Gypsy in the Palace: 12th Annual Show & BC/EFA Benefit Held Dec. 4-5

News   Gypsy in the Palace: 12th Annual Show & BC/EFA Benefit Held Dec. 4-5 Will the Gypsies make off with more than $2.1 million this year?

Will the Gypsies make off with more than $2.1 million this year?

That’s what it’ll take to beat last year’s record total, when the annual “Gypsy of the Year” competition and benefit raised $2,074,870 in the fight against AIDS, HIV and women’s health crises. Held at Broadway’s Palace Theater, Dec. 4-5, this season’s “Gypsy,” the 12th, will feature supporting and chorus performers from such current shows as The Full Monty, Seussical, Chicago, Les Miserables, Aida, Cabaret, The Lion King and Annie Get Your Gun. As ever, a few stars from those and other shows are also expected to make surprise appearances and cavortings.

Broadway, Off-Broadway and touring shows fundraise for six weeks, culminating in the two-day Gypsy “competition” of spoofy musical numbers. Two winners are chosen: which company raises the most money, and which has the best presentation.

Tickets to this year’s Gypsies are $20-$75, with VIP tickets available at $150 and Benefactor ducats running $300. All proceeds, of course, go to Broaddway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which has distributed more than $45 million to people living with AIDS, HIV and other health concerns. For information on the shows, call (212) 840-0770. The Dec. 4 show starts at 4:30 PM, the Dec. 5 event starts at 3 PM.

* The 11th Annual Gypsy of the Year competition was performed Nov. 29 Nov. 30, 1999 at Broadway's Marquis Theatre. With the Gypsy of the Year and fund-raising winners already gathered on the Marquis Theatre stage, a flashily-frocked Dame Edna introduced her "goddaughter," Bernadette Peters, who announced $2,074,870 as the record, final amount raised in the six- week fall fundraising drive for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Winning the 11th annual fund-raising award was the company of Rent with $161,485. Second place went to Annie Get Your Gun with $159, 197 (Peters promised that her producers, Barry and Fran Weissler, would donate the extra $2,500 to tie her company with the kids at Rent). The Lion King raised $128,830; Phantom of the Opera, $119,931; and Ragtime, $115,688. The Off-Broadway company that raised the most money was Naked Boys Singing! with $25,054.

Cats took home Gypsy of the Year, the annual performance award for the best skit. In order to continue Lloyd Webber Enterprise's goal of making Andrew Lloyd Webber the single greatest entertainment giant of the millennium, the Cats company announced the opening of Webberworld, a theme park based on the composer's works. Among the attractions in the spoof were Grizabella's "Touch Me" Petting Zoo, Phantomland's agonizingly slow chandelier crash and the Sarah Brightman Career Plunge, the "Unexpected Song" Karaoke Bar, Herod's Pleasure Palace where kids can walk on water, Eva's Bungee Jump Off the Casa Rosada, the "Surrender" Monkey Bar and the Whistle Down the Wind Motorcycle Spectacular, which, the company wryly noted, is not quite ready yet.

To give a sense of entertainment available at Webberworld, the Webberworld dancers sang and danced a manic, upbeat medley of "As If We Never Said Goodbye," "Unexpected Song," "Music of the Night," "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," "Memory" "What's the Buzz?" and the Joseph Megamix. Appearances were made by Webberworld's cast of characters including Norma Desmond, Eva Peron and, "everyone's favorite" -- a tap dancing Jesus Christ.

Runner-up for Gypsy was the company of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Their Scarlet Sisters (some of whom appeared to actually be brothers), decked out in tacky 1950s-style pastel dresses, beehives and black glasses straight of Lawrence Welk, interrupted the Gypsy proceedings three times with cheesy renditions of well-known tunes. Their final appearance, because "as we've learned at Scarlet Pimpernel, the third time is the charm," they created a nativity scene, the matrons serving as Mary, Joseph, the three wise men, and even baby Jesus, while singing "The Little Drummer Boy."

In the Gypsy of the Year's opening number, choreographed by dancer/choreographer Arte Philips, swing and disco, two Broadway dance styles prominent this season, strutted their unique stuff on the Marquis stage. The swing kids opened first, hopping and leaping until a mysterious white-feathered angel (Jennifer Frankel) stepped into their midst. Suddenly, it was disco night with a strong bass beat fast-forwarding a new set of dancers from the '30s and '40s into the 1970s. The two dance styles, although they don't yet mix nightly on a Broadway stage, came together in the end with choreographer Philips blending the two forms.

