Top-Earner Book of Mormon Helps Easter Bonnet Raise $3.6 Million; Ricky Martin, Audra McDonald Appear

By Robert Viagas
April 24, 2012

The 26th annual Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Easter Bonnet Competition raised $3,677,855 in six weeks of nightly curtain-call appeals, the third-highest total in the history of the event. The number was revealed at the April 24 performance of skits, songs and dances that make up the unique fundraiser-show, at the Minskoff Theatre.



This year's top fundraising award went to The Book of Mormon, which raised $286,725.

The community total ebbed slightly from last year's $3,706,085 and the $3,734,000 all-time record set in 2008. This year's total was raised by 52 participating Broadway, Off-Broadway and touring shows.

Special guests Ricky Martin (Evita), Audra McDonald (The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess ) and Eric McCormack (Gore Vidal's The Best Man) presented the awards at the Minskoff on April 24 following the two Easter Bonnet performances (one on Monday, one on Tuesday).

The award for outstanding bonnet design went to the Broadway company of Mamma Mia! for a hat consisting of a giant lavender blossom opening on an earthlike blue globe brightened by sparkling LED lights.

The company of Broadway's The Lion King took the top prize for bonnet presentation, with a performance called "Hallelujah Harlem," featuring members of the Broadway cast tapping and singing gospel in period clothes in an evocation of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance era. Church women in big hats combined the hats to make a bonnet resembling the marquee of Harlem's iconic Apollo Theatre.

The Lion King wins the prize for bonnet presentation
photo by Monica Simoes

Named runner-up for performance were the precocious kid thespians of Mary Poppins, who once again (as they did a year ago) tackled scenes from grownup dramas. This year they went for the jugular, waving gory weapons in scenes from Sweeney Todd ("A Little Priest"), Medea and Macbeth. "I gave you my womanhood," one moppet proclaimed as Medea and she waved two bloody dolls, "and now I'm taking it back!" The Scottish Play's curse continued, however, and the presentation missed the top prize once again.

As they did in 2011, the two touring companies of the musical Wicked took the top fundraising awards among national tours. The "Emerald City" company earned $280,014 and the "Munchkinland" company the (last two years' top fundraiser) was a runner-up this year, collecting $166,434 in the fight against AIDS.

Some other facts and figures:

Broadway Runners-Up for Fundraising
Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark at $231,997, Wicked at $204,777, The Phantom of the Opera at $144,899 and How To Succeed… at $144,179

Touring Runners-Up for Fundraising
Les Misérables at $158,816, American Idiot at $141,661 and Mamma Mia! at $128,033

Broadway Play That Raised the Most
Other Desert Cities at $71,965

Off-Broadway Shows That Raised the Most
Rent at $38,265 and Avenue Q at $30,094

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).

Though top prize went to The Lion King's fondly nostalgic evocation of Harlem's golden age, funny skits laced with insider jokes once again predominated at Easter Bonnet.

Several skits parodied popular TV shows and films. The "Easter Bonnet" opening number paid tribute to the Broadway-set TV series "Smash" (along with Broadway's bumper crop of religion-themed shows) in a piece directed and choreographed by Rommy Sandhu, and written by David Beach and Stacia Fernandez.

 

Jersey Boys cast members spoof "The Hunger Games."
Photo by Monica Simoes

Jersey Boys poked fun at "The Hunger Games" in an elaborate skit imagining the year 3012, after the great war between Broadway musicals left only Jersey Boys still running. "Literally starving actors" are forced to undergo auditions in which they must kill one another for parts. One actor got stabbed while singing "Being Alive." Observing another death, the Narrator observed, "The last time I got the ax like that it was at an audition for [casting director Bernard] Telsey!"

Phantom of the Opera poked both "Downton Abbey" and "The Dating Game" with a skit titled "Phantom Abbey," in which the prim ingénues from the PBS series are matched up with wildly inappropriate Broadway husbands including Ricky Martin, Jesus of Jesus Christ Superstar and the Phantom himself.

Two of the presentations were answers to bitingly satirical skits from a year ago. Responding to a skit that implied the long-running Chicago had grown "old and tired," members of the company appeared with walkers, oxygen masks, adult diapers and one motorized wheelchair to wheeze their way through a song in which they claimed, "We've got dance belts older than the cast of Newsies." At the song's conclusion, however, the cast stripped down to their skivvies and did some high kicks to show they were still buff. The bonnet was presented by model Christie Brinkley, who is completing a return engagement in the show before embarking on its national tour, escorted by her youthful leading man, Tony Yazbeck.

Anything Goes dancers vented their bitterness at being bettered by Mary Poppins' irresistibly cute kids in 2011, and came back with a promenade of the cast's pet dogs, including a pair of pups in sailor outfits, introduced by Julie Halston, who observed that when children and animals are on stage, no one else gets any audience attention. But while the adorable pooches were met with coos from the audience, the Mary Poppins kids once again topped them in the awards.

Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, which was the target of much comedy at the 2011 Easter Bonnet, poked fun at itself this year in "Kiss of the Spider Man," a sketch using the music from the title song of Kiss of the Spider Woman to laugh at the show's chronic technical troubles.

Actors representing more than a dozen touring shows sang of the headaches and rewards of life on the road with a customized rendition of Stephen Sondheim's Putting It Together, during which they also "put together" their bonnet, a skyline with iconic buildings from the many cities they'd played in.

Not all was comedy, however. Dancers Responding to AIDS performed "Boys, Boys, Boys," consisting of shirtless, muscular dancers attired only in dark kilts, tight orange shorts and body paint. At one point, the kilts came off.

Ripley Sobo, the child actress from Once, performed a song on a ukulele flanked by two other musicians from the show. At the climax she donned the show's bonnet, a guitar that opened to reveal a model of the show's set. Two other shows recreated models of their sets on their bonnets: Death of a Salesman sent John Glover to the stage in a bonnet consisting of a salesman's suitcase topped with a mini recreation of Jo Mielziner's iconic house set; Matthew Risch showcased a mini version of the Other Desert Cities set on his chapeau.

Mamma Mia! dancers went from Greece to India, performing a Bollywood-style dance extravaganza in brightly-colored outfits.

Tituss Burgess (The Little Mermaid) filled in for ailing Norm Lewis to cap the show with heartfelt rendition of the Easter Bonnet anthem, "Help is on the Way."

Easter Bonnet judges included Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy (Venus in Fur), Celia Keenan-Bolger and Adam Chanler-Berat (Peter and the Starcatcher), Megan Hilty ("Smash"), comedian Lisa Lampanelli, costume designer Carrie Robbins, Frank Wood (Clybourne Park) and United Airlines' Mark Anderson. Stephanie Toups and Karen Walter, who were the high bidders on VIP packages at the Broadway Flea Market, are also part of the judging panel.

Broadway stars who appeared at the event included Judith Light and Stacy Keach (Other Desert Cities); Gavin Creel (Hair); Jeremy Jordan (Newsies); Rory O'Malley (The Book of Mormon); Ann Harada (Avenue Q); Raven-Symoné (Sister Act); Nick Jonas, Michael Urie and Rob Bartlett (How to Succeed...); Corbin Bleu, Lindsay Mendez and George Salazar (Godspell); and Tshidi Manye and Ron Kunene (The Lion King).