Friends, community to host benefit fundraiser for local actor Michael Hartson

The Winter Garden arts community has banded together to put on a benefit show for local actor Michael Hartson, who is battling pancreatic cancer.

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  • | 12:24 p.m. February 27, 2019
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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Putting together a benefit for a friend takes a lot of heart, and there is no doubt the Winter Garden community has plenty of it.

Friends of Michael Hartson have banded together to assemble a comedy and music benefit called “Get Your Harts On!” to raise funds for the actor, who recently starred as Herbie in the Garden Theatre’s fall production of “Gypsy.” “Get Your Harts On!” will take place at the Garden Theatre at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 5.

Hartson was diagnosed with pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer and currently is receiving aggressive forms of treatment in Tallahassee while being cared for by sisters Michele and Kathleen.

Andrea Canny, one of the benefit co-hosts and mastermind behind the upcoming event, met Hartson when he played the original John Smith in Disney’s “Pocahontas” show at then-MGM Studios back in the 1990s. He also played the original Phoebus in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” also at MGM. 

Most recently, they starred alongside each other in “Gypsy.” Hartson played Herbie, while Canny played Mama Rose.

“Michael is a working actor, but it can be very difficult, and he didn’t have insurance, because you’re going from gig to gig,” Canny said. “(We wanted to) just to ease the financial burden a bit, but … I look at this as our love letter to Michael. I can’t make him feel any better physically, and there’s so much we don’t have control over with what he’s dealing with, but I was like, ‘I can do this. I can gather people together and make people laugh.’ But at the same time, when a friend is hurting, you feel pretty powerless, and this is one thing I can do.”

Headshot courtesy Scott Dentinger.
Headshot courtesy Scott Dentinger.

Over the last few weeks Canny and her team of volunteers and professionals have worked to bring their vision of a fundraiser for Hartson to life.

Ali Flores and Canny will co-host the event, which will include performances from Andrea Stack, who played Louise in “Gypsy;” Canny reprising her role as Mama Rose to sing “Rose’s Turn” from “Gypsy;” magician Terry Ward; pianist Carol Stein; tap dancer Joy Andersen and an array of comedians, jugglers and acrobats.

“I have a team of amazing professionals as far as the production team, and the Garden Theatre has been amazingly supportive, letting us use not only their facility but their technicians, the box office, everybody there has been giving us permission to do this,” Canny said. “They made everything happen to where the online donate button goes directly to Michael’s GoFundMe page. … The production team we’ve brought on, they’re always my first calls. I wish I wouldn’t have to do these benefits anymore, but I know at least when I do them, I have the best people on board.”

Canny’s production team includes Gary Graham, George Jackson, Scott Battaglia and Fran Falcone. The Garden Theatre team includes Executive Director , Nao Tsurumaki; Artistic Director, Rob Anderson; front-of-house manager, Debbie Sansing; Production Manager, Jason Golinsky and Design and Advertising Manager, Janet Haddock.

The show starts at 8 p.m., but doors will open at 7 p.m. to allow guests the opportunity to grab snacks from the concession stand and view a video compilation of some of Hartson’s previous film appearances. Additionally, guests can bid on silent-auction items such as a private dance lesson with Orlando Ballet artist-in-residence Arcadian Broad.

“It’s just going to be a really great combination of stuff,” she said. “For people who don’t know Michael, it’s going to be well worth the $20, and we want to sell the place out. … It’s three things. First, an opportunity for people to laugh in a time where there’s not a lot of laughter these days. Two, to support a fellow human and feel good about yourself as a human. Three is that love letter to Michael. I want people to see that and want people to go, ‘Wow, these people really love this guy.’” 


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