Broadway and Off-Broadway shows collectively earned a record $2,275,659 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS after six weeks of post-show fundraising from their respective stages. The figures were announced during the annual Easter Bonnet competition event at the New Amsterdam Theatre on April 24. At the New Amsterdam, cast members from various shows performed songs and frequently spoofed themselves and other shows before presenting their elaborate "Easter Bonnet" entry.
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, raising a total of $175,225 - the most earned for any single show. Cast members Henry Winkler, John Ritter, Len Carious, Penny Fuller, Jan Maxwell and Veanne Cox demonstrated their successful methodology at the New Amsterdam, conducting a sample auction of a handkerchief Winkler uses in performance. Promising an autograph, chocolates and other enticements along with the used handkerchief, Winkler and Ritter led the cast in an escalating bid that earned many laughs and drove the price for a simple piece of cotton up to $10,500. [This amount will be added to the BC/EFA coffers and was not credited to Dinner Party's winning sum in the competition.]
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, which was 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 last year's record breaking $2,129,168.
As reported, this year's first runner up was Annie Get Your Gun, which raised the most money of any Broadway show last year, bringing in $181,000. Runners up a year ago were The Lion King ($136,000), Rent ($121,700) and Chicago ($118,000). The Off-Broadway fund-raising award went to the cast of Naked Boys Singing, who collected $26,490.
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. Last year, 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.
Beauty and the Beast came in second last year with its Evita- inspired, long-run rant delivered by one of the musical's best pieces of cutlery, the Spoon, and Chicago came in third with their own Jeff Shade, who, stepping in as Roxie Hart due to the apathy of his company, performed high-flying baton tricks.
The previous year's 13th Annual Easter Bonnet raised a then-record $2,096,862 to assist people living with HIV, AIDS and other diseases. Top earners were The Scarlet Pimpernel ( $104,000), The Lion King ($142,000) and Rent ($162,000).
—By Murdoch McBride
and David Lefkowitz