On May 15, Jeff Award-winning director and activist Christopher Pazdernik celebrated his birthday with the eighth edition of Belting for Life, his annual Chicago-style theatrical concert and fundraiser for AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC).
The 2023 edition featured a cast of 20 award-winning performers for a night of theater and high comedy. Married couple August Forman and Landree Fleming served as co-hosts.
The event was held at Theo Ublique Cabaret Theater in Evanston, where Pazdernik is producing director. Pazdernik is living with HIV and was a Windy City Times 30 Under 30 Award-winner.
The night got off to a high-energy start with a bracing "Let Me Be Your Star" from the musical SMASH by Emilie Lynn and Molly Callinan, before Forman and Fleming kidded the artistic merits of the musical Starlight Express.
The evening subsequently turned into a spectacle of show stoppers with one artist after another delivering stunning versions of theatrical chestnuts. Among the many highlights, which were too many to include here, was Kelli Morgan-Mchugh's bouncy mash up of "I Want to go to Hollywood" from Grand Hotel with "Maybe this Dream" from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Bridget Adams-King (who sang "I Didn't Plan It" from Waitress) and Neala Barron (who performed "Sing Happy" from Flora the Red Menace) attacked their selections with hard-edged fury.
Laz Estrada delivered a lilting and searing reading of "Awaiting You" from Myths and Hymns, while Nathe Rowbotham's version of "Come to Your Senses" was both celebratory and furious. Caila Jackson took on the role of Miss Hannigan from the musical Annie to deliver an hilariously mean tempered "Little Girls," while Angela Ingersoll did a sloppy drunk rip through "Ladies Who Lunch" from Company, which included forays into the audience and dousing herself with champaign.
Danica Lynn closed out the night with an incendiary reading of "And I Am Telling You, I'm Not Going" before the entire company joined her for the closer of Dreamgirls.
A large part of the success of the show was the patter of the co-hosts who had never emceed together before. Forman said at one point, "Usually you get the funny one and the straight man..." Fleming cracked, "Jokes on you...we're not straight, and we're not men." Live musical accompaniment for the evening was provided by percussionist Lior David Shragg and pianist Michael McBride.
AIDS Foundation CEO John Peller also appeared onstage, wished Pazdernik a "happy birthday"and promptly received a giant check for his trouble. Peller said, "There are two things I care about...ending HIV and ending homelessness. Both are not easy, but they are worth the fight."
The goal for this Belting for Life concert was to raise $5,000, which was close by the end of the evening.
To donate to AFC, go to www.aidschicago.org .