Gypsy of the Year Skits Target Billy Elliot, Click Tracks, Megamixes and More

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10 Dec 2008

<I>Gypsy of the Year</I> performer
Gypsy of the Year performer
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

The 20th annual Gypsy of the Year competition provided its usual opportunity for "gypsies," Broadway's hard-working chorus dancers to take center stage with what co-hosts Tyne Daly and Jonathan Hadary described as "raucous, rude and sublime" dances, songs and comedy sketches to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Favorite targets of the skits included the new musical Billy Elliot as well as lip-synching to click tracks, ending shows with megamixes of the score, and the bum times on Wall Street.

The fun started with beloved veteran gypsy Harvey Evans introducing the opening number, based on Rent's "La Vie Boheme," which climaxed with dancers modeling the last five Gypsy Robes.

The Lion King earned the Gypsy of the Year Award for Best Stage Presentation, performing Ray Mercer's athletic "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," a number in which women and shirtless men dressed in red and black gamboled over, under and around a giant table to percussive music, sometimes flinging themselves off it into one another's arms. The number stopped the show for applause, presaging its eventual win. Afterward co-host Seth Rudetsky wondered, "Where do you even rehearse a number like that?"

 

The Lion King performers
photo by Aubrey Reuben



A majority of the competing shows' skits had a lighter tone, most of them poking sharp-edged fun at themselves or other shows. The runner-up for Best Stage Presentation was the cast of Equus, a homoeroticized parody musical version of their show, titled "The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Neigh," which included Equus and "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe (shirtless) performing a kick line with the show's horses, who also used their metal hoofs to good effect as tap shoes.

The gypsies of Gypsy presented the "Ten Ways to Get Fired from Gypsy," including "Pulling Focus," in which one of the kids from the cast brought down the house with a tough-as-nails reading of the line, "Maybe there's something wrong with your bumper!"

The cast of 13 performed the acrobatic number "Under Eighteen!" in which they hailed the great number of shows starring kids. "Though you don't know me," one of them sang, "I'll have a Tony/Before I am weaned."

The gypsies of South Pacific offered a confusing but funny skit parodying the "Terminator" films. In "Terminator 5," a gun-toting android with a Schwarzenegger accent returns from the year 2025 to protect Raul Esparza, Michael Cerveris and Alexander Gemignani, "the only three men capable of performing Sondheim," from an assassin. In 2025, we're told, Sondheim is still alive and still rewriting Road Show.

The boys of Naked Boys Singing sang an original and self-adoring ode to a body part that is far less private in their show than in most.

August: Osage County imagined a sequel to their show, titled February: Osage County in which Violet and Johnna have become lesbian lovers and where the teen-molesting uncle has become a cheerleading coach.

The dancers of The Little Mermaid parodied themselves and the classic West Side Story for the mash-up "Key Westside Story," in which the gang musical is relocated under the sea as a "surf and turf war between the Sharks and the Jet Skis." Marina, the character based on Maria, sees her Tony—er, "Tuna" get shot and asks, "How many harpoons are left? Is there one harpoon left for me?"

Mamma Mia similarly poked fun at its recession-proof box office by imagining a future in which every show has been Mamma Mia-ized by adding ABBA songs. Example: The boy in Billy Elliot must now decide which of three dads don't want him to be a ballet dancer, and then launches into "Dancing Queen."

The cast of Off-Broadway's Rock of Ages imagined a Hillbilly Elliot, in which actors sporting huge bellies, excessive facial hair and buttock-baring thongs drawled their way through a debate about whether ballet is a good career choice.

On the serious side, the cast of In the Heights performed "The Day Goes By," a song cut from the show. And, the Off-Broadway musical The Marvelous Wonderettes performed a five-part close-harmony version of the holiday song "Snowfall." The gypsies performed a rueful parody of Cole Porter's "Another Op'nin, Another Show," grimly retitled Another Closing, Another Show in recognition that a slew of Broadway have announced closings in January.

One of the soon-to-close shows, Hairspray, said farewell with a reunion of cast members from throughout the run, including Marissa Jaret Winokur, Harvey Fierstein, Matthew Morrison and Darlene Love for the song "I Know Where I've Been."

Original cast members including Christopher Sieber, David Hyde Pierce also made cameos in the finale of "Forget Your Troubles," the dance piece from Monty Python's Spamalot, which also made its final "Gypsy of the Year" appearance.

Perennial favorites Officer Lockstock and doll-toting Little Sally (Don Richard and Jennifer Cody), characters from the long-closed Urinetown, took their usual enjoyably snarky potshots at the Broadway scene, pretending to be testifying before Congress to get a bailout for Broadway. "People losing jobs is at an all-time high," said Lockstock. "And that's just at Shrek," Sally added.

They managed simultaneously to sideswipe both California's "Proposition 8" and Rosie O'Donnell's recent flop TV variety show by observing, "They should spend less time keeping lesbians from marrying and more time keeping them from tapping."

Among other things, they pleaded with Congress for money to fund "a translator" for the thick accents at Billy Elliot.

