The Music Man: Planning a High-Profile Charity Dinner Musical

How many planners can say their job description includes singing about, not to mention pretending to receive, a lap dance? Mark Lieberman can. He's not only the organizer of the Inner Circle Show—a high-profile charity dinner where New York City's political journalists perform skits and songs satirizing the mayor and the state of politics in general—he's one of the stars.

Lieberman first joined the Inner Circle in 1974, when he was a reporter for the New York Daily News. In between song-and-dance numbers impersonating then-President Gerald Ford and other politicians, he got involved in writing sketches, selling tickets, negotiating with the Hilton New York, and so on. And though his career shifted from journalism to government to finance (he's now an economic analyst at Washington Mutual), he stayed an active member.

Step, Kick, Step, Kick . . .

Lieberman's been in charge of organizing the $500-a-plate dinner since 2000 and says his biggest headache is handling seating requests. "I deal with a lot of people who want to sit near the mayor, or who say, 'I'm Politician So-and-So, so I should get a good seat,' " he sighs. Besides following a first-come-first-served policy, he tries to "rotate things," so if people don't get a good table one year, with any luck they will the following year.

Lieberman manages all these details plus a grueling schedule: two months of three-night-a-week rehearsals building up to the last week, when the cast rehearses every night. The performers are amateurs, but "a lot of them work in TV and radio so they're not unaccustomed to a microphone, and all reporters participate in press conferences," he notes. "You really can't be shy and be a reporter."

There's No Business Like . . .

This year's Inner Circle Show, called $PENT, mocked billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg for his $80-million-plus reelection campaign. As part of the mayor's traditional "rebuttal," Bloomberg got onstage afterwards to present his own song-and-dance routine with help from Broadway pros, who this year included David Hyde Pierce and other cast members of the hit musical Spamalot.

Lieberman put in his own appearance as New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (the crusading lawman known for targeting Wall Street fat cats), investigating price-fixing at a notorious "gentleman's club" while singing a slightly altered version of "Save the Last Dance for Me."

Lieberman's biggest fear? That a cataclysmic event will force him to cancel at the last minute—which actually happened in 1964 when the mayor's wife suddenly died and the revue had to be postponed and rewritten.

Last year, in fact, Bloomberg canceled his rebuttal because of Pope John Paul II's death, and one performer had to drop out to fly to Rome to cover the funeral for radio. But Lieberman doesn't carry cancellation insurance ("It's cost-prohibitive"), so the show must go on—with TelePrompTer-reading stand-ins, if need be.

"Every year, people say the event won't come together," Lieberman sums up, "but it always does, because every one of our members is used to working under deadline."

84th Annual Inner Circle Show

Cost:
$250,000-300,000

Funds raised: $100,000-150,000

Attendees: 1,200