ve lost more jobs than I’ve booked, and the rejection can take its toll. After the show that would have been my Broadway debut lost it’s funding and never saw a Broadway stage, I decided I needed a break from showbiz.

I spent time traveling, teaching, choreographing, and finally found my way back into my dancing shoes when I realized my life as a performer was not over yet. (Yes, at the ripe old age of 29, I decided it wasn’t quite time to retire) All I knew for certain was that I still loved to perform. Do what you love. Ok.

I decided to write a show for young artists about the pursuit of a career in the arts. They say to write what you know, and I knew about that. I called up a composer friend, Barbara Anselmi, and together, we spent 4 months writing my story. From the dance lessons, mean girls, boyfriends, first national tours, losing everything, and then finding it again. We didn’t sugar coat. We wrote it all.

Our first show was at the Triad Theatre in NYC for a group of 75 High School musical theatre students. I invited the owner of a student travel agency, Educational Travel Adventures, to see the show. I wanted to know if he would consider selling the show to his performing arts groups.

Within the first few minutes we got a laugh. Then, another laugh. I peaked at Barbara behind the piano and she smiled. We didn’t know the show was funny! We could feel the audience on the journey with us. After the show, we kept hearing the same sentence, “that was so inspiring”. “You are so inspiring”. “thank you for telling your story” “because I know what you went through to get where you are, I believe I can do it too”. WOW. I asked Michael from ETA what he thought. He loved the show! He said he would start adding it to his performance group itineraries!

4 years later, we have Believe NYC. Since that first performance we have expanded our programing to include workshops, scholarships and an entirely separate program for band and orchestra students featuring world-class musicians and music directors. This season, we began offering programing in Los Angeles and Chicago. Next June, we will produce a benefit concert for Autism Speaks at The Gershwin Theatre where 300 lucky students will get to perform on a Broadway stage with a star-studded cast. And not to mention, Barbara’s own show, It Shoulda Been You, opened on Broadway in April.

I guess retiring from the theatre wasn’t in the cards for me just yet. I’m going to keep doing what I love, and more importantly, I’m going to inspire other young artists to do the same.

Believe NYC is a three part event that includes a show, workshop and Q&A designed to inspire, entertain and educate performing arts students.