It was "A Fundraising Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" at the BC/EFA Easter Bonnet Competition April 8, all right.
That was the banner on the Forum bonnet -- and the news of the night, as the Forum company raised a record $226,906 in the fight against AIDS.
Put into perspective: that figure amounted to more than one-seventh of the total $1,474,272 raised by more than 30 companies of shows on Broadway, Off-Broadway and on tour.
Members of the Forum company performed a skit poking fun at star Whoopi Goldberg's relentless efforts to raise money for the charity by auctioning signed posters, Playbills and Lion King videos at the conclusion of each performance. But it was just these efforts that put Forum so far ahead of runners up Rent with $145,085, plus Phantom of the Opera and Once Upon a Mattress, tied with $103,180 each.
The Competition, which features a parade of hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind, over-the-top Easter Bonnets, is actually the culmination of six weeks' worth of fundraising that includes curtain speeches, autographed poster and program sales, and dozens of other activities. The Best Bonnet Award was presented to the Broadway company of The Phantom of the Opera for a hat depicting an Oscar statuette draped in the Phantom's hat, mask and cape. Runners-up in that competition were Mattress, whose hat was a steel cone that opened to reveal a castle; and The King and I, whose bonnet was a large elephant's head in the style of the show's logo.
The audience at the event was treated to two hours and 45 minutes worth of Forbidden Broadway-style antics as each company presented its Easter Bonnet accompanied by skits or dances, most of them extremely irreverent.
Broadway chorus members indulged in some good-natured ribbing of Julie Andrews (chased on stage by a giant Tony), Goldberg (shown as signing anything, even a Rent poster, to raise money) and Liza Minnelli (impersonated to a T by When Pigs Fly's Michael West).
One of the event's more delicious moments occurred when co-host Joel Grey presented a special award to When Pigs Fly for raising the most money of any Off-Broadway show ($15,475) and the Liza impersonator stepped up to accept it. Grey, the real Liza's co-star in the film of Cabaret, was left speechless.
This year's competition got off to a roaring start with a group of talented singers/dancers who bemoaned the repetition involved in performing the same show nightly. However, they added that the Easter Bonnet competition is the day when "we do our own thing." As the performers sang their own version of Pajama Game's "This Is Our Once a Year Day," each got a chance to dazzle the crowd with some fancy footwork.
After a roaring ovation from the audience, the first two hosts of the evening were introduced: Last Night of Ballyhoo's Dana Ivey and Beauty and the Beast's Gary Beach. The two welcomed the audience, and Ivey pointed out that the afternoon would include "some of the most original bonnets you will ever see." Then it was time for the first skit, one from the cast of Beauty and the Beast. Gary Beach led the Beast presentation with the "story of hats," a look back at how the Easter Bonnet Competition began. When he announced that the competition had been around for 11 years, one of the young Beast cast members revealed, "That's longer than I've been alive!" With a look of disgust, Beach replied, "Is it really." The ultimate message of their performance, however, was to "Keep fighting [HIV/AIDS]. Keep helping those that need our help."
The cast of the revival of Once Upon a Mattress was up next with a spoof of the plot of their own show presented in Riverdance/Lord of the Dance fashion. It was a truly humorous tactic to take advantage of the dance craze that seems to appear on every awards show. The skit ended with the heroine lying on top of a few mattresses that contained the phone number for Dial-a-Mattress printed on the side.
Each night at the Martin Beck Theatre, audiences are welcomed into the home of Daddy Warbucks' at Christmas time, but at this show, the audience was informed that they would be treated to a look at Warbucks' mansion at Easter. Conrad John Schuck, who portrays Warbucks in the Annie revival, appeared with Brittny Kissinger, the much-in-the-news 8-year-old who took over the title role shortly before the show's Broadway opening. When Warbucks asked Kissinger, "Have you heard?" Kissinger replied, "Now what?" Warbucks then told the young performer to go fix her hair and change her dress for the Easter festivities. As she left, the other orphans took the stage to sing to the tune of "Annie," "Barbara, Leeza, Sally, look what you've done for us," referring to the deluge of talk shows that covered the recent Annie-firing story. Then the orphans sang, "When we made the news/--So happy!/Then we got reviews/--So crappy!" Afterward, there were some screams from backstage, and Nell Carter appeared as Annie, with the traditional red wig and the short, red dress and not much else underneath!
