Spamalot, Lion King Earn Top Honors at "Gypsy of the Year"

News   Spamalot, Lion King Earn Top Honors at "Gypsy of the Year"
 
Monty Python's Spamalot earned top fundraising honors in the 17th Annual Gypsy of the Year Competition Dec. 5-6, raking in $367,084 toward a $2,972,721.15 total for the event, which benefits Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Spelling Bee's Jesse Tyler Ferguson (bottom) and Todd Buonopane perform during the 17th Annual Gypsy of the Year Competition.
Spelling Bee's Jesse Tyler Ferguson (bottom) and Todd Buonopane perform during the 17th Annual Gypsy of the Year Competition. Photo by Aubrey Reuben

For the second year in a row, the sculpted dancers of The Lion King impressed the judges, winning the coveted award for best stage presentation.

Collected by more than 50 Broadway, Off-Broadway and touring shows over the past six weeks in nightly curtain-call appeals, the total is the second-highest ever, behind 2003's $3,359,000 but ahead of 2004's $2,754,631 total.

The 2005 "Gypsy of the Year" competition gave two performances, Dec. 5 and 6 at the Neil Simon Theatre, hosted by Brad Garrett and Lee Wilkof of The Odd Couple. As has become custom, the event featured a mixture of satirical skits, inspirational songs, and virtuoso dance numbers, all performed by the "gypsies," the Broadway dancers who go from show to show and provide singing and dancing support to the leads. This year's event featured several stars as well, including Cathy Rigby, Rosie O'Donnell, Patti LuPone, Michael Cerveris, Huey Lewis and Harvey Fierstein. Favorite satirical targets included the Tourette's Syndrome musical In My Life and the spare revival of Sweeney Todd, in which the performers also double as the orchestra.

For the winning stage presentation, titled "I Remember He Said...," The Lion King offered two shirtless male dancers performing an elegant pas de deux to electronic music while the voices of young men, apparently dancers, related stories of how they suffered intolerance for being gay or different. One told the story of how his father, a bistro owner, warned that if the customers ever found out the boy was gay, "he would shoot me."

A majority of the competing shows' skits had a far lighter tone, most of them poking sharp-edged fun at themselves or other shows. The runner-up for best stage presentation was performed by the children of the soon-to-close Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, titled "Chitty Chitty Bye Bye," in which they wisecrackingly lamented the fact that their show was closing, to the tune of "So Long, Farewell" from The Sound of Music.. Taking a shot at the prematurely closed The Blonde in the Thunderbird, the battle-hardened tykes moaned, "Being in a flop is sort of a bummer/It could be worse—we could be Suzanne Somers." In one of a series of Don Rickles-like comments, co-host Garrett applauded them off, observing, "You know, midgets don't work enough."

Fundraising runners-up among musicals were last year's winner Wicked ($221,298), The Lion King ($137,118), Rent ($130,792) and Mamma Mia! ($129,034). The top fundraising national tour was Wicked ($214,000), the top fundraising Off-Broadway show was The Great American Trailer Park Musical ($34,662), and the top fundraising Broadway play was Doubt ($105,715).

BC/EFA channels the money to a variety of activities that support those living with AIDS, and support research into a cure. A special allotment of $25,000 was made this year to charities helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

The show opened with the production number “Just Once,” in which the female gypsies complained that men get all the good roles. The men complained the opposite. So they fulfilled their respective fantasies, with women dancing the “Luck Be a Lady” ballet, a man belting “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls, women dressed as sailors singing “New York, New York” from On the Town, a man dancing “The Music and the Mirror” from A Chorus Line and a woman, as Pilate, wailing the title song from Jesus Christ Superstar. In a neat twist, a man played Peter Pan, and another sported a pregnancy to sing “The Story Goes On” from Baby.

