The dancers of The Lion King, many from Africa, were embraced by Broadway Dec. 2 when they won the 9th annual Gypsy of the Year Award from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
The Broadway company of Rent won the BC/EFA Award for raising the most money over the past six weeks: $106,622, a new record. Total raised by 58 Broadway and Off-Broadway companies and tours) totalled $1,335,313.18 -- also a record. That number also includes more than $15,000 in corporate sponsorship and $41,670 in ticket sales to the Gypsy shows. Last season, 49 companies raised a then-record $1,262,633.40.
See also More Photos From the 1997 Gypsy Awards in US Theatre News.
The awards capped a 150-minute revue in which the "gypsies" or dancers from 20 Broadway and Off-Broadway shows alternately poked fun at themselves and promised to fight for a cure to the disease that has devastated so many theatre folk.
Rent's $106,621.86 surpassed last year's champ, Victor/Victoria, whch had raised $101,930. Runners up this year were Titanic, at $86,503.79, Phantom Of The Opera at $85,027.50 and Miss Saigon at $65,632.50. As Bees In Honey Drown was the Off-Broadway champ, with $16,252.47 in donations. All across America, theatre companies and Broadway national tours raise funds on behalf of Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS in the weeks leading up to the holiday season to raise funds to combat AIDS/HIV and help those living with the disease. The annual appeal began Oct. 15 this year.
Helping that process along is the beloved "Gypsy Of The Year" competition, a variety show featuring chorus singers and dancers (sometimes helped by their stars) from Broadway shows finally given the opportunity to step out and take the spotlight.
This year's competition took place Dec. 1 and 2 at the Virginia Theatre in New York. Performers in each show stage humorous or moving songs and dances. Highlights of each year's Gypsy competition are the parodies the shows do of each other and of themselves.
Though the award is titled "Gypsy of the Year," it is presented collectively to the cast of the show that does the best skit -- comic or serious. Comedy numbers tended to be self-parodies or spoofs of competing shows, full of Broadway in-jokes. Serious numbers tended to showcase dancers, memorialize those lose to AIDS or exhort the audience to greater efforts against the disease.
The event was hosted by Jonathan Hadary of Angels in America and Lea DeLaria of On the Town. DeLaria made repeated mention of her long career as a standup lesbian comedienne, noting with evident pride that this year's Gypsy event was the first hosted by what she termed "a big hunkin' lezzie."
Later, the portly DeLaria executed a parody of Celtic dance, which she titled Riverdyke.
Here are highlights from some of the musical acts presented in competition for the Gypsy of the Year Award:
* The cast of Titanic began their presentation with a choral version of "It Was Sad When the Great Ship Went Down," which segued into a parody of Chicago's "All That Jazz," presented as "All That Ice" : "Come on, boys, why don't we faint and drown. . . in all that ice," which must have tickled lyricist Fred Ebb, who was one of the judges. Poking fun at their own early set glitches, the skit was halted due to "technical problems," but then resumed and concluded with the sailboat boy coming out, as he does in the show, but holding aloft an ice cube tray.
* Les Miserables parodied Titanic with a musical version of The Poseidon Adventure," this time with the sailboat boy coming out with a toy ocean liner, which he proceeded to upend.
* The cast of The King and I presented an extended sequence purporting to show that their show and the upcoming Rodgers & Hammerstein revival, The Sound of Music are really the same musical: authoritarian male lead, cute kids, plucky heroine in an unfamiliar environment, etc.. Tuptim and Lun Tha sang "We were Siamese, now we are Viennese" to the tune of "You Are Seventeen." The skit ended with the cast singing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" as Maria scales Alps in a way that looked an awful lot like Topsy ascending to join Buddha in the "Small House of Uncle Thomas" sequence.
* B.J. Crosby of Smokey Joe's Cafe struck a stirring note by recalling how many names of friends lost to AIDS she's had to cross out of her address book, then launched into a powerhouse medley of "All By Myself" and "Who Can I Turn To?"
* The Grease! cast did the evening's first Side Show parody, trotting out cast members doing impressions of the show's many guest stars -- Brooke Shields, Joanne Worley, Sheena Easton, et al -- to the tune of "Come Look at the Freaks." A pair of Velcroed Siamese twins identified as "Artistic Integrity" and "Profits" were forcibly separated by an actor impersonating producer Fran Weissler, and the former summarily fired. The number was capped by current guest star, Linda Blair, doing an Exorcist turn by lip-synching to a booming Satanic basso that proclaimed "Your mother sells tickets in hell!"
* In a later Side Show parody, Roddy McDowall and Hal Linden, currently alternating as star of A Christmas Carol were presented as the Siamese Twin Scrooge.
* Side Show -- the real one -- offered a chorus singing "I Will Never Leave You," dedicated to those living with AIDS.
