Gypsy of the Year Competition Breaks Record Despite Strike

News   Gypsy of the Year Competition Breaks Record Despite Strike
The Color Purple presented the best skit, and the national tour of Jersey Boys raised the most money for a single show at the 19th annual Gypsy of the Year Competition, which was presented Dec. 17-18 at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
Hunter Foster, of the recently closed Frankenstein, advertised his availability for the other Frankenstein musical.
Hunter Foster, of the recently closed Frankenstein, advertised his availability for the other Frankenstein musical. Photo by Aubrey Reuben

But Broadway's generosity was the real star, with a last-minute outpouring of checks pushing the total to a new record, $3,927,110, despite the 19-day stagehands strike that virtually blacked out the peak of the charity's fundraising season.

The theme of the event was the 50th anniversary of the musical West Side Story. More than two dozen original cast members were on hand, including Carol Lawrence, the original Maria; and Chita Rivera, the original Anita, who were received with standing ovations by the sold-out crowd at the New Amsterdam.

Collected by more than 70 Broadway, Off-Broadway and touring shows over eight weeks in nightly curtain-call appeals — extended two weeks this year after the strike — the total far outdistanced 2003's previous record total of $3,359,000 and bested 2006's total of $2,992,800 by nearly a million dollars.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which sponsors Gypsy of the Year, had been staring disaster in the face as it lost nearly three weeks of its peak six-week fundraising period. The Gypsy of the Year event was postponed from Dec. 3-4 to December 17-18, giving the various companies two extra weeks to make up the difference. The national tours were able to continue fundraising during that time, and many individuals wrote checks to try to help BC/EFA make up the difference. Local One, the stagehands union, reportedly delivered a check for $10,000 to BC/EFA director Tom Viola, just before the second of two Gypsy of the Year performances Dec. 18.

Jersey Boys (Sherry Company) earned the top fundraising honor, raking in $327,404. Runners-up were the Chicago company of Jersey Boys, which raised $293,673 and the Los Angeles company of Wicked, which gathered $204,062. The top earner on Broadway was Wicked, which took in $208,406. Runners-up were Legally Blonde with $171,058, and Mary Poppins with $120,889. The Ritz was the top-earning non-musical with $139,514. Altar Boyz raised the most of any Off-Broadway show — no final figure was reported.

Among skits, songs and dances, the company of The Color Purple impressed the judges with an interpretative dance about seeking relief from the pressures of the world, winning the coveted Gypsy of the Year award for best stage presentation. The Ritz and a combined company of Xanadu and Stomp tied for runners-up.

The 2007 Gypsy of the Year Competition was hosted by Bob Saget of The Drowsy Chaperone and Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman of Xanadu.

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.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, a favorite satirical target was the stagehands strike.

The cast of A Chorus Line offered a skit called "A Picket Line," setting brief strike encounters to portions of show tunes. A crew with mops showed an awareness of one of the very fine points of disagreement in the contract talks.

Another skit, from Curtains, took the form of a "Family Feud"-type TV game show pitting members of Local One, named Vinnie, Vinnie, Mikey and Pat, against a team of producers including caricatures of Darryl Roth, Fran Weissler and Oprah Winfrey. They had to answer questions about Broadway life whose answers were all insider jokes. "What should it be OK for an actor not to be able to afford on his or her salary?" The answers were "1. House. 2. Food. 3. Tickets to Young Frankenstein." For their part, the stagehands expressed concern about injured actors only to the extent that it affected the show's softball team. In the final round, the match degenerated into a dance-off that ended in a draw.

But there was plenty of other satirical fun to be had.

The soon-to-close The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee said farewell with a parody of Spring Awakening's "The Bitch of Living," reconceived as the "The bitch of aging," supposedly prompted by one of the cast being told they're "too old" to audition for the teen-themed Spring Awakening even though they're currently playing 12-year-olds in Spelling Bee.

Observing that Legally Blonde had been taped for broadcast on MTV, Mamma Mia! envisioned the changes that would take place if it were to be broadcast on The Playboy Channel, BET or the "All-Gay Network," the latter involving oiled, shirtless men.