For the first year, the Metropolitan Opera presented a segment, a dance number titled "Hommage to Carmen" that was performed by Eileen Goh and Darrell Pucciarello. The "divas of Cats" were up next, Marlene Danielle and Susan Powers, who have been with the show since it opened on Broadway 15 years ago. Danielle and Powers sang a lyrically-altered version of Stephen Sondheim's "I'm Still Here": "Good times and bum times/We've seen them all and we're here. Now and forever/Turned out to be 15 years and I'm here/ I've crawled through garbage on my paws/Played someone spayed just to get applause..../Some critics like to sneer/But we're here." As they were singing, other company members sang "Some Cats Know." Danielle and Powers continued their song, concluding with the lines: "Who needs the hype of a brand-new show?/T-K-T-S keeps us SRO/We got through 15 years/And we're here/We're still here."
The next pair of hosts were then introduced, Miss Saigon's Joan Almedilla and the newest Phantom of the Opera, Tom O'Leary, who related that more than $2.3 million had been raised by the Actors' Fund AIDS initiative in the past year alone. The two then introduced the next show's effort, a presentation from the Circle in the Square's production of Stanley. Star Antony Sher introduced "Stanley of Liberty," which featured Alison Larkin modeling the show's bonnet and wearing a sandwich board, one side featuring a pair of large breasts (a la Stanley's obsession with the female anatomy) and the other with the words "Stan Cares."
The company of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera followed with a spoof of the recent film of another Webber work, Evita. A voice announced, "This summer, from the makers of the smash hit movie Evita, Paramount Pictures and Really Useless Company, comes the film of The Phantom of the Opera." As the casting of the new movie was announced, members of the Phantom company (dressed as these Hollywood stars) appeared: Marisa Tomei as Meg Giry, Woody Allen as Joseph Buquet, Cher as Madam Giry, Beavis and Butthead as the managers of the opera house, Dolly Parton as Carlotta Giudicelli, Sylvester Stallone as Ubaldo Piangi; Howard Stern as Raoul, and, as Christine. . .you guessed it, Madonna, who Webber wrote a new song for, entitled "You Mustn't Love Me." Oh, yes, as the Phantom, Whoopi Goldberg, of course!
Imagining that the movie would win the 1998 Oscar, their first-place-winning bonnet featured a giant Oscar costumed as the Phantom.
Although the Rent cast opted not to perform this year, their bonnet, created by John Cooper, was modeled by their stage doorman. Miss Saigon was up next with a scene entitled "No Menus, Please!," which was set at the Cookin' Up Broadway Cafe, where "Broadway tastes as good as it looks." A couple of tourists came into the restaurant and were subjected to an onslaught of Broadway characters and a menu filled with such items as the Victor/Victoria special, which is "a cornish hen pretending to be a rooster impersonating a hen, although in January it was horse, (ba-dum-bum)."
At one point an Annie look-alike entered the cafe searching for Sandy, while on the other side of the stage a Sweeney Todd-ish chef covered in blood held up a dogs' tail. Also, a Jean Valjean impersonator served the couple a loaf of bread, looked at it longingly, and as he left, he stole the candlesticks on their table. The scene concluded with Rupert, the deli man made famous on the "The Late Show With David Letterman," being saluted by the cast singing "Hello Deli," the name of his 52nd Street delicatessen often highlighted on the talk show.
Saigon's bonnet was a giant fortune cookie, which had this message on its slip of paper inside the cookie: "To laugh is to live," a poignant reminder that laughter can often be the best medicine in the face of tragedy.
Ann Duquesnay from Bring in 'Da Noise/Bring in 'Da Funk and Ken Prymus from Cats were the next pair of hosts, who introduced a skit from Off-Broadway's Tony 'n Tina's Wedding, which featured an Easter Pageant from all over the world and a bonnet that read "Over 2,000,000,000 plates of ziti served."
