“Help is on the Way XVIII” features Helen Ready, Maureen McGovern, Lisa Vroman and cast of “Les Miserables”

The Richmond/Erment Aids Foundation presented “Help Is On the Way XVIII” a rapid pace whiz-bang revue at the Herbst Theatre on August 5th featuring Helen Reddy, Rex Smith, Maureen McGovern, Sam Harris, Paula West, Lisa Vroman, B.O.O.B.S and the cast of “Les Miserables”

Ken Henderson and Joe Seiler producers of “Help Is On the Way XVIII” told the audience that 100% of the proceeds would go to AIDS Housing Alliance/SF, AIDS Legal Referral Panel, Maitron, and Positive Resource Center. The evening events opened with the Community Hero Award going to Tom Nolan.

The fast pace production got underway with a glitzy production of “Get Happy” with David Engle, a six-time winner of LA Stage Alliance Ovation Award who appeared on Broadway with Carol Burnett in “Putting It Together” and as the Bass Wickersham in “Seussical:the Musical” singing and dancing and Judy Garland dancing and singing the Harold Arlen song on the screen  overhead. David was assisted with the spot on dancing of Carole Acuna, Ashley Cowel, Lani Fung and Emily Kerr.  It was a glossy start for an evening of entertainment.

Rex Smith who has a lot of Broadway credits including “Grease’, “Grand Hotel”, “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “Kiss Me Kate” passionately rendered  “This is the Moment” from ”Jekyll and Hyde” following him to tone things down Paula West was sublimed singing Lillian Green and Big Bill Broozy’s “Romance in the Dark”.

Those big bosoms gals Jessica Coker, Soila Hughes, Amanda Folena known as B.O.O.B.S! rocked the house with “Let’s Kill the Ingénues”.  The dance act of John Narvaez and Andrew Cervantes did some amazing twists and turns to Joey Pastrana “Chuimbanbe”.  Lisa Vroman who is best known as Christine Daae in “The Phantom of the Opera “in New York, San Francisco and Los Angels had thematic resonance singing Agustin Lara “Granada” followed by Vicki Lewis belting out with “Don’t Rain On My Parade”. Jake Simpson who twice (2003-2004) won the top honors in the Adult Singer category on CBS-TV’s Star Search with his powerful high tenor voice and three-octave range was commandingly vocalizing  Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” and then segued into Al Green’s -Let’s Stay Together”.  The first act ended with the cast of “Les Miserables” thrilling singing Claude-Michael Schonberg/Alain Boubil’s “One Day More” from “Les Miserable.  What a magnificent ending to the first act.

During the intermission there was a live action for two packages.  The Puerto Vallarta Dream Escape which was five nights’ accommodations for up to 8 guests at a 4 bedroom villa in Conchas Chinas Old Town Puerto Vallarta plus round-trip air on United Airlines went for $3700.  A great deal since the value was $7000+.   The next package was the Ultimate Entertainment Package that included tickets to “Les Miserable”, the San Francisco Opera and Ballet, tickets to ACT’s “Normal Heart” and many other theatrical events in the Bay Area.  This went for $1100.

The second act opened Natalie Weiss who is currently touring with the 25th anniversary of Les Miserables giving an emotional rendition of “Spark of Creation” from “Children of Eden” followed the vocal/jazz duo Tuck and Patti nicely singing “Takes My Breath Away” and then David Engel returned to the stage to sing “I Am What I Am” from “La Cage aux Faux” and disappearing from the stage and coming back out in drag carrying and snapping whips that would make a S & M aficionados happy. Kimberly Locke the pop/R & B singer fluidly executed “I Believe in You and Me” from “The Preacher’s Wife”.

RAEF’s popular Carole Cook once again won over the capacity crowd with her wonderful dead pan humor and once again singing Gershwin’s “Strike Up the Band”.  I saw her do these shtick years ago at Hollywood Bowl and it is still hilarious.  (“When the drums roll out” a base drum is rolled out onto the stage. “When the trumpet roars” the trumpet player plays the start of a horse race at Hollywood Park).  Her zingers are side splitting, some I can’t repeat here. (“What is all of this talk about same sex marriage? We have been doing same sex for forty five years).  Following her “take no prisoners” gig Helen Reddy came out onto the stage. She is best known as a recording artist and had more than a dozen Top 40 hits in the United States and the first Australian to win a Grammy Award.  She retired in 2002 and just returned to the Herbst stage for this event.  She still has a thrilling voice and was wonderful in her rendition of Kenneth Lee Ascher and Paul H. Williams “You and Me against the World”.  She completed her spot in the spot light by beautifully narrating “The Woman I Am” from the bestselling memoir of the same name.

Sam Harris who starred on Broadway in Kander and Ebb’s “The Life” and starred in many touring productions including “Hair”, “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Cabaret” was next in line for the stage and he belted out Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.  Maureen McGovern who career spans 40 years in recordings and Broadway shows like “Little Women, the Musical” then appeared to sing the heartfelt “You’ll Never Walk Along” from Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel”. The complete cast of tonight event then came out to sing the rousing “Help Is On the Way”.  It was a grand night of singing.