For its part, Legally Blond purported to show what happened behind the scenes during that MTV telecast, mainly involving overdressed bimbo/hosts breathily misreading cue cards. The effort degenerated into a parody of Britney Spears' under-rehearsed performance at the MTV Video Music Awards.

The cast of Avenue Q presented "7:30 on West 45th Street," a comic indictment of the slow-moving, easily-wowed, MetroCard-fumbling, tourists of Times Square who are "feeling warm and fuzzy after visiting Ground Zero." Credited to Gary Adler, the song was very much in the style of the puppet-human show.

The cast of the just-closed Off-Broadway musical Frankenstein, led by Hunter Foster, poked fun at the confusion between their show and Young Frankenstein, their theatre on distant Tenth Avenue, and the small crowds they drew during their brief run. In talking about the advantages of their show over Mel Brooks' they said, "You could go Friday night and have a whoooole row to yourself!" Foster re-created one of his fundraising curtain speeches saying, "If everyone here gave just one dollar we'd have…thirty dollars!" In a nod to the West Side Story presentation, their skit was billed as "a reunion of the entire cast!" Their show had closed two days earlier. They proudly announced that while a total of only 4,977 people saw their show throughout its entire run, they were still able to raise $10,000 for BC/EFA.

Another just-closed show, The Ritz enacted classic Gypsy disaster legends, as narrated by Seth Rudetsky. One of the more printable involved a production of West Side Story at which Maria accidentally shoots Chino during the final "how many bullets" scene. And then the dancers had to carry out the "dead" Tony by stepping over Chino's body.

Among more sober dance and music offerings, a combination of the dancers of Stomp (in black) and the singers of Xanadu (in white), dubbed Stompadu, performed a number nostalgic for the revolutionary 60s and 70s, lamenting, "I wish I were a punk rocker with flowers in my hair./I was born too late to a world that doesn't care."

Rent used its segment to balance the older dancers of West Side Story with a corps of young dancers called Teen2Teen, who danced and sang karaoke-style to bits of original cast albums including A Chorus Line, Wicked and Jersey Boys.

Dancers Responding to AIDS offered "Summer Study," featuring The Chase Brock Experience, a pastoral gambol set against a garden set borrowed from hosts Mary Poppins. The gypsies of Wicked performed a virulently anti-George Bush dance and song, "Dear Mr. President," taking Bush to task for social conditions and asking, "How did you sleep at night?/How do you walk with your head held high?"

Co-host Bob Saget, currently starring in The Drowsy Chaperone, got off a self-deprecating crack or two ( "[Drowsy Chaperone] is the greatest thing I've ever done — I did 'Full House'") but then startled the not-easily-startled crowd with a streak of blue material bordering on the indigo. His fellow hosts, Jackie Hoffman and Mary Testa, gamely demonstrated their Xanadu chemistry, keeping the audience in stitches with each appearance.

Hoffman claimed she got her part by competing for it Grease-style, through a reality show called "You're the One No One Wants." She crowed. "I won!"

But the highlight of the whole event was the West Side Story 50th anniversary tribute, featuring 28 members of the original 1957 cast.

The event got off to a wild start with a group of young dancers performing a segment of the opening of West Side Story. Announcer Christopher Sieber then introduced "Ken Le Roy, the original Bernardo!" The elder actor sauntered onstage, busted a Jerome Robbins move and snapped open a switchblade at the audience, which exploded in applause and cheers.

He was joined by original Riff, Mickey Calin; original Chino, Jaime Sanchez; original Consuelo, Reri Grist; and some two dozen more, including Pat Birch, Marilyn Cooper, Grover Dale, Harvey Evans and Tony Mordente, topped by the arrival of Carol Lawrence and Chita Rivera.

In combination with a corps of younger dancers, they performed parts of "Dance at the Gym," "I Feel Pretty" and "Quintet" before exiting to a wild standing ovation. All 27 returned at the end of the show to link hands across the stage and sing "Somewhere."

When the Gypsy of the Year winners were announced at the end by a trio of Rosie Perez, David Hyde Pierce and Brian Stokes Mitchell, Mitchell stepped forward and said, "Sometimes we read about history, and sometimes it comes to us."

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