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Marriage Equality

Terri White Stages Her Leather Encore


Last year acclaimed stage performer Terri White was homeless and living in a public park. On Sunday she and her partner held a leather-themed commitment ceremony onstage following her triumphant Broadway return in Finian's Rainbow.

Donna Barnett glanced nervously around the St. James Theatre minutes before the Sunday matinee of Finian's Rainbow on Broadway. It was nearly one year to the day after she met her partner, stage veteran Terri White, and although the women were due to hold a commitment ceremony onstage following that afternoon's performance, the minister had yet to take his seat for the show.

That the minister eventually arrived, and the performance and ceremony flowed smoothly, came as no surprise, least of all to White, who captured the sense of inevitability with the title of her show-stopping number, "Necessity."

A little over one year ago, White found herself evicted and living in Washington Square Park in New York City. Now, thanks to an incredible turn of events reported in The New York Times and on the CBS Evening News, the onetime Barnum star finds herself, for the first time in 20 years, back on Broadway, where she proclaimed her love for Barnett before 100 relatives, friends and cast members in a post-performance ceremony on Sunday.

"It's overwhelming," said White, 61, outside the theater on West 44th Street after the event. "It's bringing up bad times, but it's grand times now," she said.

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White credited her turnaround to lessons she absorbed while reading The Secret, the 2006 best seller by Rhonda Byrne.

"Rather than going, 'OK, I'm homeless, damned me, poor me' -- no. None of that was any part of it," she said. "It was continuing to just believe that there is a good tomorrow."

White met Barnett, a jewelry designer, on November 2 last year in Key West, Fla., where she took a gig after a police officer friend helped her regroup upon the end of a long-term relationship. The breakup left the West Village piano bar stalwart, whose credits include stints alongside the likes of Liza Minnelli and Glenn Close, homeless during the summer.

As for what unites White and Barnett, the giddy pair sounded almost blissfully unaware of the reasons behind their fast and furious attraction.

"I don't know," said White, adding that she is certain only of their union's permanence. "This is my second, and this is my last," she said of their commitment.

Barnett, 62, suggested a big, perhaps naughty, clue could be found in what the couple chose to wear to their commitment ceremony.

"We're leather girls," she said. "That's what we like."

White wore a purple jacket and black pants, while Donna sported red pants and a matching corseted vest, all designed by Broadway costumer David Menges. Guests, including Finian's Rainbow star Cheyenne Jackson, were encouraged to wear leather to the commitment ceremony too.

"Terri is old-school, solid," said Jackson, the leading man in the revival of the 1947 musical. "She's so full of soul. She's the mama bear to everybody in the cast," he said.

Finian's Rainbow, which opened Thursday, tells a charming, if implausibly benign, tale of greed, race relations, and the American Dream set in the segregated Deep South, in the fictitious town of Rainbow Valley. The show has garnered favorable reviews, mostly on the basis of the infectious music.

The Wizard of Oz-like backdrop doubled as the set for the commitment ceremony. White and Barnett processed from opposite stage wings to meet in the center, where they exchanged vows before the Reverend David Prince of Rutgers Presbyterian Church.

White serenaded Barnett with the classic "More Than You Know," and the couple's rings were delivered by 13-year-old cast member Christopher Borger.

Brett Berk, the gay son of Barnett, offered some words to the crowd.

"It appears as though my mother has officially out-gayed me," said the writer, before making more poignant observations.

"They're each other's perfect audience," he said. "This is because they're each other's ideal stars."

Afterward, misty eyes yielded to -- what else? -- necessity.

"I need a smoke!" exclaimed White as she exited the theater door and ran out to the street.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Julie Bolcer