Broadway fundraiser for Joe Kennedy postponed indefinitely after Twitter backlash

"Apparently, the theater grassroots is very passionate about the need to fight climate change."

Springfield  MA   6/1/20   Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III before he debates incumbent, Sen. Edward J. Markey at the Western Mass News station.  (photo by Matthew J  Lee/Globe Staff)  
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Rep. Joe Kennedy III during a Senate primary debate last month with Sen. Ed Markey in Springfield. –Matthew J. Lee / The Boston Globe

The show will apparently not go on — at least for now.

A virtual Broadway star-studded fundraiser for Rep. Joe Kennedy III’s bid to unseat Sen. Ed Markey has been indefinitely postponed after several performers dropped out amid backlash on Twitter. And the two Massachusetts Democrats’ campaigns have very different takes on what exactly transpired.

The event — originally scheduled for this Tuesday — was slated to feature “Hamilton” alums Solea Pfeiffer and Christopher Jackson, singer Sara Bareilles, rising star Andrew Barth Feldman, and actress Kelli O’Hara, among a number of other well-known theater talents.

However, news of the “Broadway Sings for Joe Kennedy III” fundraiser and many of the individual performers swiftly received a torrent of online criticism, primarily from Markey supporters incensed by Kennedy’s decision to challenge the incumbent senator and Green New Deal co-author (though it was also chided by Kevin O’Connor, a Senate candidate in the Republican primary).

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Kennedy, who also supports the Green New Deal, has argued that he’d be a more effective senator. But Markey’s supporters say it would be a devastating blow to the movement to address climate change.

“You should all be ashamed of yourselves for campaigning against the co-creator of the Green New Deal,” one Twitter user wrote.

Others called the fundraiser “gross.” Several members of the Markey campaign, including his digital director, also spoke out against it. Other prominent Broadway actors took to Twitter to voice their support for Markey. A “theater kids for ed markey” account was even created.

And after Pfeiffer, Feldman, and O’Hara said they would no longer participate, Playbill reported Sunday the fundraiser was postponed until further notice

“I am no longer a part of the Joe Kennedy fundraiser, and so grateful to be a part of a generation that pushes each other to use their platform in a way that aligns is with their values,” Pfeiffer wrote on Twitter. “I hear you guys loud and clear. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Feldman and O’Hara similarly expressed appreciation for the feedback.

In a tweet announcing she would no longer participate in the fundraiser, O’Hara said she “loves all this passionate back and forth about who we vote for and why we vote for them.” A representative for Feldman told Theatre Talk Boston that the 18-year-old “decided he will no longer be participating” and “is so grateful and proud to be part of this community that listens to each other, grows together, and for the resources he was sent recently.”

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According to Playbill, the composing team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul also pulled out of the event in the wake of the online response.

Not all of the scheduled performers pulled out of the event. And the Kennedy campaign says they plan to reschedule the event and that the majority of attendees maintained their donations (they were also given the option to donate the price of their tickets, which began at $5, to the Broadway Cares COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund).

Still, the congressman’s campaign took issue with some of the more crass responses, which they characterized as “cyberbullying.”

“The toxic nature of political Twitter is nothing new, but the level of vitriol Senator Markey and his supporters have unleashed during this campaign is unprecedented,” a campaign spokesperson told Theatre Talk Boston in a statement.

“At the end of the day, this is a race between two progressive Democrats from Massachusetts,” the statement continued. “We should be able to engage in a spirited debate about who is the best leader for this moment without tearing down the other team.”

Asked about the statement, the campaign referred to tweets calling Kennedy a “sentient ham,” accusing his supporters of having “pudding brain,” and contending that Kennedy was not a real progressive. Playbill also deleted their original tweet announcing the fundraiser due to the response; according to Theatre Talk Boston, the replies numbered in the “hundreds.”

“Apparently, the theater grassroots is very passionate about the need to fight climate change and the Green New Deal, co-authored by Ed Markey and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” John Walsh, the campaign manager for Markey’s reelection campaign, told Boston.com, when asked about the Kennedy campaign’s statement blaming the senator and his supporters for the “vitriol.”

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Walsh, however, highlighted the more productive responses, including Pfeiffer’s tweet thanking users for their feedback.

“Some fans chose to tweet photos of themselves in their middle school and high school theater productions imploring the actors to reconsider their participation in the fundraiser,” he said. “And in response, Broadway listened.”

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