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Evening Before: Billy Porter, Jeremy Strong, Octavia Spencer, Seth McFarlane Drive Virtual Quarantunes MPTF Bash

Cynthia Littleton
·7-min read

Jeffrey Katzenberg and the Motion Picture and Television Fund turned to Richard and Demi Weitz’s Quarantunes Zoom concert fundraising franchise to save this year’s edition of the Evening Before fundraiser tied to the annual Primetime Emmy Awards fete.

“Succession’s” Jeremy Strong, George Clooney, Rachel Brosnahan of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Schitt’s Creek’s” Dan Levy, Octavia Spencer, Ramy Youssef, Sherry Lansing, Josh Groban, Yvette Nicole Brown, Deborah Cox and Josh Gad were among the guests on the presentation, which blended fundraising pitches and musical performances.

Performers contributing numbers included John Legend, Billy Porter, Seth McFarlane, Bryan Adams, Robin Thicke, Siedah Garrett, Jac Ross and DJ Cassidy.

A gathering of ’80s and ’90s hip-hop royalty joined the benefit — including LL Cool J, Doug E. Fresh, Pepa from Salt-N-Pepa and Rev. Run from Run-DMC — as DJ Cassidy played a condensed version of a new special, “Pass the Mic: Volume 2,” that included all those stars and others reprising their greatest hits. “We changed from the MPTF to the BET Hip-Hop Awards and you didn’t even know it!” joked Weitz at its conclusion, as the Zoom crowd went wild. “What better way to ring in the Jewish new year than with the hip-hop classics of all time?”

The impending Emmys occasionally came up for discussion. Ramy Youssef, who’s nominated for best actor for the Hulu series “Ramy,” said he was happy that Sunday night’s show would be happening virtually. “It’s klnda dope having it online,” he said, “because if you lose you just log out.”

The Evening Before gathering typically draws hundreds of industry insiders and Emmy nominees to Century City for one of the industry’s glitziest charity fetes. The RWQuarantunes series was started by WME partner Weitz and his 17-year-old daughter Demi in April as a private virtual social gathering for industry friends. It soon expanded into an ongoing fundraiser for COVID-19 relief programs. At the beginning of Saturday’s event, Demi disclosed that the efforts have now topped $10 million in donations from individual and corporate supporters.

By the end of Saturday’s show, that collective total of overall RWQuarantunes fundraising from the last five months had swollen to $11.5 million, as pledges for the Motion Picture and Television Fund came in throughout the evening. Said the MPTF’s Bob Beitcher of the night’s fundraising, “By the time we count all the shekels, we’ll be at a million and a half.”

RWQuarantunes has drawn a starry list of performers and high-powered supporters from the start. As such, the partnership between Evening Before and Quarantunes was a natural fit. Evening Before, now in its 14th year, was launched by Katzenberg as a small-screen counterpart to his Night Before fundraiser held annually Academy Awards weekend.

The Weitzes served as emcees for the night from the kitchen of their home. Richard Weitz joked that Katzenberg, who is head of the fledging short-form streaming platform Quibi, had pushed him to make the whole even under 10 minutes, the length of most Quibi episodes. The crowd swelled to more than 500 participants after the first hour of a show that finally fell a little shy of the four-hour mark.

Weitz and Gad had a comical discussion of how this night differed from the in-person Evening Before events they have attended together before. “Josh is not happy. We love walking out with those gift bags,” claimed Weitz. The “Frozen”/”Book of Mormon” star took mock-offense at this comment: “That’s the part we say on the inside, Richard,” Gad said. Then he did an impression of the WME honcho — who had traded in his usual baseball cap for a tuxedo jacket — reeling off the MPTF’s philanthropic goals and then saying, as Weitz: “The real reason I go is to get these expensive goods I couldn’t afford myself after I’ve bought this dinner jacket from the set of ‘The Shining.'”

That wasn’t the only comic highlight from Gad, who bantered with Seth McFarlane, as they briefly took up Weitz’s suggestion that it would be historic for “Frozen’s” Olaf character to exchange quips with “Family Guy’s” Stewie. McFarlane got serious to croon a couple of standards, including the Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong classic “Isn’t This a Lovely Day.” He invited his stand-up bass player, Chuck Berghofer, to reprise the bass riff he originated for the “Barney Miller” theme.

That was hardly the only classic TV music of the webcast. The Evening Before edition of RWQuarantunes opened with DJ Cassidy spinning a mix of classic TV theme songs, starting with “The Love Boat” (albeit a longer cut of the Jack Jones recording used for the ABC series) and ending with “Thank You for Being a Friend” from NBC’s “The Golden Girls.”

Following the deejay medley, Robin Thicke sang an a cappella selection of theme songs penned by his parents, Gloria Loring and Alan Thicke, including indelible tunes from NBC’s “Diff’rent Strokes” and “The Facts of Life.”

Bryan Adams delivered a heartfelt rendition of “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman” on acoustic guitar. John Legend sat at the piano to deliver “Conversations in the Dark.”

Billy Porter unabashedly “got political” and delivered a gospel-flavored cover of the Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”

Porter urged the crowd to pay attention to the political realities of the moment. In a brief interview segment with Spencer, Porter said the lockdown conditions imposed by the pandemic have given him new perspective. “We need to lean into the power of this moment and the awakening and how special and transformative it can be for those of us who need to put on our oxygen mask for it so we can be of some service for what is to come,” Porter said.

Porter closed his appearance with an impromptu a cappella performance of the soaring “Love Is on the Way” from 1996’s “First Wives Club.”

Garrett appeared near the end of the show to sing her classic co-write “Man in the Mirror,” made famous by Michael Jackson, along with the extremely apropos “Ever Changing Times.”

Clooney, a longtime MPTF supporter, addressed the group to report that MPTF facilities have gone 23 weeks without a resident testing positive for coronavirus, a streak he described as “a very big deal.” The industry institution that provides health care and housing for elderly industry workers. Evening Before collected $840,000 before the call began. Katzenberg and his wife, Marilyn Katzenberg, vowed to match donations with the goal of raising $1.5 million.

Super-producer Greg Berlanti donated $30,000. J.J. Abrams and his wife and Bad Robot partner Katie McGrath donated $40,000. Former Paramount Pictures chief Sherry Lansing donated $20,000.

“Thousands of industry workers are getting some relief from us because of this disaster with COVID. While we are looking back at our friends and retirees we are also in the process of always looking forward,” Clooney said.

At the end of the evening, just before DJ Cassidy wrapped things up with the “Cheers” theme (appropriate for an intimate and chatty Zoom benefit, in which everyone literally can see everyone else’s names), Katzenberg thanked the evenings’s hosts, with a wry nod to the packing order of stardom that has emerged since the Weitzes began their charity livestreams. “Thank you, Demi, and Demi’s father,” said Katzenberg.

(Additional reporting by Chris Willman)

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