Perennial favorites Officer Lockstock and doll-toting Little Sally (Don Richard and Jennifer Cody), characters from the long-closed Urinetown, did not disappoint as they aired Broadway’s dirty laundry. This year they appeared in straitjackets, explaining that the powers that rule Broadway had forced them to be brainwashed so they’d like everything—even thinking “a third vampire musical is a good idea” (a reference to the forthcoming Lestat following recent seasons’ flops Dance of the Vampires and Dracula: The Musical). The treatment apparently failed because they poured on the acid in a vaudeville routine lambasting current shows. After referring to The Color Purple as “Oprah-homa!," Little Sally was told that the brainwashing made her believe bad things didn’t exist. Wide-eyed, she replied, “So you mean Lennon didn’t happen?”

Officer Lockstock noted transit rules that allow police to inspect “random bags on the subway,” to which Little Sally incredulously asked, “The cast of Chicago takes the subway?”

Lockstock earlier observed, “They sure have tightened your braids, Little Sally!”

Hosts Garrett and Wilkoff offered a similarly tense comic duo, with the short, balding Wilkoff trying to stick to the script while the swarthy beanpole Garrett kept launching into streams of comic invective about life on Broadway. “I feel embraced [by the Broadway community]—but also chafed... I’m sweating like Nathan Lane eating a corndog.”

Referring to his height-challenged co-host Wilkof, Garrett said, “I feel like I should pick you up and thank the Academy.” Wilkof did a slow burn throughout and even stalked off at one point, leaving the spotlight to Garrett.

The cast of the Peter Pan revival presented auditions for their show in the form of the opening number from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. They made fun of the numbing life on the road, and the fact that many in their cast are a wee bit old for their roles.

There was also no shortage of gay humor. Rigby herself appeared, but Tinkerbell would not join her. “What do you mean, ‘you’re intimidated by all the other fairies in the room’?”

The opening number of Spelling Bee was soon heard again, but this time performed by the cast of Spelling Bee in the style of the new Sweeney Todd, with the hollow-eyed, pale-faced cast punctuating the lyric honking on the kazoo, swatting conga drums, blatting on the trombone and once or twice wheezing on the digeridoo. “At last, my right leg is complete again,” intoned Todd Buonopane, the actor playing William Barfee, the foot speller.

In turn, the cast of Sweeney Todd poked fun at In My Life, whose main character suffers from Tourette’s syndrome, which causes him to erupt in expletives unexpectedly. Pretending to struggle as they tried to act and play instruments at the same time, the cast kept hitting clinkers, and then muttering curses. The skit was titled “Tourette’s Todd.”

For their part, the cast of In My Life celebrated 12-year-old Brynn Williams, the youngest gypsy ever to receive the Gypsy Robe (an opening night tradition). She came out in the Robe itself and cut loose with Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here.” In My Life may be closing, but Williams’ performance stopped the show at “Gypsy of the Year.”

Huey Lewis, currently appearing in Chicago, retooled his pop hit "The Heart of Rock 'n' Roll" to acknowledge "jukebox musicals," saying that the heart of rock 'n' roll is now on Broadway.

Fiddler on the Roof sent Tevye understudy Neal Benari out to lead his dancers in a tribute to “our little village of Times Square,” complete with live appearances by The Naked Cowboy (a street performer who plays guitar wearing nothing but briefs with a cowboy hat and boots) and a retiring officer of the Midtown North police precinct that serves Times Square. Benari also told the audience he had a special message from regular Tevye Harvey Fierstein, and then played a tape recording of Fierstein’s gravelly voice warning, “You’re never going on, Neal.”

Fierstein and co-star Rosie O’Donnell later appeared on the Neal Simon stage to help make announcements and hand out awards, with O’Donnell making a heartfelt plea on behalf of “TV stars who are vocally challenged but get the lead anyway.”

“Gypsy of the Year” winners were announced by Fierstein, Patti LuPone and Tim Curry. Paul J. Smith directed the event. The skit competition was judged by Walter Bobbie, Bryan Batt, Andrea McArdle, Judy Dove, Judy Kaye, Hal Luftig, Marian Duckworth Smith and John E. Walker.

<i>Urinetown</i>'s Officer Lockstock and Little Sally make their yearly appearance at the 17th Annual Gypsy of the Year Competition.
Urinetown's Officer Lockstock and Little Sally make their yearly appearance at the 17th Annual Gypsy of the Year Competition. Photo by Aubrey Reuben
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