The calendar may say that Easter falls on April 23, but for the Broadway community, the holiday really happens April 24-25, when the 14th Annual Easter Bonnet Competition arrives at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Held Monday at 4:30 PM and Tuesday at 4 PM, the event is the culmination of a spring fundraising drive by Broadway, Off-Broadway and touring shows to support Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Various Broadway stars are expected to join the singers, dancers and gypsies who generally put on the production numbers. Also, Eartha Kitt (The Wild Party) and Petula Clark (the Sunset Boulevard tour) are expected to perform, with singer Johnny Mathis -- who just released a Broadway showtune CD -- appearing on Tuesday’s show.
The “competition” has performers representing Broadway and Off Broadway shows singing spoof songs or tributes, often needling producers, current theatrical trends or their own shows. Each spoof generally culminates with the displaying of a specially-designed chapeau using themes from the show.
To raise funds for BC/EFA, curtain speeches are made after show performances. Last year’s spring fundraiser garnered a record $2,096,862 to assist people living with HIV, AIDS and other diseases. Top 1999 money earners were:
The Lion King $142,000.
The Scarlet Pimpernel $104,000.
The Phantom of the Opera $94,000.
Annie Get Your Gun & Miss Saigon (tie) $91,000.
The top Off-Broadway earner, at $30,700, was Hedwig and the Angry Inch. *
In addition to ticket sales, donations and items on sale at the event itself, BC/EFA’s website (www.bcefa.org) is offering other collectibles, including a Miss Saigon gift basket (including autographed Playbill and backstage photographs) and a $15,000 “Spend the day at Phantom” package, including a walk-on part, backstage tour and cast photo opportunities. BC/EFA and the auction site ebay are also taking bids on such items as a walk-on in the touring production of Fame (complete with airfare) and a signed Minnelli on Minnelli souvenir book.
VIP ($150) and Benefactor tickets ($300) are sold out for both shows, but there are still $20 balcony and $30 mezzanine tickets available for Monday and $20 balcony seats available for Tuesday. Tickets will be available at the BC/EFA office, 165 West 46 St, Suite 1300 on a first come, first served basis, or by calling BC/EFA at (212) 840-0770.
Winners in last year’s bonnet competition -- judged by Playbill publisher Philip Birsh, director Leonard Foglia, playwright Terrence McNally, Charles E. Pavarini III and Ted Snowden (major donors in the BC/EFA Angels Campaign), Paul Stevens (of corporate sponsor Continental Airlines) and playwright Wendy Wasserstein -- were The Lion King (third place), Jekyll & Hyde (second place) and The Sound of Music (first place).
Among highlights of the April 20, 1999 event, which had some changes from the April 19 presentation, at the New Amsterdam Theatre:
• A standing ovation greeted ex-Ziegfeld Follies chorus girl, 95 year-old Doris Eaton Travis, who tapped and danced the charleston in the show's opening number, "Hats in Time," based on "Step in Time" from "Mary Poppins." Travis revealed she had danced at the New Amsterdam 81 years earlier.
• Much laughter greeted The Sound of Music children singing "Hey, Maria" to the tune of "Big Spender."
• Director Julie Taymor's international scope was spoofed by the cast of The Lion King in an audition sequence in which performers had to bear the weight of household appliances or endure cactus plants on their skin in order to make the grade for her costume-and-movement inspired work.
• Les Miserables paid tribute to the famous shows that have played the Imperial, their home, including Zorba, Fiddler on the Roof, On Your Toes and more.
• The cast of Miss Saigon pieced together a dragon banner to the music of "The Power of the Dream." Lea Salonga appeared in dragon headdress to sing the final notes.
• Kristin Chenoweth, wearing sunglasses and followed by a reporter, appeared from the wings during the You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown number giving an interview about how success hasn't changed her. (Chenoweth, of course, has gotten rave reviews for her work as Sally in the revival.) She joined in the skit which spoofed "A Charlie Brown Christmas"; for those under 40, it was arguably the most popular sequence in the show.
• Ragtime went out on a limb to imagine the Best Musical at the 2002 Tony Awards: A musical called Drabinsky! starring Rip Taylor.
• Drag versions of Charo and Ann Margret were imagined as future possibilities for Chicago in Vegas, played by the Broadway company of Chicago.
• Cats offered a spoof of "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This" in which longtime feline performers saw themselves working in other shows.
• The Beauty and the Beast company spoofed Annie, complete with Andrea McArdle, while the Annie Get Your Gun troupe, with Bernadette Peters, had the star competing with a drag incarnation of Ethel Merman.
• Jekyll & Hyde borrowed from The King and I's "Small House of Uncle Thomas" (a frequent source for the competition's material, along with Sweet Charity) to show how Madonna is cast in My Fair Lady and how Weissler-like producers make it a hit (the skit was called "The Big House of Commercial Theatre").
• Kristin Chenoweth showed her vocal range -- hitting coloratura money notes -- in the finale song, David Friedman's "Help Is on the Way."
• At the April 19 show, Forbidden Broadway imagined MTV's "The Real World" with Liza Minnelli rooming in an apartment with strangers.
• Performers who received awards at the April 20 show's end seemed grateful for the chance to shake the hand of presenter Dame Judi Dench, who appeared with Dennehy and Spacey.
• Class-act Sian Phillips (of Marlene) was funny -- seemingly without knowing it -- explaining the plot of Hedwig and the Angry Inch in her elegant British accent.
The Easter Bonnet Competition was directed by Sam Ellis and Tom Viola and produced by Michael Graziano and Viola. Guest hosts Betty Buckley and Michael Hayden were not able to appeared as scheduled, and fill-ins were David Marshall Grant and Anthony Rapp.
The 1998 Easter Bonnet Competition raised a then-records $1,793,137, a figure $300,000 higher than the 1997 total. The Actors' Fund is the main beneficiary of the money.
-- By David Lefkowitz
and Kenneth Jones