Sweet 16 for ‘Help is on the Way’ 

Barbara Richmond and Peggy Ermet proved you can find a great deal of healing if you’re willing to pay it forward.

The two Bay Area mothers, who both lost their sons to AIDS, began doing just that back in 1995 when they launched the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation and tossed a lavish musical benefit, “Help is on the Way: That’s Entertainment,” all in an effort to raise revenue for local AIDS services organizations.

The event was a smash hit. Now, 16 years later and after luring in more than $2.5 million over the years, the annual show continues to draw in record numbers.

It also spotlights some of the brightest stage and screen talents around. This year’s bash is today at the Herbst Theatre.

“I’m doing this because I am concerned [about AIDS],” says actor-crooner-“Gidget” grad James Darren, who’ll be performing. “I want to make sure the issue is kept in front of the people and that they are constantly aware of it — that they don’t forget about AIDS.

“It’s easy to forget about any kind of illness, if you don’t keep pounding people on the head,” he adds. “I just want to do my part.”

Darren isn’t alone. Carol Channing, Broadway’s David Engel and David Gaines, “American Idol” talents Kimberley Locke and LaToya London, and Melissa Manchester, Bruce Vilanch, Paula West and others, top the impressive roster.

Channing, who still performs, and remains as enigmatic as ever, has long been an advocate of the arts and fundraising. She says she can’t wait to unleash some comedy and sing when she takes the stage.

“I realized at a young age that the safest place in the world for me to be was center stage,” she says. “I was 6 or 7 when I went onstage for the first time at school. Afterward, I asked my father, “Can I lay down my life, right now, to lifting the lives of the audience — those that truly needed lifting?’ And he said, ‘You can lay down your life now, at 7 or at 17, at 77, 107 — it doesn’t matter. These are the happier people.’”

She pauses before deadpanning: “He didn’t say the happiest, I noticed.”

Regardless, four Bay Area AIDS service agencies will be all smiles after the event: AIDS Legal Referral Panel, Larkin Street Youth Services, Meals of Marin and New Leaf: Services for Our Communities. They’re this year’s beneficiaries.

If you go

Help is on the Way XVI

Where: Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Tickets: $75 to $175
Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.helpisontheway.org
Note: A preshow silent auction and VIP reception begin at 5 p.m.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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