If you had any doubt that spring was just around the corner, take heart from the news that Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS' 16th annual Easter Bonnet Competition will commence April 22. As it did last year, Broadway's New Amsterdam Theatre will house the late-afternoon event, which also plays April 23.
Similar to BC/EFA's "Gypsy of the Year" event, "Easter Bonnet" has cast members from various shows performing songs and frequently spoofing themselves and other shows before presenting their elaborate "Easter Bonnet" entry. According to Boneau/Bryan-Brown office spokespersons, last year, Broadway and Off-Broadway shows collectively earned a record $2,275,659 for BC/EFA after six weeks of post-show fundraising from their respective stages. (Many shows did fundraising for BC/EFA during the competition period, but not all of them prepared bonnets, nor did they participate in the New Amsterdam show.)
In terms of fundraising, the cast from Neil Simon's The Dinner Party took the top spot last year, raising a total of $175,225 — the most earned for any single show. The spirit of generosity and goodwill in the Broadway community was evident throughout the event. Other winning casts in the fundraising category included first runner up Annie Get Your Gun with $175,146. The near draw between The Dinner Party and Annie Get Your Gun marks the closest any two shows have ever come to a tie in the history of the 15 year-old competition.
Other runners up included the casts from second place The Lion King ($120,714), third place Phantom of the Opera ($116,460), fourth place Rent ($97,992) and Off-Broadway's Stomp ($27,900). In the creative "Easter Bonnet" competition, third place went to Cabaret's entry, "Don't Have a Cow," followed by The Music Man's "We've Got the Music, Man!" in second place. First place went to Annie Get Your Gun for the entry "From Nashville to New York."
A separate and special award was shared by the casts of both The Music Man and Annie Get Your Gun based solely on the "design and construction" of their respective bonnets. First place winners Annie Get Your Gun received four separate rounds of applause, obviously intended for the show's star, country singer Reba McEntire. A recent darling of Broadway, McEntire sang "I'll Be" by songwriter Diane Warren and "Why Haven't I Heard from You" by Sandy Knox and T.W. Hale.
As millinery competition goes, the Easter Bonnet was also a memorable showcase for Broadway music and comedy. In a fast room, a variety of themes featured Broadway cast members playing with material that was often decidedly risque. Highlights included everything from the wholesome young stars of The Music Man, to the casting of 97-year-old former Ziegfeld dancer Doris Eaton Travis in Deborah Yates' celebrated role as Contact's "woman in the yellow dress." In the Lea De Laria-inspired production "There is Nothing Like A...," DeLaria's fellow Rocky Horror Show cast mates, Tom Hewitt (in costume as Frank ‘n' Furter) and the normally conservative Dick Cavett (narrator) did a tongue-in-cheek take on "There Is Nothing Like a Dame." The effect was enhanced by Cavett's costume, a loud, red-and-gold sequinned bustier number that rivaled Hewitt's.
Throughout the program, the performances fostered tolerance. For instance, in the spoof Chiseussical, The Drop Dead Whosical performed by members of the cast of Chicago, the "Cat" in the hat tries to fix the imaginary show and shouts, "Ditch the black, it's depressing!" Taking that jab at Chicago's own dark themes literally, the black members of the mock Seussical cast are outraged and storm halfway offstage before the "Cat" stops them by explaining, "Not you...the clothes!"
BC/EFA sponsor the Target Corporation donated $350,000 to the fight against AIDS, pushing this year's total above 2000's record-breaking $2,129,168.
While the focus is always on the funds for BC/EFA, run by executive director Tom Viola, and producing director Michael Graziano, the show is about the hats — and the sketches that set up the presentation of each company's bonnet. In 2000, Footloose garnered the award for best bonnet and presentation with their highly original, no-doubt youthfully inspired headgear: a large derriere belonging to what looked like a Footloose chorus boy. Star Jeremy Kushnier sang about the fact that his company, despite horrific reviews and mockery by the news media, managed to near their two year anniversary before vacating the Richard Rodgers for the September arrival of Seussical. He urged the critics to kiss their Easter bonnet before representations of the major newspapers, complete with big red lips, took him up on the offer.
Other BC/EFA fundraising events include the aforementioned Gypsy of the Year competition (which this season raised just over $2 million), the fall Broadway Flea Market and Grand Auction ($358K), the strip-teasey Broadway Bares (due June 16 at Roseland), the "Nothing Like a Dame" Concert (due March 18 at the St. James Theatre) and the Broadway Bears collectible auction (Feb. 10).
—By Robert Simonson
and David Lefkowitz