* The Scarlet Pimpernel got revenge on the critics who panned their show by imagining them led to the show's guillotine, then parading their heads on pikes while the cast sang "What a Feeling" from Flashdance executing the foot-pounding choreography on facsimiles of their newspaper reviews.
Host Jonathan Hadary joked that he especially enjoyed the head of New York magazine critic John Simon, and kept it next to him as he introduced the next act.
* The cast of Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk cut pretty close to the bone with a running gag about how their number had to be repeatedly delayed because cast members were late, some because of run ins with the law. When four of the chorus members finally performed a flawlessly-executed tap routine, it was under the watchful eye of an actor in a NYPD shirt, who then hustled the bucket drummer off the stage.
* Rent, poked fun at nights when "swings and understudies outnumber scheduled performers," and proceeded to imagine what would happen if Carol Channing stepped into the role of Angel (after the actor playing the part literally and graphically sings his vocal cords out) and Bob Dylan into the role of Roger. Anthony Rapp made fun of his own flamboyant dancing style by pretending to knock out the rest of the cast while performing "La Vie Boheme."
* Turning again to the very serious business at hand, four cast members from Off-Broadway's The Last Session sang a gospel number with the key line, "You can only make a difference, you can only lift the darkness, when you care."
* Countertenor David Sabella of Chicago hailed the theatre community's "swift, strong" reaction to the AIDS crisis and sang a haunting song about how the disease affects relationships.
* The cast of Forbidden Broadway took a potentially dull task -- reading the names of shows that raised money but didn't do skits -- and turned it into a highlight. Three of the ensemble members appeared as Robert Cuccioli in character as Jekyll & Hyde, Carol Channing in character as Dolly, and Nathan Lane in costume as Pseudolus, with the latter two reacting comically to "Cuccioli" flipping his hair and responding to the shows with an over-the-top split personality: "I loved it!. . . I hated it!"
* Taking off on one critic's mangling of a song title from their show, the cast of Phantom of the Opera imagined an upbeat one-step, "Let There Be Music," which they said was the "catchy tune" their show lacks. * The shleppy-looking bimbos, blobs, geeks and greaser characters from Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding allowed themselves to be caught half out of their costumes singing a takeoff on La Cage aux Folles' "I Am What I Am," retitled "We Are What We Are," refusing to pretty up their blue collar show to impress judges at the event.
* Twelve Miss Saigon ensemble members executed modern dance formations to a Stevie Nicks song, built around one dancer flinging back the hands that cover a partner's eyes.
* The male dancers of The Life sang a version of "My Body" complaining that they keep getting shoved to the back of the stage by the female singers, who play the show's signature hookers.
* The event's kitchiest and most surreal moment was supplied by the cast of When Pigs Fly, offering the evening's first Lion King parody as a group of housewives try to present a community theatre version of the Disney musical starring. . . Sammy Davis. The actor impersonating Davis came out and sang Davis standards like "Candy Man," but inserting irrelevant Lion King references. His backup singers were introduced as The Lion King Sisters. "Sammy" rapped about "that groovy cat, the Lion King," and then sang "What Kind of Cat Am I?" to the tune of "What Kind of Fool Am I?"
* By contrast, the actual cast of The Lion King won the grand prize by going the artistic route. The gypsies, many of them African citizens allowed to perform on Broadway under a special union contract, sang and danced "Can You Feel Our Love," consisting of balletic variations on the show's own "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" that ended in a shower of red ribbons and one big red ribbon embracing the cast.
* Beauty and the Beast gamely followed that with another Lion King parody, this one to the tune of "The Circle of Life," reconceiving their show in Lion King style with the show's anthropomorphosed cutlery singing "The Circle of Knives." In the song they chanted "We're the other Disney show on Broadway" and "Don't forget that Beast is at the Palace!" ending with the plea, "It's our bread and butter, the circle of knives."
( Click here for an account of the 1996 "Gypsy of the Year" event.)
Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS was founded Oct. 1987 and has raised millions in the fight against HIV and AIDS and raised tens of millions "through the mobilization of the theatrical expertise of the entertainment industry."
How does such a grass-roots organization fight an international plague? By distributing funds in three ways: to individuals, to AIDS service organizations and to events that raise money for the cause. Each year, thousands of entertainment industry individuals living with AIDS receive money through the Actors' Fund Of America's AIDS Initiative. Projects funded to help PWA (People With AIDS) include those offering food, shelter, transportation and non-reimbursed emergency medical expense coverage. Other annual events include the Easter Bonnet Competition and Broadway Bares.
In other BC/EFA news, the Hiram Walker liquor company has begun a special holiday promotion. According to the League Of American Theatres & Producers, which set up the promo, For each consumer purchase of Drambuie at one of 18 midtown NYC restaurants, Hiram Walker Inc. will donate $2 to BC/EFA. They've already made a minimum pledge of $15,000. Said Drambuie Brand Manager Marshall Dawson, "We hope to leverage our reputation as a popular, quality after-dinner drink to generate funds for BC/EFA."