Between each skit, co-host Seth Rudetsky (described as "over-caffeinated" by Hadary) guided audiences through live versions of his YouTube deconstructions of key moments in cast albums, slaying the audience, for example, by comparing Patti LuPone's full-throated version of "Rainbow High" from Broadway's Evita, with Madonna's rather more anemic version from the film soundtrack. Rudetsky also wrung laughs from the falsetto of the poor kid who sings the note "La" in "Do Re Mi" on the original cast album of The Sound of Music. He also dryly described Bea Arthur as "Brilliant actress. Brilliant comedienne. Singer."

 

Tyne Daly and Seth Rudetsky
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Punctuated with his trademark cries of "I'm obsessed!" and "Bra-VAH!" Rudetsky bounced like a pogo stick whenever he was especially pleased with a high note, a bold key-change or other bravura turn. New Amsterdam technicians obliged by playing perfectly-timed clips from the appropriate recordings over the house sound system.

Co-hosts Daly and Hadary, stars of the 1989 Gypsy revival and hosts of the very first Gypsy of the Year, reminisced about how far we have and haven't come in the fight against AIDS. They recalled how, back in 1989, three actors died of the disease during the run of Gypsy.

One of the funniest and most touching moments came near the end when the cast of the now-closed [title of show] reunited for a number that was, for some reason, not in competition, but might indeed have won. Titled "My First Time," it was a mini opera recounting Hunter Bell's first visit to a Broadway show (Annie) and Susan Blackwell's (Angels in America: Millennium Approaches). The skit drew eyebrow-raising parallels between the two unrelated shows. Annie references Franklin Roosevelt, while Angels references Ronald Reagan. Roy Cohn bemoans his having AIDS while the orphans of Annie sing "It's a Hard-Knock Life." The skit ended with iconic final lines from each, "Tomorrow" and "The great work begins."

Winners in the fundraising and performance categories were announced by Harvey Fierstein, Christine Baranski and John Lithgow, joined by Daly (who had donned Equus hoofs) and Hadary. Radcliffe bounded onto the stage in delight when his show was announced, and he was joined onstage by Equus and "Harry Potter" co-star Richard Griffiths.

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The 20th annual Gypsy of the Year Competition, which celebrates the Broadway gypsy and was presented Dec. 8 and 9 at the New Amsterdam Theatre, earned $3,061,148 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

The Lion King won the Gypsy of the Year award for Best Stage Presentation, performing Ray Mercer's athletic "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner," a number in which dancers gamboled over, under and around a giant table, sometimes leaping off it into one another's arms.

The Chicago company of Jersey Boys was the biggest fundraiser, bringing in $220,000 for BC/EFA.

The cast of Equus — which stars Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths — was the top Broadway fundraiser, raising $203,747. (Radcliffe made the headlines several times for auctioning the jeans he wears in the acclaimed production.) It was also the first time a non-musical raised the most cash since The Dinner Party in the early 2000s.

Equus was also runner-up for the Best Stage Presentation, performing a homoeroticized parody musical version of their show, titled "The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Neigh," which included Equus and "Harry Potter" star Radcliffe performing a kick line with the show's horses.

Other top-raising Broadway productions included Wicked ($172,301), South Pacific ($140,552) and Hairspray ($125,291). The Chicago "Shiz Company" and Los Angeles productions of Wicked also brought in top dollars for BC/EFA, raising $178,500 and $161,868, respectively.

A special award was given for the top fundraising Off-Broadway company: The Marvelous Wondrettes raised $17,824.

Actor, musician and Playbill.com columnist Seth Rudetsky hosted the Competition, which also featured appearances by Tyne Daly and Jonathan Hadary, who hosted the first Gypsy of the Year Competition; Jen Cody and Don Richard, who reprised their comical turns as Little Sally and Officer Lockstock; and the cast of [title of show] — Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen, Heidi Blickenstaff and Susan Blackwell — who made a special appearance when they presented the show's final number.

Rudetsky, Daly and Hadary were joined by Christine Baranski, Harvey Fierstein and John Lithgow for the presentation of the afternoon's awards.

Celebrity judges included Elizabeth Ashley (Dividing the Estate), Paige Davis (Boeing-Boeing), Patrick Page (A Man For All Seasons), Howard McGillin (The Phantom of the Opera), Kate Mulgrew (Equus), Peter Sarsgaard (The Seagull) and BC/EFA major donors Dr. Harold Brody, Marion Duckworth Smith and Kendall D. Ward.

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.

Since 1989 the 20 editions of Gypsy of the Year have raised a combined total of $35,730,000 to benefit BC/EFA, which distributes the money to more than 400 service organizations and charities.

The annual competition comes after six weeks of intensive fundraising by various shows on and off Broadway as well as touring productions throughout the country. It's a chance to celebrate the Broadway gypsies while raising funds for the worthy organization.

Awards are presented in two categories: for best skit and for most money raised for BC/EFA. Last season, the competition set a new record, bringing in $3,927,110 despite the 19-day stagehands strike that virtually blacked out the peak of the charity's fundraising season.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is the nation's leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grants making organization. By drawing upon the talents, resources and generosity of the American theatre community, BC/EFA raises funds for AIDS-related causes and other critical illnesses across the United States. Since its founding in 1988, BC/EFA has raised over $150 million dollars for critically needed services for people with AIDS and other serious illnesses.

For more information visit www.broadwaycares.org.