Hosting this year were Mary Testa (Marie Christine) and Ken Page (It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues). Testa was not short of Marie Christine gags, picking out the kids in The Lion King's number and musing that if they were in her show, they'd be dead. (The Michael John LaChiusa tuner opening Dec. 2 is inspired by Medea.) Page, for his part, suggested a nude Scarlet Pimpernel for the fourth incarnation of the show and, after watching a cross-dressing number, hinted that he himself had a dress or two in the closet. He also noted, accurately, that the entire Gypsy of the Year seemed to be about nudity and disco, but, he said, "Isn't that what life is about?"

The following is a selected run-down of the pieces performed by the Broadway and Off-Broadway troupes Nov. 30, 1999:

* The company of The Phantom of the Opera, led by Liz McCartney, sang the inspirational song, "You Are the Light," from the London musical, Metropolis.

* Les Miserables presented their entire show as interpreted through a high school cheerleading competition. Highlights included the lovely ladies with the numbers 24601 on their dance pants, a baton twirling Javert and a barricade constructed out of the cheerleaders themselves, who then spun a la the famous turn-table stage.

* The company of Kat And The Kings, told that their South African brand of singing is nothing like real American musicals, set out to show that they could easily do a classic Broadway show by singing "Surrey With The Fringe On Top."

* Naked Boys Singing!, appearing naked under strategically placed props, parodied the Act Two opening of Sunday in the Park With George, as they posed in a setting not unlike Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." They complained, "We're nude up here," and sang to their mothers: "I do not hope to be remembered like this." In the end, they turned to the audience, dropped their props, and revealed skin-colored jock straps with sequined red ribbons on them.

* In celebration of their 25th Anniversary on Broadway, Saturday Night Fever searched for Tony Manero that fit their exacting standards: "a fair to middling voice, capable of a good impersonation, no dance training required." While a sorry group attempted to do the walk, boogie and pose, the exasperated British casting agents decided to cast them all as Monty and do a whole show of Montys. While the new seven Montys showed off their moves, a group of singers sang "Fever" with "Night Fever" interpolated into the song.

* The Lion King, in a piece called "The Cure," sang in Zulu with an English rap and dancing provided by the Young Simbas and Young Nala.

* Eric Michael Gillett, who plays Roger, the stage manager in Kiss Me, Kate, rattled off his stage manager's to-do list, including "stuff Brian Stokes Mitchell's codpiece, remove stuffing from Michael Berresse's codpiece, deliver flowers from producers to Marin Mazzie, deliver flowers from director to Amy Spanger, deliver flowers from Brian Stokes Mitchell to Brian Stokes Mitchell..."

In a timely item, he noted, "Pay actors -- check, pay musicians - check, pay stagehands -- check, check, check, check check, check. I was going to say strike that, but..." (The Broadway stagehands' union reached an agreement with theatre owners earlier this week, averting a strike.) After complaining about how wonderful Marin Mazzie is, he then sang an ode to Shirley Booth, Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn and Shelley Winters with "Leading Ladies Who Can't Sing." Mazzie herself appeared and dragged him off stage.

* Sandy Duncan was the butt of Chicago's skit, as she and the "Wheat Thinettes" did a number together. Duncan, wearing a leg and knee brace, entered carrying a "I'm Flying" sign and a broken rope. They had meant to parody Peter Pan by having her fly in, "throw some fairy s--t and fly out," but the rope didn't work. Instead she mocked her Celebrity Jeopardy appearance and sang a little before being told by the stage manager that Chicago was entering its theme-park schedule with a third show that day. Duncan passed out, but was revived by pink tutued Mark Price as Tinkerbell and the audience, who clapped to bring Duncan back to life.

* Valerie Wright, looking a bit like Jennifer Grey in "Dirty Dancing" -- in sneakers and Capri pants -- and the company of Annie Get Your Gun danced a slinkily comic interpretation of the song "Doodlin'," earning one of the Nov. 30 show's major ovations.

* In their final Gypsy appearance, Smokey Joe's Cafe lamented their upcoming closing and featured an appearance by the ancient version of Brenda Braxton's Smokey Joe's character (feather boa stripped and soiled, bound by duct tape), who has performed at past Gypsys.

Dame Edna Everage was a skit unto herself. Interrupting the introduction of the judges and assuming "I probably don't need any introduction," Dame Edna threw her gladiolas into audience, noting they are grown in her own manure and have slight healing properties. She said hello to all the friends of her son Kenny (code language for gay folk) in the audience and categorized herself as a "caring, old megastar." After thanking the Marquis for the use of "Tom Wombat's" dressing room, she introduced the judges: Anne Klein and Marion Duckworth Smith, who both bid for the honor, choreographer brother and sister, Rob and Kathleen Marshall, legendary dancer-choreographer Marge Champion, Wit's Judith Light and Continental Airlines' BC/EFA trustee Paul Stevens.

- By David Lefkowitz and Christine Ehren