“Welcome [pause] however you gender identify to Gypsy of the Year!” rang the pre-show announcement at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS 29th Annual Gypsy of the Year. And from that first moment, the show—which is the culmination of BC/EFA’s red bucket fall fundraising campaign—took on an empowering and inclusive tone for the afternoon at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
Since the first Gypsy of the Year, BC/EFA honors the contributions of the ensemblists (or “gypsies”) of Broadway, Off-Broadway, and national touring companies. The show features performances by the ensemble members of these companies in original numbers and sketches, from satirical to powerful to seasonal.
The opening number, directed by Tony winner Cady Huffman (The Producers) and choreographed by Lorna Ventura, featured a corps of suffragette female dancers weaving together songs like “Sister Suffragette” and “Ladies Who Lunch,” featuring Lea Delaria, School of Rock’s Amadi Chapata, Huffman, Shakina Nayfack, and Lacretta.
Playbill columnist and SiriusXM radio host Seth Rudetsky leaped onto the stage to host his tenth year running, presenting more of his famous Deconstructions. Rudetsky focused his opening on deconstructing original performances, emphasizing that the way we remember certain songs and the standard we set for future performances of those songs come from the performers who created the roles. In demonstration, Rudetsky pointed to Patti LuPone’s famous “shaaa-aaaa-aaa-aaaa-aaaame” from Les Misérables “I Dreamed A Dream” (originally written as one held note); Barbara Cook’s coloratura leap and glissando on the penultimate note of “Vanilla Ice Cream” in She Loves Me; and Betty Buckley’s finale in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. But more on that later.
The youngest Broadway ensemble, from School of Rock, performed an endearing number about being born to be a “Rockstar” by Ian Axel and Chad King, followed by two of Broadway’s oldest (when looking at the age of their shows). David Michael Garry of The Phantom of the Opera and L. Steven Taylor of The Lion King sang “Hello, Fifty!,” with rewritten lyrics to A Chorus Line's “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love.”
Hearkening back to the mission of BC/EFA, dancers from The Chase Brock Experience for Dancers Responding to AIDS performed a hard-hitting and beautiful routine choreographed by Chase Brock. Of course, BC/EFA is one of the nation’s leading industry-based HIV/AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. Their dedication to the care of those suffering from and affected by HIV/AIDS, in addition to their contributions to the Actors Funds, the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative and more, is unparalleled in the entertainment industry. This year, BC/EFA set another fundraising record, with contributions totaling $5,609,211.
The first Gypsy of the Year in 1989 raised $70,000. And as Chicago ensemble members Brian O’Brien, Bianca Marroquin, and Leigh Zimmerman informed the audience, the Fred Ebb Estate has given portions of royalties to BC/EFA each year since Ebb’s death. From 2005 to the present, the Estate has gifted $15.2 million to BC/EFA.
In addition to a celebration of fundraising and awareness, many of Broadway’s ensembles continued to recognize another increasing trademark of the theatre community: diversity. Donald Webber Jr. and six chorus members from Hamilton (Lauren Boyd, Karla Puno Garcia, David Guzman, Eddy Lee, Tanairi Sada Vazquez, and Robert Walters) performed “Thugz Mansion/Change Gonna Come,” adapted by Webber and choreographed by Garcia. The cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory drove home the message of helping our community with a rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” led by Kyle Taylor Parker, as did the ensemble of national tours in their jaunty “Gonna Build a Mountain.” The cast of Aladdin rang in the holiday season with “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.”
On the humorous end of the spectrum, the men from Off-Broadway’s Afterglow rewrote the lyrics to Hello, Dolly!’s “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” to reflect the big selling point of their show: nudity. Now titled “Take Off Your Sunday Clothes,” the number poked fun at the show running at the Davenport Theatre. Cats also chose to go with satire, performing “Thriller” as zombie cats who won’t ever seem to die. The Broadway-turned-Off-Broadway hits Avenue Q and Jersey Boys combined efforts to spoof their “backwards” transfers from the Great White Way to New World Stages. Set to the tune of “A Whole New World,” Avenue Q’s puppets—with Kate Monster dressed as Jasmine and Princeton dressed as Aladdin—offered advice about how a show can survive: “Your show will last / Downsize your cast.”
Two-time Tony nominee Charlotte D’Amboise performed an impressive solo number with re-written lyrics by Raymond Bokhour based on her experience playing lead Roxie Hart in Chicago at the same time as understudying Christine Applegate in Sweet Charity. She originally performed the number on Playbill Travel’s Broadway on the Rhine River in August. Rudetsky, who serves as music director for Playbill’s cruises, insisted she perform the number on a Broadway stage and voila!
But the highlight of the show had to be Come From Away’s hilarious sketch. Mocking themselves, the cast of the Tony-nominated Best Musical started out with their “Welcome to the Rock.” Only this time, audiences weren’t hearing the story of 38 planes diverted to Canada; they were hearing the story of 12 singing actors staging the show’s movement under choreographer Kelly Devine—whose increasing “frustrations” (“Thank God I’m not going for a Tony”) could be heard on the God mic. But the routine turned from funny to fantastic when a line of young doppelgänger dancers (dressed in character) swapped spots with the actual Broadway cast and performed a routine worthy of the New York City Ballet—fouette turns and all.
It was no wonder the panel of judges, made up of John Bolton, Harvey Evans, Noah Galvin, Chilina Kennedy, Nicole LaFountaine, Cheryl Miller, Pam Myers, Caroline O’Connor, Will Roland, Lea Salonga, and Evan Todd declared Come From Away the winner for best number. Also as to be expected, Dear Evan Hansen won for the most money raised this season, with a total contribution of 555,196; much of their success coming from the post-show auctions of Ben Platt’s cast, the most expensive costing the high bidder $35,000.
And thus concludes another red bucket season. Until the spring!