For the past 16 years, Broadway’s biggest stars have been joining Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore to help New York City’s four-legged friends find loving homes. This year, around 1,200 people, including me, gathered in Shubert Alley to see Broadway stars and their furry friends. It was an extremely jovial sweet 16 for Broadway Barks, put on in partnership with the Mayor’s Alliance of New York City, ASPCA, and Broadway Cares.
Mary Tyler Moore was unable to attend this year, so James Franco swooped in to host with Bernadette Peters. Franco came out to greet the press holding an adorable kitten; this star of screen and stage has two cats at home. “I love the Broadway community, so I’m just trying to help out wherever I can,” he says.
Bernadette Peters, who founded Broadway Barks with Moore, is a longtime animal lover and humanitarian. Peters is also very passionate about helping blind children learn to read with her other pet passion, Braille Tails. She told me how excited she is about her third book, which should be in schools for the blind this fall. “Each one of my dogs gets his own book, and I’m thrilled that we are able to use my books to help blind children learn the importance and fun of reading with Braille Tails,” she says.
On finding shelter dogs a good home, Bernadette says, “It’s really important that people understand that shelter dogs aren’t bad dogs. They just ended up in a bad situation. They’re all good dogs just looking to be loved and in a good environment. Shelter dogs are very trainable and willing to please you. You definitely can teach an old dog new tricks. You just have to give them a chance!”
So what did these Broadway stars think about being a part of Broadway Barks? I elbowed my way into the crowd and asked them!
Bernadette Peters: “It’s hard to believe it has been 16 years. I am so thankful to the entire Broadway community for their support and time and willingness to help a great cause. There’s nothing like Broadway!”
Jarrod Spector (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical): “It’s wonderful to be a part of an organization that has been around this long. You don’t turn down an invitation from Bernadette Peters for anything, especially Broadway Barks. I’m well aware of the statistics about shelter dogs, so to help these dogs find homes means so much. Anything I can do to help out is an honor.”
Bill Berloni, Broadway’s veteran dog trainer: “I’ve been involved since the first year, and it’s just an honor to be back every year. I’ve worked with celebrities for a long time, and they didn’t always take in to consideration the needs of our animals. Not until Bernadette came along and shined a light on the issue did things start to change. It’s great to now have all the stars help get the message out there for our shelter dogs.”
Audra McDonald (award-winning star of Lady Day): “I’ve been doing Broadway Barks for 10 of the 16 years, it’s always exciting for me. We’ve rescued two dogs. It’s an amazing organization. I love that it started out 16 years ago and just continues to keep getting bigger and bigger every year and bringing more awareness.”
What’s the best part of having dogs in your life?
“Unconditional love, and that dogs just teach you to live in the moment. It’s a great thing to be remind of on a daily basis.”
Bebe Neuwirth (Blue Bloods): “I love all animals, but cats have a special place in my heart. I’m so honored and thrilled to be a part of a group that is doing the right thing in the right way, and helping so many animals and people find each other. It wouldn’t last 16 years if it wasn’t a good thing.”
Betsy Wolfe (Bullets Over Broadway): “Growing up, all of our animals were either found or rescued, so I have always been a huge advocate of adopting animals. To be able to use a show as a platform for animal adoption is really special.”
Jessie Fisher (Once): “It’s really special to be involved with the Sweet 16. I love dogs and adopting one is the only way to go if you want to get one.”
Have you ever been able to star with a dog?
“No, I never got to be in Annie when I was a kid. I would love to, though, maybe a cop buddy drama. I would love to do that!”
Felicia Finley (Mamma Mia!): “It means everything to me to be involved. I do it every year, and it’s the reason I enjoy my summer. I look forward to it every year, and am so grateful to Bernadette and Broadway Cares for their commitment. Being involved is the least I can do; I have adopted my whole life. I’m a Pit Bull girl. They’re a product of their environment. If you love them they will love you back!”
If you were to star on stage with a dog would you prefer a comedy, musical, or drama?
“All of the above!”
Judy McLane (Mamma Mia!): “Broadway Barks is a great opportunity to raise awareness and find animals homes. I like that this year the kitties are getting some extra attention. I found a stray cat 15 years ago and still have her. People don’t realize the unconditional love cats give you, but they all have their own amazing personalities. They teach me patience and how to relax. I’m not a good napper, but they are, and have taught me to become one. You get around a cat and you just relax.”
Rachel Bay Jones (Pippin): “It’s such an incredible organization, and I’m just happy to help in any way that I can. I always thought I was more of a dog person, but I recently got two cats, and they have won me over.”
What’s it like starring on stage in Pippin with a dog?
“Of course he does a little trick and no attention gets paid to me, but he deserves it!”
Karen Ziemba (Bullets Over Broadway): “I’m a real animal lover and of course I’m working in Bullets Over Broadway with my co-star Trixy who is a canine Pomeranian. I’m working with Bill Berloni, who’s backstage with me, and we’re kind of doing the show together. The whole experience has been a really great journey. Being with animals and finding homes for them is very important to me. It’s an honor to just be involved with Broadway Barks.”
