As James Corden put it at the Tonys, “hate will never win.”
That’s the message that inspired musical director and SiriusXM On Broadway and Stars host Seth Rudetsky and producer James Wesley, who are married, to bring together some of the biggest stars on Broadway and in pop music to record a version of What the World Needs Now Is Love in honor of the lives lost during the massacre at gay Orlando club Pulse on June 12.
“Our show had a Tony nomination, so we were also having these mixed feeling of such joy but also such tragedy,” Rudetsky told SiriusXM. “We did think the Tony Awards handled it well, but we knew Broadway had this feeling of, ‘What are we supposed to do to help?’”
“I realized the next morning that Lin-Manuel’s acceptance speech saying ‘love is love is love is love,’ it was really beautiful. I got up at 5 o’clock in the morning and went for a bike ride, but I thought ‘there’s more to it than that; we have to do something more,’” Wesley added. “I was listening on my iPod to Dionne Warwick’s What the World Needs Now Is Love, and then I just found myself stopping on the bike and pushing play again and continuing, and by the time I was done with my bike ride I realized we need to have the Broadway community come together and, a la We Are the World, record the song. So I went home and contacted all the people we knew. … By the time Seth woke up I said, ‘Seth, I think this is what we need to do.’”
Everyone — 60 singers in total — immediately agreed. Idina Menzel, Wayne Brady, Kristen Bell and Gloria Estefan were out of town and recorded their sections remotely, but the rest gathered Wednesday in a donated New York City studio. They include Sara Bareilles, Matthew Broderick, Andréa Burns, Ann Hampton Callaway, Liz Callaway, Len Cariou, Paul Castree, Michael Cerveris, Joshua Colley, Lilla Crawford, Carmen Cusack, Darius de Haas, Fran Drescher, Christopher Fitzgerald, Kimiko Glenn, Whoopi Goldberg, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Joel Grey, Sean Hayes, Heather Headley, Nina Hennessy, Megan Hilty, James Monroe Iglehart, Bill Irwin, Carole King, Judy Kuhn, Nathan Lane, Anika Larsen, Jennifer Lewis, Zachary Levi, Jose Llana, Rebecca Luker, Andrea Martin, Audra McDonald, Janet Metz, Lin-Manuel Miranda (who, Rudetsky joked, begged to get “the Bob Dylan part” from We Are the World), Brian Stokes Mitchell, Jessie Mueller, Donna Murphy, Rosie O’Donnell, Kelli O’Hara, Rory O’Malley, Orfeh, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rosie Perez, Bernadette Peters, Billy Porter, Alice Ripley, Chita Rivera, Keala Settle, Kate Shindle, Jennifer Simard, Will Swenson, Rachel Tucker, Tommy Tune, Jonah Verdon, Lillias White, Marissa Jaret Winokur, B.D. Wong and Tony Yazbeck. Rudetsky accompanied on piano and conducted the 22-piece orchestra.
“Even though it was a devastating kind of thing we were doing, it was what you love about Broadway,” Rudetsky said.
“We were all together, learning harmony together like we all did when we all began working on Broadway. So it was that kind of thing where we’re all in the ensemble. Plus, it was crazy, everyone was starstruck. Everyone was literally taking selfies. Everyone was obsessed with someone else in the room they had never actually met, and it was just this very fun community. … It was a serious thing, but there was a lot of joy in the room.”
And absolutely no ego: A-listers like Sarah Jessica Parker, Whoopi Goldberg and Rosie Perez begged not to sing solos.
“Everyone in that room was an equal,” Wesley explained. “We were human beings who were affected by this tragedy in various ways but all affected by the hate and wanting to overcome it with what the song is about, about love.”
The single is available for pre-order now on BroadwayRecords.com, and will be released on iTunes on Monday, June 20. A music video is also in the works.
As for what can be done politically and socially to ensure such atrocities are never committed again, the couple is optimistic, just like their song.
“The reason it happened is because of self-hatred and hatred of the gay community, and one of the reasons why a lot of kids grow up with such self-hatred and such hopelessness is you feel that you’re totally alone,” Rudetsky said. “It’s very depressing, but I feel that anyone that is young and that is struggling with their sexuality, if they see, ‘Oh my God, all these successful, amazing people are singing to support the gay community,’ that they can go, ‘There is hope for me in the long run.’ They don’t have to turn to this dark path of either suicide or acting out and killing somebody else. So I’m hoping in the long run this is going to give strength. I don’t know if it’s going to help the gun lobby, any of that kind of stuff, but I’m hoping it’s going to help a generation of children who need hope.”