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.”

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Dancing, teaching, giving keeps Green Tree native and Broadway veteran Rachelle Rak on her toes

Everyone seems to know Rachelle Rak.

Dancers, directors, choreographers, on Broadway, in television, on stages big or tiny, they know her. The Green Tree native sings, dances, choreographs and teaches. And she’s so darned nice, because, at 46 Ms. Rak said, she learned long ago that a cut-throat attitude will only get you so far. Careers are build on relationships.

Monday, another aspect of her vocation will be honored in New York City, when she receives the Broadway HERO award after years of raising funds to educate, cure and support those dealing with HIV/AIDS.

“I remember doing my first AIDS benefit. It was 1988, and I was a kid,” said Ms. Rak, who left Bishop Canevin High School in the spring of her senior year after earning a spot in the touring company of “Cats.”

She wound up in Washington, D.C. where one day “they said ‘Do you want to go to this benefit we’re doing?’ Lily Tomlin was hosting and I said ‘Sure.’”

Ms. Rak said she was stunned by what she didn’t know about the epidemic. Coming from Pittsburgh,  “I was not in a New York State of mind. I did not know all of this was going on in such a powerful way.”

Since then, she’s volunteered for a flood of fundraisers, including annual Broadway staples such as “Broadway Bares,” “Easter Bonnet” and “Gypsy of the Year”. 

“Bares” in particular is “good, clean, dirty fun”; there is video somewhere out there of her doing a strip-tease as Wonder Woman. 

The Broadway & Ballet HERO (HIV Experience Resources Organization) Awards combine both Broadway and ballet, with 16 performances scheduled in a glitzy show at Stage 48 in Manhattan. The winners will also perform: Ms. Rak will do one of her personal favorites, “I Gotcha,” from “Fosse.”

In addition to Ms. Rak’s award, the evening honors its ballet HERO, American Ballet Theatre principal dancer James Whiteside, as well as Forest Hills native and Carnegie Mellon University graduate Michael Campayno.

The latter will receive the John Adams HERO award for best Broadway debut this year. Mr. Campayno had the lead role of Fiyero in “Wicked.”

Ms. Rak has had a long and interesting career, one that spans seven Broadway shows, and the chance to originate the role of Tess in a musical stage version of “Flashdance.” She stood out in the documentary, “Every Little Step,” which chronicled the return of “A Chorus Line” to Broadway — Ms. Rak lost the role of “Sheila” in the last round of auditions.

Growing up the daughter of a dance studio mom, Rosalene Kenneth, she’s old friends with Abby Lee Miller, whose mother also ran a studio here. Ms. Rak did guest choreography on “Dance Moms” before “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition” came calling for her as a judge a few years back.

And now, something different…

Ms. Rak and husband Andy Hoey now have Deliliah, 3, in their family; she was already stepmother to Mr. Hoey’s son, Stephen. Having a baby in her 40s added another layer of planning to daily life in Ridgeway, New Jersey, but it did not slow her step.

Earlier this year, she had the chance to put together a potential act for NBC’s “World of Dance.” She trained a troupe of 11 dancers ages 20 to 52, “The Rak Pak,” and choreographed two numbers she’s pitching as newer, edgier Broadway-style dancing.

The routines were filmed, submitted, and now, Ms. Rak waits to hear if “The Rak Pak” made the cut for television. She’s sanguine about what happens next.

“I’m 47 years old this month. I certainly don’t have to win a competition show, or be on one. But I like a challenge.”

Success, she said, isn’t about winning every time: “I’m all for falling on your face and trying again,” she said. “Someone says ‘no’? Well then someone else will say ‘yes.’

“That’s kind of my mentality, and why I’ve survived so long in show business.”

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or @MariaSciulloPG.