Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is one of the United States’ leading industry-based, nonprofit fundraising and grant-making organisations. Teaming up with the American theatre community, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS has raised more than $285 million for essential services for people with AIDS and other critical illnesses across the United States. This can be in the form of lifesaving medication, health care, nutritious meals, counselling and financial assistance.
One of the ways in which Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fundraise every year, is through their Carols For A Cure CD. The cast of musical Chicago, Broadway’s longest-running American musical, have been supporting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS for 20 years, and once again appear on the album. This year, they have created an original holiday song to benefit the charity, which is the first song on the album. ‘Holiday Melody’ is an uplifting and jolly track, featuring cast member Angel Reda on lead vocals.
We spoke to Angel Reda about why the cause is so important to the cast, the experience of creating an original track together, filming the music video and her Christmas traditions.
‘Holiday Melody’ is the #1 track on this year’s Carols for a Cure 2016: Volume 18 album. The proceeds go directly to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which Chicago has supported for 20 years. Why is the cause so important to you and the cast?
I actually started participating in Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids back in 2003. It was my first National Tour out of school and it was with Chicago the Musical. I learned very quickly that twice a year, Equity members on Broadway and National Tours around the country collect money for this charity. Actors will take a bow on stage, make an announcement about the cause, and then run out to the front of house in costume to collect donations from theatre goers.
Our union has been responsible for the growth of this charity, and although I wasn’t there from the start, I truly feel like every equity member can make a difference. I believe the actors I share the stage with every night share the same mentality. It’s a feeling of unity, knowing that we are coming together for something bigger than ourselves to make a difference. That idea really resonates with me. Each show raises as much as they can and collectively it’s a big number. This year alone the total raised was over four million dollars.
The song is an original – written and performed by the Chicago cast. What was it like to work together on an original piece, rather than performing the usual Chicago material?
The song ‘Holiday Melody’ was written by Brian O’Brien, a current cast member of Chicago. He asked if I would sing the lead vocal on the song and that is where the collaboration began. There were a lot of questions on my end, everything from style to melodic ideas to what kind of riffing we were looking to have at the end. We definitely had some funny voice memos between the two of us. By the time we were in the studio we had eleven musicians who had donated their time, charts from our orchestrator Richard Rockage, and six other cast members to sing back-up.
It was a triumph and testament to the generosity of the folks that helped make this happen. Chicago the Musical is the longest running American musical in the world, so you know you are going to get something smart and sexy on that stage every night. With this project, we didn’t know what to expect from the final product. Every person brought their talent and creative ability and we waited patiently to hear mixes of what we sounded like. It was truly a mix of emotions from everyone involved. The creative space can be such a vulnerable place, but it was that emotion that sparked something so beautiful and pure in the outcome of this song.
Do you have a favorite lyric from the track?
“And though the 25th may have us all elated, every day in life should be celebrated!” The holidays are such a special time, but I think it’s easy to lose sight of the everyday experience. There is always an opportunity to live life to the fullest and what a beautiful way to express that sentiment in a lyric.
You filmed a music video for the song, what was that experience like?
The music video was definitely a big undertaking. We knew we wanted to make one, but we had no idea how to pull it off without a budget. We couldn’t take money from the charity so, ultimately, we called in every favor possible and ended up with a home grown, very low budget but very special holiday video. Every single person donated their time, so we couldn’t waste a moment. Coordinating those two days was very stressful. Everyone brought their A-game, I was my own stylist, and we just went for it. The gold star award went to Jason Patrick Sands, another current Chicago cast member, because he directed, filmed and edited the project. I’m not sure he slept for an entire week while working on the final edit.
We thought if we could reach people (by way of a music video) that didn’t necessarily go to the theatre around this season, or hadn’t heard about the charity, we could extend the outreach and raise awareness. Hopefully people will like the song and download it on iTunes or buy the album through the Broadway Cares store. That money goes straight to the charity. It’s a win, win for everyone involved.
The song evokes plenty of Christmas memories and traditions. Do you have any Christmas traditions?
I grew up in Overland Park, Kansas so open space was pretty much a given. I remember longing for those snow days so we could have an official day off from school to go out sledding. Yes, I have made a snow angel or two in my day. One of our biggest traditions was putting up the tree every year. My brother and I each had our own ornament boxes that we would carry up from the basement. We had a great time decorating until there was a fight over who had ownership of the tree topper, the Angel. Every year it ended up in a different box. To this day I don’t know who has the Angel, as we have moved out of our childhood home and I still haven’t moved that box to New York City. But, maybe it’s time to inquire again!
Aside from ‘Holiday Melody’, what’s your favourite Christmas song?
Without a doubt Aaron Neville, ‘Please Come Home for Christmas’. It’s my mother’s favorite tune, so perhaps I love it in part because she loves it so much. That song is played in the house every year.