Phantom star plans one-night show for AIDS benefit
by Katya Kumkova-Wolpert
San Francisco's Phantom of the Opera star Franc D'Ambrosio returns for one night on Monday, December 5 at the Empire Plush Room at the city's York Hotel.
"I just can't wait to get back," said D'Ambrosio in a telephone interview. "I've done benefits, but always as one of a few people. It's wonderful to come back with a one-man show."
D'Ambrosio, who starred in more than 2,600 performances of Phantom , will break away from his current 84-city tour for a benefit concert for Healing Waters, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that offers wilderness trips to AIDS patients.
Over 200 volunteers and two staff members now run the organization that provides kayaking, cross-country skiing, and hiking trips to people living with AIDS, according to Executive Director Mike Dugan. Participants pay $40 for an overnight trip that would be worth $275 at market value, he said.
"The majority of our customers don't have a lot of money," said Dugan. "We have to do a lot of fundraising to help keep the costs down."
Dugan said he hopes to raise $10,000 from the event with D'Ambrosio. General admission tickets are priced at $100. D'Ambrosio and KRON 4 movie critic Jan Wahl, who will be mistress of ceremonies, will host a pre-concert reception â€“ those tickets are $200.
D'Ambrosio will perform show-tune favorites from his CD Frank D'Ambrosio's Broadway, which has earned a Grammy consideration for the best traditional pops album. He will find out on December 8 if the album has been nominated, he said.
D'Ambrosio has been on the road with this program since 2004. It is a one-man show that is part Moonlighters and part The Nanny , he said.
"It's the story of one guy's journey from the Bronx to Broadway and beyond," he said. "When they asked me to do a show like this, I said, only if I get a character in it. No one needs to hear me talk about how my grandma used to love this next song."
D'Ambrosio, who splits his time between San Francisco and New York when he is not on tour, said he has known Dugan for several years. When Dugan approached him with the idea of a benefit for Healing Waters, his answer was, "just tell me where," he said.
Between 200 and 250 people take part in Healing Waters' trips per year, said former director Cale Siler.
Siler founded Healing Waters eight years ago after a close encounter with AIDS. For about two months, he thought he had contracted the HIV virus from a sex partner, he said. When the scare was over, he decided to open an organization that would help empower AIDS patients.
"I wanted to show people they're still capable of being out in nature," he said.
Siler, who is now a medical student at the University of Rochester, returned to San Francisco last year to study the effects that Healing Waters has on its participants. He handed out a 20-question survey based on the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale to participants before and after what he calls "the wilderness therapy."
"A typical question might be: I feel like engaging in social activity," he said. "People might say, I feel more like engaging in social activity after the trip."
According to the results, depression symptoms went down by 53 percent after the trip for those who completed the survey, he said.
"It's scary for anyone, and people who are really sick, they arrive in an uncertain place," said Dugan. "After going down the river, after just five hours, you see the difference."
The York Hotel is located at 940 Sutter Street. The show begins at 8 p.m.; the special reception starts at 6. For tickets, visit www.healingwaters.org and click on "What's New" then click on "Donate Now." For more information, call (415) 621-7529.