Do you have any funny or cute stories from on stage you can share about Trixy?
“She hops out of a basket and goes over and stands on the side of the stage, but of course everyone is reacting, oh my god, she’s going to go off the stage. She’s really consistent, just a great performer. I’m so lucky to have her. Trixy is a rescue dog who was in a bad situation, and now she’s a star on Broadway, so how about that!”
P.J. Benjamin (Wicked): “It’s a fantastic event and organization. it’s so great to see all these cats and dogs get adopted. All these animals deserve homes. I have a cat, and have always had rescues. They make the best pets.”
What’s the best part about having a cat in your life?
“Well, they’re easy to take care of, and mine actually plays the piano! Her name is Molly and she plays the piano whenever I get home.”
When will we see Molly on Broadway?
“Well, she’s got to get her union card first!”
Mary Testa (Wicked): “I’m a huge animal lover so to have these cats and dogs adopted by kind and loving people means the world to me. These animals have the sweetest spirits.”
What does having a dog in your life mean to you?
“It’s everything, he’s my everything! I just adore him. I never intended to get a dog but now that I have him I couldn’t live without him.”
Sierra Boggess (The Phantom of the Opera): “I’m a huge animal lover, and I believe in rescues only. There’s no need for breeding anymore as we have a lot of animals that need to be rescued.”
What’s the best part about having cats in your life?
“Oh my God, I don’t know what the point of having a home is without an animal in it.”
If you were to star alongside a dog, would you prefer a comedy, drama, or musical?
“I’ll do any of them. If there’s an animal in it, sign me up!”
Justin Guarini (Wicked): “It means that I get to be involved with a wonderful event that has been helping great dogs find homes for 16 years.”
What’s the best part about having a dog in your life?
“I have a German Shepherd-Husky mix named Blue. He’s so loyal, loving, and someone I can trust around my kids.”
Christine Dwyer (Wicked): “I’m a huge dog-lover, and so excited that I am getting to introduce the ASPCA, who I donate to. I love all animals, and have a dog of my own. Broadway Barks is just the best event I could ever hope for. It’s my two favorite things, dogs and Broadway!”
What’s the best part of having a dog in your life?
“Now that I have one, I couldn’t imagine not ever having one. The unconditional love, to be able to take care of something that always needs you is very fulfilling. Having a dog makes your life a lot more calm, and you don’t worry as much, as your dog is such a calming influence.”
Have you ever starred on stage with a dog?
“When I was in high school I played Grace in Annie, and my dog was Sandy. He was so good. During the Scarecrow song I was suppose to tie him up on stage, but I didn’t do a very good job, and he got loose and started wandering around the stage watching us sing and dance. He was just great.”
Norm Lewis (Les Miserables): “The fact they have been around 16 years is just awesome. I love Bernadette Peters and I would do anything for her. It’s great to be able to find homes for these amazing dogs.”
Have you ever starred with a dog?
“No, I’ve yet to do that, but who knows, maybe I can play Annie!”
James Monroe Iglehart (Aladdin): “It’s just a wonderful honor to be asked to be a part of it. I love the organization, I love what they do for pets. I’m both a cat and dog person so to know they are finding homes for these wonderful animals just makes me feel great.”
What’s the best part about having animals in your life?
“To come home and have this unbelievable furry thing greet you with unconditional love, no matter what you do or what your day has been like — it’s awesome!”
Courtney Reed (Aladdin): “I never had a dog growing up but being involved with Broadway Barks means a lot to me. For those people who wished they had dogs, this is there opportunity to do so.”
Ciara Renee (Pippin): “I’m a huge dog fan and want to get a dog — who knows, maybe I will get one here today! I’m glad to be able to help these dogs, who might not get adopted otherwise.”
While several rescue organizations provide the cats and dogs up for adoption at Broadway Barks, one of the best known is Main Line Animal Rescue. Unfortunately, not all of the animals up for adoption at Broadway Barks find homes, so Main Line will take some of them back with them, where they will have plenty of space to run around and be dogs at Main Line’s facility.
So what does Broadway Barks mean to Main Line’s Founder Bill Smith? “I think it’s an amazing event,” he told me. “It’s not that remarkable that they have lasted 16 years, because it’s such an amazing event. I can only imagine the number of animals they have helped by doing this each year. Bernadette, Mary, and everyone involved is so fantastic. Over the past two years, Main Line, Broadway Barks, and the rescue road trips that Main Line holds with Bernadette have saved more than 260 cats and dogs, and that number is only continuing to grow.
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About the author: Brian Fischler is a standup comedian and writer. He has been seen on The Today Show, published in Maxim Magazine as the Comedian of the Month, and on Top Gear USA on The History Channel. Along with writing for Dogster, Brian also writes for Cesar Milan’s website and magazine. Brian also runs Laugh For Sight, a bicoastal comedy benefit featuring the biggest names in comedy that come together to raise money and awareness for retinal degenerative eye disease research. You can connect with Brian on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @Blindgator.