Vintage Japanese robe and broach courtesy Carlos King of Gallery24Jewelry. Grooming by Alejandra Dickerson.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY PULEIO
Like a fine wine, One Night Only just gets better with age. One of the premier philanthropic events in the Coachella Valley, the annual fundraiser has dazzled audiences at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert for almost two decades. The show returns Nov. 8 for its 17th year, extending its tradition of megawatt talent from Tinseltown and Broadway. (Hardly “one night only.”)
Conceptualized and produced by celebrity photographer Michael Childers — who has worked with everyone from Andy Warhol to Ringo Starr and was a founding photographer of Interview — the event raises money for the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center in Rancho Mirage to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth. This year’s theme, “Las Vegas: The Golden Age, 1950–1970,” will relive the glitz and glamour of Sin City’s most iconic era, taking audiences on a musical adventure they won’t soon forget.
Personal tales and memories from those who have been involved throughout the years offer a more intimate look at this special event that brings folks from across the country together for one magical evening every fall.
MICHAEL CHILDERS, event founder: One Night Only began in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was called Live at The Lensic, a benefit for the AIDS organization Santa Fe Cares. It ran from 1996 to 1998. Michael Feinstein, Lily Tomlin, Lauren Bacall, Carol Burnett, and Margaret Cho were among those tapped for the first performances. The event was a huge success. This concert event was resurrected when I moved to Palm Springs, and the first One Night Only was in 2002. This year’s show will be the 17th, and the beneficiary is Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center.
Faux fur coat: Carlos King of gallery24jewelry.
BARBARA FROMM, event co-chair: I was invited to join the committee as co-chair by the late Barbara Keller, who was the event’s co-founder and very involved at its inception. I’ve been co-chair for 15 years, and my connection with One Night Only is deep and personal. Michael is a close friend of mine, and he is a brilliant talent at what he does.
TERRI KETOVER, event co-chair: I’ve had a longstanding relationship with Michael, and he asked if I would work as co-chair with Barbara. It’s a wonderful event, and he’s so dynamic that you can’t say no to him. He’s had a brilliant career as a photographer, and he has a golden Rolodex with access to many celebrities who will donate their time.
JOHN THORESEN, director/executive officer, Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center: When Michael was looking for a new beneficiary charity, we felt it was a great opportunity to partner. He has an unbelievable Rolodex, and when you see the caliber of performers he attracts, that speaks volumes to what the event is about. Michael is a professional artist and uses that quality to make this world a better place.
JASON GRAAE, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award winner and Broadway performer: Michael invited me to perform and said he was a fan of my work. He knows how to make you feel like a million bucks. I did the first show and have been involved ever since. Michael is like the Energizer Bunny — he’s a party to be with, and his energy is contagious. He has such a great spirit and zest for life.
Childers posing with a faux fur coat.
CHILDERS: One of my favorite past shows was created and directed by Calvin Remsberg. The theme was “The Soundtrack of My Life” with every album cover, musical film, and Broadway show that I’ve ever worked on. And last year’s was certainly a favorite — “New York, New York,” directed by Scott Coulter — about a city I’m passionate about. It celebrated our return after the horrors of the COVID crisis.
THORESEN: I loved the New York theme. During the show, Michael took the audience on a subway ride through the city, stopping at various places with songs about where they were. I’m looking forward to this year’s show because Barbara and Frank Sinatra had history in Las Vegas, so we’ll be getting back to the roots of our organization and founders.
GRAAE: We found a song called “Las Vegas” from the late composer Jerry Herman’s musical Miss Spectacular. One Night Only director Scott Coulter, Michael, and I have such a rich history with Jerry — I’m thrilled to get to open the show with it.
CHILDERS: Over 17 years, there have been almost 900 performers who have appeared in these shows. The core of the show in making it work is that they volunteer a week of their life in rehearsals and travel. Bravo to the spirit of giving among the performers.
KETOVER: I can’t think of another event where you can see countless phenomenal Broadway and cabaret performers in an hour and a half. I’ve heard performers say that nobody treats them as well as Michael does. Our cast parties are fun; everyone is loose and relaxed in a beautiful home the night before the show.
“It’s a community effort, and the people in the desert are the most generous people that I’ve worked with. They’ve kept this alive.”
FROMM: The performers adore Michael, and the cast party is a festive evening held at a private residence. Billy Stritch plays the piano, and cast members spontaneously perform, which takes everyone’s breath away. Those attending as sponsors look forward to the after-party performance dinner, which will be held this year at Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa [in Rancho Mirage]. Every show finale leaves you wanting more, and the performers always ask to be invited back for next year’s show.
GRAAE: My first year, the cast party was so good that the next day I was hungover for the show! I love doing the show because I’m reunited with my best friends from New York in Palm Springs. Performing with Musical Theatre University kids is another favorite memory — their excitement reminds me why I got into this business in the first place.
THORESEN: Back in December, when I saw Broadway singer Christine Andreas at The Carlyle in New York, she was disappointed that she couldn’t come this year. The performers love being part of One Night Only. It’s a way for them to give back.
CHILDERS: We’ve raised almost $5 million for local charities. Now, we’re with Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center, which helps over 25,000 children in the desert. The event is the only Broadway-based concert charity event on the West Coast. Palm Springs is certainly a city that everyone on the East Coast wants to visit, and that makes it much easier to get artists to give several days of their life to come here.
THORESEN: During the show, Michael [selects] a song from the program, and we add photos and videos to it, which gives us an opportunity to tell the story of what we do in a visual way. For 37 years, Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center has provided therapy and programs for children who have suffered the trauma of abuse. This event is a great way for the community to give back to a good cause while enjoying a fun evening.
GRAAE: The event raises money for a great cause, so I’m happy to contribute in any way I can. Every year, people say it’s the best show — it keeps getting better. Palm Springs can be a tricky audience because it’s a mixture of different people, but this pulls in the entire community, and they all come together and love it.
Catch One Night Only on Nov.8 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert.
CHILDERS: I hope One Night Only keeps going. As I approach 80, I’m very proud of everything we’ve accomplished over the years. It’s a community effort, and the people in the desert are the most generous people that I’ve worked with. They’ve kept this alive. God bless them.
FROMM: We would like to see the show continue. It’s such a wonderful event with the proceeds benefiting the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center to help them further their mission and to help children of the Coachella Valley that are victims of abuse.
KETOVER: It all depends on Michael. As he gets older, he says he doesn’t know how many more years he can keep doing this. For as long as he’s involved, and as long as it’s benefiting Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center, I will continue to be part of it because I love him, and I believe in the organization.
THORESEN: At some point, Michael will slow down, and when he passes the torch on, we’ll continue to participate. This event has been wonderful for our organization, and people look forward to it every year. But we want him to stay involved for as long as he wants to.
GRAAE: I think they should do One Week Only, buy me a house in the desert, and I’ll come out to perform for a week every year. The event has stood the test of time. I hope it’ll keep reinventing itself, and it’s all because of Michael — he galvanizes the community