Billy Elliot Wins Gypsy of the Year; Event Earns a Record $4.9 Million

By Robert Viagas
December 6, 2011

Literally auctioning the shirt off his back at performances of Hugh Jackman Back on Broadway helped Tony-winning Australian native Hugh Jackman to raise a one-show record of $857,740 as part of the 23rd Annual Gypsy of the Year competition, pushing the total for the Dec. 5-6 Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fundraising event to a new overall record of $4,895,253.



Jackman's share of the total was so large—more than twice the next largest total ($325,935 raised by How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying)—that the judges took him out of the competition and gave him a Special Award for the effort.

A farewell performance from the cast of Billy Elliott earned the soon-to-close musical the title of 2011 Gypsy of the Year/Best Stage Presentation.

Jackman was on hand with Daniel Radcliffe (How To Succeed), Tony winner Bernadette Peters (Follies) and host Seth Rudetsky to hand out the awards. A total of 52 other Broadway, Off-Broadway and touring shows raised the rest of the money in six weeks of curtain-call appeals at theatres across New York and around the country.

A highlight of this year's event at the New Amsterdam Theatre was the opening number, featuring a reunion of the original 1972 Broadway cast of the musical Grease. Thirteen original performers including Barry Bostwick, Carole Demas and Adrienne Barbeau (original Danny, Sandy and Rizzo, respectively) led a chorus of younger dancers in a medley of hits from the score.

The Mary Poppins presentation
photo by Monica Simoes

First runner-up for Best Stage Presentation went to Mary Poppins, which riffed on the "Junior" versions of popular musicals offered by rights organizations for school performances. In Tom Souhrada's skit, titled "Junior Edition," the precocious child performers of Mary Poppins offered kid versions of some of Broadway's heaviest dramas, including Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire.

Other fundraising awards:

Top Broadway musical fundraisers: How to Succeed with $325,935, Book of Mormon with $315,968, Wicked with $240,809, Spider-Man with $197,285 and Follies with $186,405.

Top national tour fundraisers: Wicked (Munchkinland Tour) with $326,902, Wicked (Emerald City Tour) with $316,299, Mary Poppins with $169,709 and Jersey Boys with $157,831.

Top Broadway play fundraiser was Other Desert Cities with $77,712.

The top fundraiser among Off-Broadway shows was the AIDS-themed Rent, which took in $43,300.

As has become custom, the event featured a vaudeville-like 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.

As has become custom, the event featured a vaudeville-like 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.

Kids and cast reunions were the two main themes of 2011's Gypsy of the Year. In addition to the Grease gathering, Billy Elliot's winning skit featured most of the show's cast, plus a reunion of nine lads who have played the title character during show's nearly three-year run.

Chicago dancers gloated over the fact that the show has surpassed A Chorus Line to become the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. They performed "Chicago Now and Forever," a mashup of choreography from the two shows, then rolled out a long line of dancers who have appeared in the show during its 15-plus-year run.

Off-Broadway's NEWSical the Musical contributed Amy Griffin and Christine Pedi doing their respective impressions of Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli. When "Gaga" began campaigning for gay marriage, "Minnelli" applauded her, saying, "Up til now I've been marrying them all myself."

Mamma Mia! did a self-deprecating sketch in which they revealed new advertising slogans including "Mamma Mia!—When You Can't Pay Full Price," "Only Steps Away When Perfect Crime Is Sold Out" and "If You Don't Know the Music—You've Never Ridden an Elevator!"

Off-Broadway's Silence! The Musical, a spoof of the horror film Silence of the Lambs, brought out the cannibalistic Hannibal Lecter character to flog his new Christmas album, "Hannibal Holidays," including a lyric about New York Post theatre columnist Michael Riedel "roasting on an open fire."

"The show must go on" was the theme of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying's skit showing Broadway dancers going on despite varying degrees of aches and injuries including, at one point, a severed limb.

The gypsies of Spider-Man, Memphis and The Lion King served up graceful dance numbers.

The perennial Off-Broadway nudie review Naked Boys Singing! did a tribute to the Broadway revival of Follies with all the lyrics changed to reflect the content of their show, from "Off-Broadway Baby" to "In Nobody's Eyes."

Follies troupers mourned the fact that they are closing to make the Marquis Theatre available for a revival of Evita by performing a mock funeral scene to the opening number of the latter show. However, the cast interrupted star Jan Maxwell's tongue-in-cheek eulogy, getting excited over the fact that Ricky Martin will star in the Andrew Lloyd Webber revival. The topper of the number was the surprise appearance of Follies co-star Elaine Paige—the first star of the original London Evita—who sang "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" with lyrics changed to "Don't Cry for Me, Marquis Theatre."

Another soon-to-close musical, The Addams Family, brought back one of the highlights of the 2010 Gypsy of the Year show, young Adam Riegler (Pugsley) performing a comic monologue. This year, the boy kvetched about the fact that the show will be closing at a financial loss despite its two-and-a-half-year run ("and, to be honest, how many of you expected that would happen?") and how difficult it's going to be for him to find a job. "I have way too much stage experience to be offered the lead in Chicago" he lamented. "At my height I'm not exactly leading man material. Kristin Chenoweth doesn't even have a show this season."

Host Seth Rudetsky stepped up with three of his trademark "deconstructions" of singing styles. One explored the difference between singers' chest and head voices; another demonstrated the proper form for vibrato. Not to be outdone by the many child stars who dominated this year's Gypsy of the Year, Rudetsky unearthed a recording of his teen-aged self performing a hilariously angry, bluesy version of..."Tomorrow" from Annie.

Among the other shows that performed dances or skits: Anything Goes, The Phantom of the Opera, Sister Act, The Awesome 80s Prom and an ensemble of dancers from several different national tours, who tapped to "Every Day I'm Shufflin'."

This year's judges: Stephanie J. Block (Anything Goes); Jeff Calhoun (Bonnie & Clyde); Kim Cattrall (Private Lives); Nikki M. James (The Book of Mormon); Tony Sheldon (Priscilla Queen of the Desert); Paul Libin (The Broadway League); Stephanie Toups; and Karen Walter.

Celebrity presenters included Jan Maxwell and Danny Burstein (Follies), Patrick Page (Spider-Man), Beth Leavel (Baby It's You!) and Judith Light (Other Desert Cities).