Performers light up AIDS gala

Tony nominee Raul Esparza, “Baywatch” siren Susan Anton and “American Idol” finalist Kimberly Locke are just three among a lengthy list of performers appearing Sunday in the 13th edition of Help is on the Way, Northern California’s largest annual AIDS fundraising concert.

The event, named for a cabaret standard by composer David Friedman, was inspired by the experience of Barbara Richmond and the late Peggy Ermet, who both lost their only sons to AIDS.

Over the years, the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation has raised more than $1 million for AIDS service organizations throughout the Bay Area, thanks to a tremendous level of volunteer support, which includes the performers, all of whom donate their time and talent to the cause. At its helm is Los Angeles director (and San Francisco native son) David Galligan; musical direction is by Michael Orland.

Based in Las Vegas, Anton recently completed a tour of the Broadway musical “All Shook Up.”

“I feel so blessed to be doing what I love,” she says. “When an opportunity [like this] comes along to raise money and awareness … I’m just honored to be asked.”

She gives generously of her time to the American Cancer Society and Special Olympics in addition to supporting the fight against AIDS, especially pediatric AIDS efforts.

“Children are always a bridge,” she says. “No one can make a political stand against helping a child in need. If we address the needs of the children affected [by AIDS] then we can address the needs of everyone in developing medicines and providing care.”

For Esparza, star of the recent Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” the event will be a bit of a homecoming.

“When I was 15, we lived in Fremont for a year and the first musical I ever performed in was at Mission San Jose High School,” he says. “Living in the Bay Area really changed my life. When we were kids in the late ’80s sneaking into clubs in the Castro, we had no idea we were partying in a community that was disappearing day by day.”

Like most New York actors, Esparza supports Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

“One of my greatest mentors died of AIDS while I was in ‘Taboo,’ he says. “He had been a real ear for me in my last years of high school in Miami and he lost his job because it was discovered his partner had died of AIDS.”

Singer-songwriter Locke recently released her second chart-climbing album and, like Anton, is particularly moved to support pediatric AIDS work.

“I got to witness the death of a friend’s aunt from AIDS,” she says. “It was a terrible thing to experience, but I think it changed me in a positive way.”

She has traveled to South Africa with the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric AIDS Foundation and currently supports Camp Heartland, which provides services for youth ages 5 to 25.

“This is a disease that does not discriminate,” she says. “It doesn’t care about your color or sexual orientation. It affects everybody. So I’m glad to help out wherever I can.”

Help is on the Way XIII

Presented by The Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St., San Francisco

This year’s cast: Mary Jo Catlett, Connie Champagne, Carole Cook, Jason Graae, Lucy Lawless, Sarah Lowe, Joey McIntyre, Valarie Pettiford, Jai Rodriguez, Andrew Samonsky, Bruce Vilanch, Paula West, Marissa Jaret Winokur, B.D. Wong, ballroom dancers Cate Caplin and Gary Franco, “Jersey Boys” cast members, “Blues in the Night” cast members

Tickets: $75 to $175

Contact: (415) 273-1620 or www.helpisontheway.org

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