Duquesnay, perhaps a bit biased, then introduced what she thought would be the "best skit and the best bonnet," a performance from Noise/Funk! An extraordinary tapper, Joseph Samuels, took center stage in front of a large mirror and started to dance to the strains of A Chorus Line's "Music and the Mirror." As he began his Broadway-style dance routine, the song eventually segued into sounds from Noise/Funk and Samuels' dancing changed accordingly, demonstrating the incredibly demanding footwork that the show delivers nightly.
Adrian Bailey led the Smokey Joe's Cafe company in a number that poked fun at all the naysayers who predicted the show would not run past a few months. Three years later and still going strong, Bailey sang these lyrics to the tune of Leiber and Stoller's "Love Potion #9,": "All you non-believers, To the left and form a line. It's just about the time/To kiss Smokey Joe's behind."
An Easter bonnet that was supposed to be a Passover hat was the theme of a clever entry from the cast of Grandma Sylvia's Funeral. Sylvia, returned from the dead, was shocked to see an Easter bonnet instead of her Pesach hat. In a number inspired by "The Dream" from Fiddler on the Roof, her relatives sang, "She's giving us the guilt, mazel tov, mazel tov. And it's already built, mazel tov, mazel tov." Sylvia then admitted that she asked two other people to make her the hat she wanted, the two leads of Tony 'n Tina's Wedding. Tony and Tina then appeared and sang to the tune of "Jesus Christ Superstar": "Here's a hat/a Jewish hat/Sylvia/What do you think of that?"
A dance routine from the company of The King and I followed. The scene, which featured a scared young child in an elephant's mask, chased around onstage by the company of beautiful dancers, was uniquely passionate, compassionate and ultimately moving.
Michael Chiklis (Defending the Caveman) and Greg Jbara (Victor/Victoria) were the next two hosts, and each read a list of the many shows who raised money for BC/EFA but chose not to create bonnets. Two Broadway siblings, Ernie Sabella (Lycus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) and D. Sabella (Mary Sunshine, the man in drag, in Chicago), then took the stage. Ernie related that "I have enjoyed working with the Queen of Broadway," and Danny replied, "Isn't he sweet," to which Ernie countered, "Not you. Whoopi!" The brothers then spoke about the many road companies that had also prepared Easter bonnets. Two men from the road company of West Side Story then added a little spice to the afternoon by ripping off most of eachother's clothing, rumble style. A woman, who turned out to be Tony winner Chita Rivera, came onstage next modeling a bonnet. Ever the good sport, Rivera sang a few lines of "Touring in America" to the tune of West Side Story's "America."
Perhaps the most riotous performance followed from the company of When Pigs Fly: Michael West's brilliant impersonation of a bewildered Liza Minnelli. Minnelli, who in January stepped in for Julie Andrews for a month's run in Victor/Victoria, was the subject of much gossip during her stint, and When Pigs Fly's take on Minnelli incorporated every bit of gossip, true or otherwise, that emerged during that time. It would be too difficult to try to describe West's antics, but he had the audience in the palm of his hand for every bit of Minnelli mania he delivered. West deserves a special Tony for his portrayal of Minnelli, who was joined onstage by a bevy of When Pigs Fly's other company members -- all dressed as Minnelli's mom, Judy Garland, each from a different point in her career.
Last Night of Ballyhoo presented a "Ballyhoo Sonnet" that even featured Dana Ivey crooning "Ballyhoo-oo-ooo," to the tune of "Bali Ha'i." The cast of Present Laughter decried the egomania of one of its fellow cast members: "If I am upstaged by him one more time.... He has the worst breath . . ." As they were bemoaning their fellow thespian, he strutted onstage with the Present Laughter bonnet. The one in question turned out to be the cute, little dachshund that is featured in the show -- not star Frank Langella.
Sarah Jessica Parker and the cast of Once Upon a Mattress accepted outsize checks totaling $125,000 on BC/EFA's from Target Stores and the Mayor of Edison, N.J., both of whom apparently were lionized by Parker during a recent appearance on Conan O'Brien's late-night talk show.
"Good Will" was the title of Forbidden Broadway's entry, which cast Christine Pedi as