Every autumn, Broadway, Off-Broadway and national touring companies begin collecting money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. BC/EFA is Broadway's beloved nonprofit organization that gives money to the vital organizations like The Actors Fund as well as AIDS organizations around the country — not for research, but for things like food pantries and paying for someone's medication. Shows raise money in various ways — from having cast members stand near theatre exits with red buckets to having Hugh Jackman auction off the shirt he wore during his show. Yes, those sweaty things wound up raising $1,789,580. Seriously!
The Best of Gypsy of the Year 2010-2014:
Anyhoo, after all that fundraising, Broadway gets together and puts on a show called Gypsy of the Year, a variety show with incredible acts featuring brilliant singing, dancing, acrobatics and hilarity. And, so many Broadway stars! The very first Gypsy of the Year happened in 1989 at the St. James Theatre, where Gypsy was playing. Tyne Daly and Jonathan Hadary were the hosts, and they did Gypsy of the Year just 12 days after their opening! It's so amazing they agreed to do it because there's so much stress before you open a show, and usually people need weeks to recuperate and do not want to add anything new to their plates.
Well, the cast did it because they believed in BC/EFA, and Jonathan and Tyne told me they were so amazed when that first show raised $70,000. Tyne remembered telling that 1989 audience she hoped it would become a yearly event. It certainly did, and it went from raising that initial $70,000 to last year's total of over $4 million dollars! The audience is filled with theatre fans and industry insiders. Here are just some of my favorite moments that have happened from past years. First, the incredible opening numbers! There was a 25th-anniversary tribute to A Chorus Line that ended with "What I Did For Love," sung by the original Diana Morales, Priscilla Lopez. There was also an enormous celebration of the 30th anniversary of The Wiz, with many original cast members, including André De Shields still wearing his costume in a size zero!
I've written a few tributes myself, and one year they asked me to write about Ethel Merman lecturing younger chorus kids on the dedication you must have to be a true "gypsy." My favorite lyric was sung to the part of "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" that usually goes:
"Once I was a shlepper…
now I'm Miss Mazepa."
Instead, Ethel sang to the newsboys from Newsies with:
"You're all a bunch of babies!
I toured while I had rabies!"
There was also an incredible number celebrating the 50th anniversary of Hello, Dolly!, starring Carol Channing. It featured a bunch of waiters doing the title song and ended with Channing as the star. Right after the number she stayed onstage with one of her former co-stars, Lee Roy Reams. He was turned towards her and asked her various questions, but as he would speak, she'd start walking forward. He'd start again, and she'd walk forward. I was watching from the wings and was thinking, "Poor thing is in her 90s. I'm sure this is all too much for her, and she's confused."
Finally, he turned towards her again, she walked forward, and he asked, "Carol, why do you keep walking away from me?" I was very anxious waiting for the answer… Was she even aware she was walking away? Well, as soon as he asked, she whirled towards him and yelled, "I'm trying to get you to face downstage! This audience is only seeing your profile!" Turns out, not only was she completely on the ball, she also had more stage awareness than I've ever had!
Usually, each show writes their own presentation, but one year Fiddler on the Roof teamed up with Avenue Q and presented Avenue Jew. It was brilliant! One of my favorite moments happened when the character of Brian approached his wife, Christmas Eve, played by a blank-faced Ann Harada. He sang, "Do you love me?," and she replied "No." And walked away.
I'm thrilled to say I'll be hosting for the eighth year in a row, and I'm not only looking forward to what's on stage, but also backstage. You see, most people doing Broadway shows like to have the star dressing room, but I'm always very excited for Gypsy of the Year because I'm usually asked to share.