“We care about our neighbors, and that’s why we want to help.” New York native and acting legend Robert De Niro kicked off Robin Hood and iHeartMedia’s Rise Up New York! telethon on Monday (May 11) with that simple reasoning about why the benefit show was happening.
Since the coronavirus began spreading across the nation earlier this year, New York City has been the hardest hit, becoming the epicenter of the pandemic with more than 26,000 deaths to date and too many jobs lost.
The telethon, hosted by Tina Fey from 30 Rockefeller Plaza, featured numerous famous faces with New York ties, from musicians to Broadway stars to chefs and beyond. Each offered messages of hope and urged viewers to donate to help the people of New York get back on their feet after the devastating impact of COVID-19.
Here are some of the best moments from the program.
The five-time Grammy winner opened with a message to viewers in New York. “I know we’re strong enough to get through this,” she encouraged. “We will rise again. We can do this together.” She then performed a medley of “Through the Rain” and “Make It Happen,” with three backup singers supporting her, each socially distanced in separate videos. At the end of the performance, Mimi blew kisses to those watching from home.
Jennifer Lopez and the P.S. 22 Chorus
Jenny From the Block reminded viewers that children need help during the pandemic as schools are shut down. “Nearly 400,000 school kids are without the resources they need to continue their education,” she pointed out. “If you want to see what bright, shining, New York kids can do, check this out.”
The children of P.S. 22’s chorus in Staten Island then sang “Rise Up,” individual videos of them singing woven together to create a seamless performance.
“Nobody comes to New York to be alone, I certainly didn’t,” admitted the rocker, dressed in a plain white T-shirt. “But even if you’re in self-isolation, you are not alone. Were all in this together; we’ll make it through together.” He then launched into his hit song “Message in a Bottle” — a song whose theme is quite fitting for the loneliness many are feeling as they have sheltered in place for weeks.
The Stars of Broadway
Barbra Streisand, Patti Lupone, and Audra McDonald all discussed the importance of musical theater in NYC and how hard the pandemic has hit the Great White Way. “When all the Broadway theaters went dark, it was another shock in the midst of many these days,” said Streisand, who starred in Funny Girl and I Can Get It for You Wholesale in the ’60s. “It was painful to think of all that creative energy suddenly shut down.”
“Live performances will most likely be the last industry to come back after this nightmare, but we will come back,” said Lupone, who was starring in Company when Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut down Broadway in March due to COVID-19. “The lights of Broadway, now dimmed, will shine again on those beautiful houses because the show must — and will — go on.”
“When I see Broadway darkened, it makes me ache for not only my own soul, but the soul of New York,” said Tony winner McDonald. “It’s such a part of what makes New York tick, it’s its heartbeat.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Andrew Rannells, Ben Platt, Chris Jackson, Cynthia Erivo, Idina Menzel and Karen Olivo then performed an uplifting and rousing rendition of “New York, New York,” with each person singing from home, and the performance brought together via Zoom.
Gov. Cuomo kicked off the singer’s performance by reminding viewers of New York’s essential workers as images of them flashed across the screen. Keys, dressed in a plain white shirt and wearing little makeup, sat at her piano for her performance of “Good Job.” As she sang, images of front line workers — from health care professions to transit employees to cashiers and delivery people to law enforcement, first responders and beyond — appeared. At the end, Cuomo reminded, “We are all in their debt.”
The Tonight Show host brought the night’s only moment of levity. Borrowed from his late-night show, the comedian did a “Thank You Notes” segment, writing messages to the deserving as the familiar soundtrack from his program played. “Thank you, Brooklyn Bridge, for keeping Brooklyn and Manhattan socially distanced,” he penned for the first.
His second took on a political edge: “Thank you, Andrew Cuomo, for being a sterling example of leadership in this rough time, though in all fairness, the high bar for leadership right now is not telling people to drink bleach.”
“This crisis has created more need and suffering than our food pantries and our food banks can handle,” said Jon Bon Jovi, dressed in jeans and a slick black leather jacket. “Like I’ve always said, it doesn’t take a scientist to find a cure. We can feed millions of hungry New Yorkers if we step up right now.” He then launched into a haunting, slower acoustic version of “It’s My Life.” Like the other performers, Bon Jovi was socially distanced, with each member appearing in their own video screens.
Shout-Out to Hip-Hop
Rapper and actress Awkwafina urged viewers to donate in order to help children continue to be creative during this difficult time. “Together, we can make sure we don’t lose our next generation of artists, creators, and innovators. If you think I’m exaggerating, think about these innovators,” she said. Then Chris Rock, Beastie Boys’ Mike D, Rosie Perez, Ad-Rock, Darryl McDaniels, Fab 5 Freddy, RZA and Salt-N-Pepa each spoke to raise awareness of the city’s communities that bred hip-hop.
The Piano Man performed “Miami 2017,” which appeared on 13 billboards in Times Square. At the end of his performance, Joel urged everyone to be healthy. “Stay strong, New York,” he said. “Please wear a mask, and that way, you won’t catch any s–t from anybody.”
Throughout the night, Fey updated the viewers about the donations that were coming in. At the end, she revealed the grand total. The comedian shared that more than 100,000 individuals had donated, and combined with corporate and team contributions, the amount raised for the Robin Hood Relief Fund — which launched in March — by the end of the program was a whopping $115 million.
“Is this real?!?” the actress asked when she learned of the number. But as Fey thanked everyone, her voice cracked and she teared up, before ending on a somber note: “This battle is far from over.”
Per Robin Hood Relief, 100 percent of the funds raised will go to the poorest New Yorkers who need help with food, shelter, education, health and mental health, legal and more services during the coronavirus pandemic. To donate, visit the Robin Hood website.