NEWARK, NJ – If Lee and Murray Kushner were hoping to hit one out of the proverbial ballpark during Tuesday night’s benefit concert for multiple sclerosis, they did it. Of course, stellar honorees, touching stories, a rocking concert by Olivia Newton-John and a surprise appearance by John Travolta helped.
The concert was the 10th anniversary of Musical Moments, a concert held to benefit MS research. The Kushners started the concert series after Lee was diagnosed with MS in 1994. During the opening comments, Murray reported that nearly every seat in the NJ PAC was filled and more than a million dollar raised. To date, the concert series has collected nearly $14 million, all of which has gone to MS research. Tuesday’s concert crowd included Governor Chris Christie and comedian Lisa Lampanelli.
The Kushners, residents of Livingston, gave the opening comments with some good-natured husband-and-wife ribbing before introducing Dr. Stuart Cook of UMDNJ, who diagnosed and has been treating Lee’s MS.
Cook introduced John DeLuca, PhD, vice president for research at the Kessler Foundation, who received the Medical Excellence Award. The Humanitarian Award went to Leslie Donato, vice president and general manager of Neurology and Hematology at Bayer HealthCare. Rick Lyon, executive vice president of Commercial Real Estate at Capital One Bank received the Corporate Excellence Award.
The featured speaker of the evening was John C. Green, a retired senior executive.
“His professional career came to a premature end in 1996 as a result of the progression of his multiple sclerosis,” Lee said in her introduction. Green, walking with the assistance of a cane, came to the podium and talked about what it’s like living with MS. He described losing his wife to cancer shortly after he was diagnosed, and having to learn to deal with the debilitating effects of MS while adjusting to a new job and life as a single father. But, he emphasized, he kept going.
“I never gave up,” he said, as the audience gave him a standing ovation. “If I’d given up, I wouldn’t be here today.”
The audience was already in a cheering mood when legendary singer Olivia Newton-John took the stage. Dressed in skinny black pants, a white shirt with sparkly black jacket and loosely knotted sparkly black necktie, the multiple award-winning singer performed many of her hit songs, from the 70s hit “Have You Never Been Mellow” through country songs like “If Not For You” and “Let Me Be There.” She also performed songs from her hit movie “Xanadu,” including the title track and “Magic.” She rocked the stage with aerobic moves as she belted out her 80s hit song, “Physical.”
She also talked a bit about her battle with breast cancer 20 years ago, and dedicated her song “Not Gonna Give Into It” to those living with MS.
Her band donned 50s-style jackets as they swung into music from her smash movie “Grease.” After “You’re The One That I Want,” she started the back-and-forth ditty “Summer Nights” with two male backup singers on one side, and she and a female singer on the other. She asked the audience to get involved, and just as things were getting rowdy, John Travolta strolled onstage. The audience erupted.
He joined Newton-John and the backup singers in the rest of “Summer Nights,” then “We Go Together.” He thanked the audience for letting him participate in the show.
“This is Olivia’s last show in the U.S. for this tour, and when she said she was performing in Newark, I said I wanted to be here. This is my hometown,” said Travolta, who was born and raised in nearby Englewood.
After he left the stage, Newton-John concluded with “Grace and Gratitude” and her signature song, “I Honestly Love You.” Travolta joined her and the band at the end for the curtain call.