Pittsburgh Almanac

Green Tree native receives Broadway honor

Green Tree native and Broadway dancer and singer Rachelle Rak was honored Oct. 16 at the fourth annual Broadway and Ballet HERO Awards in New York City, an honor she doesn’t take lightly.

Previous honorees of the award include Tony Award winner and Grammy-nominated singer Melba Moore, Tony Award-winner Donna McKechnie, and Ruby Lewis of Cirque du Soleil.

“Receiving the award is humbling and surprising all in one,” Rak said from her New Jersey home she shares with her husband, Andrew Hoey, and their daughter, Delilah. “I’ve been in Tony Award-winning shows, but this is quite an honor because this is about doing something for other people. For me, that’s more important than anything I’ve ever accomplished on stage.”

Founded in 2009 by Madison Square Garden Event Presentation Vice President Michael Cavnaugh, the HERO – which stands for HIV Experience Resource Organization - award is a nonprofit, volunteer organization that helps people find the most pressing, up-to-date information available critical to their health, including video coverage, international resources and interactive tools which provide assistance in finding doctors, obtaining medication, mental health counseling, housing and financial assistance.

Television and movie celebrities who have supported the organization include Blythe Daner, Angela Lansbury, Mary-Louise Parker, Rosie Perez, David Hyde Pierce and Bebe Neuwirth.

To receive the award, Rak, a 1988 graduate of Bishop Canevin High School, took part in Broadway Cares’ “Easter Bonnet” competition, a six-week fundraising effort by Broadway, off-Broadway and national touring productions. Volunteers and crews accepted donations and signed posters and playbills.

This year, the organization raised $6.3 million, which goes to social service agencies throughout the United States.

“I must have signed hundreds of posters,” Rak said. “But, we have much more to do. It’s opened my mind and my heart that everyone needs help, whether it’s with HIV or breast cancer.”

Rak began her dancing career as a young child at her mother’s dance school, the Rosalene Kenneth Professional Dance Studio, in Kirwan Heights.

At the age of 17, while still in high school, she joined a touring production of “Cats.” Since then, she’s had leading roles in productions of “Fosse,” “Flashdance,” A Chorus Line,” “West Side Story” and “Catch Me If You Can.” She’s starred in Lifetime Television’s “Dance Moms” competition and has been recognized by the Dance Educators of America.

Despite her Broadway success and receiving the HERO Award, she still stays humble.

“I had a small table at the HERO award but it was a mighty table,” she said proudly. “My mom was there with me. My biggest hero is and always will be my mom.”