The April 20 presentation of the 13th Annual Easter Bonnet Competition, the culmination of a spring fundraising drive by Broadway, Off-Broadway and touring shows to support Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, showcased Gwen Verdon dancing, Ragtime performers biting the hand that used to feed them, and the big-name trio of Brian Dennehy, Kevin Spacey and Judi Dench passing out awards.
Most importantly, it was revealed that the theatre community'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 top Off-Broadway earner, at $30,700, was Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
The competition, in which performers representing Broadway and Off Broadway shows sing spoof songs or tributes, played April 19-20. A panel of judges rated the April 20 performances and "Easter bonnets" -- elaborately-decorated, show-themed hats -- and passed out awards. For the spring benefit drive, curtain speeches are made after shows to solicit money for BC/EFA.
Winners in the 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 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.
* Cheers greeted the surprise appearance of Gwen Verdon, who danced across the stage during the Fosse number, looking younger than springtime.
* 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.
For more information on the Easter Bonnet Competition and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, check out their website at