802 Members Deliver a Message: New York Loves America

Volume CII, No. 3March, 2002

Joy Portugal

New Yorkers were buoyed up by a wave of solidarity from across the country, and around the world, after tragedy struck on Sept. 11. The outpouring of love and support was astonishing, and it helped to generate the recovery that is now under way.

From Jan. 19 until Feb. 2 four 802 members traveled coast to coast, visiting 14 cities with a message of gratitude for the support. They were part of New York Loves America, a tour organized by the League of American Theatres and Producers.

In each city, League President Jed Bernstein presented a fireman’s helmet signed by the surviving members of Broadway’s fire house, at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 48th Street, by former mayor Rudy Giuliani and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Then four musicians and five performer/singers, including Sandy Duncan, presented a 40-minute revue featuring highlights of current and upcoming Broadway shows.

Music director for the project was 802 member and Broadway conductor Eric Stern, who spoke to Allegro from Los Angeles during the tour’s final days.

“We’ve been in a different city every day, so it’s been very tiring – but exhilarating,” Stern said. “We’re all feeling good about it. When we thank people for the help they sent, and the emotional support, we’re just hit back with a wave of strong feeling. The way they receive us, it’s like an opening night every night. It’s really kind of thrilling.”

The show opened in Miami on Jan. 19, moved to Tampa and then to Cleveland, where they played the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. From there they moved on to New Orleans, Austin and Houston (“we played in the shadow of the Enron Building”) and Atlanta.

After one day off back home, they headed out to Broadway, North Carolina, the only small town on the itinerary. “The entire town turned out for us,” Stern said, “lining the streets and cheering while a fire engine escorted our big tour bus into town. We played the local high school. The kids had rehearsed all week, and they sang ‘New York, New York’ to us. It was amazing.”

Then it was on to Washington, Baltimore, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix, winding up in Denver on Feb. 2.

The other musicians on the tour were drummer Wayne Dunton, guitarist Tom Dempsey and bassist Dave Phillips. “I knew we would travel well and have a good time together,” Stern said, “and we all felt that this was something that needed to be done. It’s been a surprisingly deep emotional experience. It seems that we’re giving people a chance to say something to us that they wanted to say soon after Sept. 11, but we weren’t here. But now suddenly we are here, and they’re saying: ‘Yes, this is how we felt.’ The force of it surprised me.”

The performers have had to be adaptable. “We may walk in and find a grand piano and brilliant acoustics and a professional-quality sound man in one city – and the next day we’re playing in a field, under a tent,” Stern said. The program varied somewhat from town to town, but “we’ve often had mayors or governors or police and fire chiefs greet us; we’ve had some local radio personalities on the stage; and there have been a lot of firefighters at every performance.”

All the concerts were presented free. The musicians’ wages were paid by the Music Performance Trust Fund, and corporate sponsors like Continental Airlines, Marriott and Coach USA absorbed a substantial part of the travel costs.