The Worlds a Stage

From Katey Sagal pulling a vanishing act to Shirley Jones rating her sexual prowess, theater director David Galligan shares what happens when musical theater stars converge for a spectacular AIDS Project Los Angeles fundraiser.

By Wenzel Jones

April 22, 2010

Valarie Pettiford onstage for S.T.A.G.E.

Los Angeles theater artist David Galligan, known for, among other things, directing such projects as the Leslie Jordan vehicle My Trip Down the Red Carpet and Rod McKuen in concert at Carnegie Hall, will return for the 26th time to helm and produce the annual Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event (STAGE), one of the oldest fund-raising events created to fight AIDS.

This year’s show, Original Cast, which will benefit AIDS Project Los Angeles, will take place May 1 at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex and will feature artists such as Vicki Lewis, Michele Lee, and Tyne Daly performing numbers from their Broadway triumphs Damn Yankees, Seesaw, and Gypsy, respectively.

Galligan speaks with The Advocate about his past 25 years in the trenches soliciting cash for the cause.

The Advocate: How do you round that many presumably busy people up for one night?

David Galligan: They want to do it, number 1. They want to make a difference. One night they’re OK with, one Saturday night. And nobody has dropped out yet on account of work.

Has that ever happened where you’ve got somebody scheduled and at the very last second, for whatever reason ...

Yeah, Katey Sagal came in, we picked the number, it went to orchestration and was orchestrated, she came back, rehearsed it, and disappeared. We never heard from her again. She never answered any calls, she never showed, she never ... to this day I don’t know what happened.

What was it that inspired you to undertake what has become a very large annual event?

Michael Kearns and James Carroll Pickett came to me [in 1984] and said, "Would you do a benefit for this unnamed disease?" And I said, "Well, sure." It was at the Variety Arts [Center at Figueroa and Olympic in downtown Los Angeles] and there was a loading dock door with a chain pulley, and I had the crew park their cars in a V and turn on their headlights. I put Donna McKechnie onstage with two dancers. So she danced on, the kids pulled the pulley, the thing flew up, and there she was, caught in the headlights with all of Los Angeles behind her and it didn’t cost a cent. And the audience was, like, Whoa!

After 26 years, do you find that you’re running up against donor fatigue?

Yes. It was the disease of the month, as I call it, and it’s not anymore. They’ve moved on to breast cancer and things that have a higher profile, and everybody thinks there’s a cure for AIDS. And there’s not. People are tired of it, they’re not that interested.

Do you have any celebrities you admire to the point of going stupid in front of them or have you been at this so long it doesn’t happen?

Of course I do. Carole Cook makes me go stupid sometimes because I’m always amazed at her because first of all, she’s so quick. For instance, going around one night, everybody introducing themselves, a lot of stars and a lot of people who are not stars, she said, "Hello, my name is Carole Cook and I am one of the better fucks in the business." Except Shirley Jones was, like, three people later and Shirley Jones said, "Hello, my name is Shirley Jones and I am the best fuck in the business." I direct Tyne Daly’s nightclub act [and] being in a room with a pianist and a musical director and myself experiencing "Rose’s Turn" ... I don’t know when I’ve been so awestruck. It’s perfection.