Book of Mormon Tour Is Top Earner in Easter Bonnet Competition; Event Raises a Record $4.53 Million

The 28th annual Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Easter Bonnet Competition raised an all-time record $4,532,129 in six weeks of nightly curtain-call appeals. That total eclipsed the $4.25 million previous record set one year ago. The number was revealed at the April 22 performance of skits, songs, dances and giant hats that make up the unique fundraiser-show, at the Minskoff Theatre.

Idina Menzel and Bryan Cranston present the awards
Idina Menzel and Bryan Cranston present the awards (Photo by Monica Simoes)

This year's top fundraising award went to the national tour of The Book of Mormon (Latter Day Company), which raised a stunning $405,009, nearly one tenth of this year’s total for 57 participating Broadway, Off-Broadway and touring shows.

Special guests Idina Menzel, Denzel Washington, Bryan Cranston and Fran Drescher presented the performance/bonnet awards at the Minskoff following the two Easter Bonnet performances (one on April 21 and one on April 22).

The winner for Outstanding Bonnet Design went to the Broadway musical Once, which created a hat that incorporated several musical instruments from the show, including a ukulele and an accordion, plus a fan of kazoos that were played during the bonnet presentation.

The Lion King, a frequent winner of the Outstanding Bonnet Presentation competition over the years for serious and soulful dance numbers, took the top prize again this year with a comedy number “Momentum,” featuring a pair introduced as the only two Caucasian members of the cast (who play Pumbaa and Timon) dancing shirtless a la Flashdance. The show’s bonnet was topped with large cutouts of the duo standing atop of a pile of money and the words “1 Billion Dollars, Baby!,” a reference to the fact that the show was the first in Broadway history to earn that much cumulatively at the box office.

Once won Outstanding Bonnet Design
photo by Monica Simoes

Runner-up for the Outstanding Bonnet Presentation was After Midnight, whose dance “Snatched,” showed a man dancing with a series of beautiful women who pick his pockets. Their bonnet featured a spray of feathers and a New York city skyline. Some other facts and figures:

Broadway Musicals that Raised the Most
Kinky Boots at $284,170
Beautiful at $208,697
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella with $206,941
The Book of Mormon with $181,065

Touring Runners-Up for Fundraising
Wicked (Munchkinland tour) at $277,109
Book of Mormon (Jumamosi tour) at $209,023
Wicked (Emerald City tour) with $182,704

Broadway Plays That Raised the Most
All The Way with $186,424
Mothers and Sons with $100,102

Off-Broadway Shows That Raised the Most
Avenue Q at $28,577
Heathers at $24,363

Dollar totals may change after a detailed accounting is completed.

Similar to BC/EFA's annual Gypsy of the Year event, the Easter Bonnet Competition presents cast members from various shows performing skits, songs and/or dances frequently spoofing themselves and other shows before unveiling their elaborate "Easter Bonnet" presentation (literally, a trouper wearing an outsized novelty bonnet).

Modern dance pieces and funny skits laced with insider jokes once again predominated at Easter Bonnet.

The event opened with New York Post columnist Michael Riedel playing the devil in a red blazer, sending Book of Mormon's Rory O'Malley on an Into the Woods-like scavenger hunt to steal key props from various Broadway shows, including the baby lion from The Lion King, a red boot from Kinky Boots, a pape' from Newsies, a boxing glove from Rocky, the magic lamp from Aladdin, and the title prop from The Book of Mormon, et cetera—all set to music from the respective shows. Al Blackstone and Vanessa Brown wrote the script and lyrics. The number concluded with everyone ganging up on Riedel and hauling him off on a hand cart after one of the Matildas from Matilda slapped a strip of duct tape over his mouth—but not before Riedel snarked, "Quit your whining, they've got three more of you!"

She wasn't the only child actor to win applause. Luca Padovan and Zachary Unger of Newsies updated Abbott and Costello's classic "Who's on First?" skit with "Who's in Newsies?," in which the various nicknamed players were actors in Broadway shows instead of ball players.

Insider jokes abounded. The cast of Mamma Mia! presented "Endless Climb," about the fact that when they changed theatres this season, they traded the backbreaking raked stage of the Winter Garden for the endless climb up stairs to their new dressing rooms at the Broadhurst Theatre, which they christened the "Butthurts Theatre." Their Easter Bonnet depicted a tall, winding staircase.

More comedy than usual was found in the presenters' patter. Bryce Pinkham of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder pretended that the event was an Actors Equity hearing in which his co-star Jefferson Mays was being brought up on charges for hogging roles that could have gone to other deserving actors hoping to "resurrect their careers." Mays plays eight different roles in Guide, after winning a Tony Award several seasons back for playing 37 characters in I Am My Own Wife.

Presenter Karen Ziemba welcomed co-presenter and Broadway first-timer Ramin Karimloo to the Great White Way. He asked her if Broadway had changed since the 1990s when she started, and she said, yes, she missed great old shows like Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Cabaret with Alan Cumming, a Michael Greif musical with Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp…et cetera--poking fun at the fact that all these '90s icons are back or still here.

Among this year's crop of memorable dance presentations were "Straight Duet," in which Kile Hotchkiss and Emily Schoen from Keigwin + Company played out various scenarios bouncing and leaping on a bare mattress in their underwear; and "Man Fan," presented by Dancers Responding to AIDS, in which dancer Jon Eden manipulated a huge, delicate fan so it resembled a bird's wing, an ocean wave, an opening flower, and so forth.

Several national touring companies banded together to present a collective skit and song to the tune of Avenue Q's "It Sucks To Be Me," which they retitled "It Sucks on My Tour." They groused about accommodations and low pay for non-union tours, but perked up when they realized, "We all love what we do." For its part, the actual Avenue Q,, now Off-Broadway, parodied "One Day More" from Les Misérables, singing "One More Tour," in which the puppets begged songwriter Robert Lopez, an Oscar winner this year for "Frozen," to come back and write another show for them.

Speaking of the Oscars, running gags included numerous references to John Travolta's on-camera stumble over Idina Menzel's name on the Academy Awards broadcast, calling her something that sounded like "Adela Nazeem."

A highlight of that finale was Menzel's deliberate-or-not friction with co-presenter Fran Drescher. The clearly-having-a-ball Drescher kept pausing to ad lib with the audience and the winners while Menzel kept urging her with growing exasperation to move things along. A third presenter, Denzel Washington, got laughs from the audience when seemingly all the winners paused to pull out cell phones and take selfies with him on the stage.

Jeremy Stolle ( Phantom of the Opera) concluded the show with the traditional performance of "Easter Bonnet" anthem "Help is on the Way" as the competing bonnets were being judged.

Other Broadway stars who appeared at the event included Andy Karl ( Rocky), Leighton Meester and Chris O'Dowd ( Of Mice and Men), siblings Hunter Foster ( Bridges of Madison County) and Sutton Foster ( Violet), and Ron Kunene and Tshidi Manye ( The Lion King). 2014 Easter Bonnet judges included costume designer Gregg Barnes ( Kinky Boots), and actors Christopher Hanke ( Buyer & Cellar), Carly Rae Jepsen ( Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella), Michael McKean ( All The Way), Jim Norton ( Of Mice and Men), Patrick Page ( Casa Valentina), Annie Potts ( Pippin) and Anthony Rapp ( If/Then). Eric Forst and Peg Wendlandt, who were the high bidders on VIP packages at the Broadway Flea Market, are also part of the judging panel.

The fundraising total is unveiled
The fundraising total is unveiled (Photo by Monica Simoes)