Debra Winger & Bill Murray Rock-N-Read for Road Recovery’s Anniversary Celebration

Road Recovery is an entertainment industry based non-profit organization whose mission is to empower at-risk youth in their battles with addiction and other adversities. So, it shouldn’t surprise that when the acclaimed charity celebrated it’s 21st anniversary this past Monday at the cozy confines of The Cell Theatre in Manhattan, the gala’s entertainment needs were approached as a D.I.Y. project.

Debra Winger and Bill Murray headed a list of entertainers who lent their talents to the festivities, alongside several members of Road Recovery’s musically gifted youth and staff.

Jonah Bowen, son of the organization’s founder Gene Bowen (co-founder Jack Bookbinder was also on hand) served as master of ceremonies, welcoming attendees to the first annual ‘Rock-N-Read’ on a night where they would see plenty of both. Looking dapper in a tuxedo, Jonah kept the show moving with his humor and charm, even inadvertently setting up one of Hollywood’s great punchline artists along the way. When he informed the audience that the evening’s surprise guest would be Bill Murray, singing The Youngblood’s classic ‘Get Together’, Murray took a beat and deadpanned, “Well, now you’ve ruined the surprise.”

Bowen’s first order of business was to introduce actresses Maria Figueredo-Kirke and Maureen Van Zandt, both of whom were charming and engaging as Stella and Blanche respectively in a reading of a consequential scene from A Street Car Named Desire.

Law & Order: Criminal Intents’s Kathryn Erbe, actor/producer Ronald Guttman, and actress/Road Recovery creative staff member Susan Campanaro all employed their unique deliveries to animate reading material curated by veteran actor Arliss Howard.

Howard and his wife, Debra Winger, have been faithful supporters of Road Recovery for over 15 years, and Winger’s readings with their son Babe were a touching highlight. The actress’s connection to both the material (‘My Son Wakes Me Up’) and her son were impossible for her to conceal.

There would also be a reading from Murray, but not until after he turned in the aforementioned ‘Get Together’ – an electric rendition both literally and figuratively, powered by Road Recovery’s infectious Staff Infection Band.

Fred Schneider of the B-52’s pulled double duty as well, reading Larry Brown’s ‘Sleep’ before lending his trademark voice to ‘Outer Space’, an original song written, recorded and on this night performed by Road Recovery’s dynamic house band, Type II. The group is a result of a peer support / enrichment program for young people in the process of recovery from a variety of adversities.

Long-time Road Recovery board member and Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke closed the show, accompanied by former Saturday Night Live band leader and musical everywhere man GE Smith. Kirke offered up a few deeply personal and original songs on guitar, piano and vocals, before lightening the mood with a humorous mockup of Paul Simon’s ‘50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’, complete with a lyrical overhaul to fit the theme of addiction.

Smith also turned in an arresting performance of a song of his own, shortly after arriving at the microphone with a brief but endearingly vulnerable greeting for the audience. The duo closed out the night’s affairs with Bad Company’s crowd pleasing classic, ‘Shooting Star’.

While the ‘big ticket’ names delivered for those fortunate enough to see them in this uniquely intimate environment, the most captivating moments of the night came in the form of the musical performances and unrehearsed spoken offerings from the young adults who are benefiting from Road Recovery’s good works.

The backstories of these young people revealed varying degrees of turmoil or urgency, but their present stories are laced with hope and optimism – a quality they attributed in large part to the existence of Road Recovery’s innovative programs. Nearly as affecting was the impromptu testimony of the charity’s staff and volunteers, the majority of whom have battled addiction themselves. Their past struggles now serve as their currency with the youth they work to assist.

All of it lent the evening an air of commonality and shared purpose, a culture that seems to run throughout the organization. Not necessarily from the top down, but rather, side by side.

Debra Winger & Kathryn Erbe
(ABS Photography / Angela B Sweeney)

Bill Murray delivering powerhouse vocals, accompanied by Static on guitar, Glen Carter on drums, and Alec Morton on bass
(ABS Photography / Angela B Sweeney)

Fred Schneider performing “Outer Space”, with Type II. From L-R: Tawny on vocals, Chris on drums, Paloma on vocals
(ABS Photography / Angela Sweeney)

Bad Company’s Simon Kirke
(ABS Photography/Angela B Sweeney)

Maria Figueredo-Kirke and Maureen Van Zandt
(ABS Photography / Angela B Sweeney)

G.E. Smith
(ABS Photography / Angela B Sweeney)

Ronald and Amy Guttman
(ABS Photography / Angela B Sweeney)

Debra Winger and son Babe
(ABS Photography / Angela B Sweeney)

A reading from the book of Murray (Car Crash While Hitchhiking, by Denis Johnson)
(ABS Photography / Angela B Sweeney)

The gala’s MC, Jonah Bowen, and his father, Road Recovery founder Gene Bowen, keeping the show moving
(ABS Photography / Angela B Sweeney)

The Road Recovery Staff “Infection” Band L-R: Tawny Lara (vocals), Alex Martin (guitar), Susan Campanaro (vocals), Anne Elmer (dancer/sticks) and Glen Carter (drums)
(ABS Photography / Angela B Sweeney)

While speaking and performing, Blues Buddha (Tommy Dudley) brought heart and soul to the proceedings
(ABS photography / Angela B. Sweeney)

Robert Ferraro is senior writer at Of Personal Interest and the founder of The Giving Arts. His recent interviews include Melissa Etheridge, Paul Stanley of KISS, Ann & Nancy Wilson of Heart, and Bernard Fowler of The Rolling Stones.

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