"Easter Bonnet" Competition Raises $3.3 Million; Recap, Too

News   "Easter Bonnet" Competition Raises $3.3 Million; Recap, Too
Showing that theatergoers' generosity knows no geographical bounds, the national touring company of Jersey Boys staged an upset April 24, winning the grand prize at the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS' 21st annual Easter Bonnet Competition by raising $236,844 in support of people facing HIV/AIDS.

It's the first time a show other than a musical on Broadway won the top prize.

In another upset, the prize for best bonnet presentation went to non-musical Journey's End for a comedy skit — a musical adaptation of their World War I drama, retitled Journey's End: The Underdogs of War. The macabre Journey's End bonnet consisted of a doughboy helmet pierced by a comically large shell and a recruiting poster, saying "We Want YOU."

All told, $3,345,997 was raised by more than 50 participating shows in six weeks of post-show appeals from their respective stages. The record was set in 2004, when $3,435,997 was raised.

Special guests Vanessa Redgrave (The Year of Magical Thinking) and David Hyde Pierce (Curtains) presented the awards at the Minskoff Theatre April 24 following two performances (one on Monday, one on Tuesday).

Other awards:

  • The Broadway play that raised the most money: The Coast of Utopia — $18,412.
  • The Off-Broadway show that raised the most: In the Heights — $26,658.
  • Runners-up for fundraising (all Broadway musicals): Wicked $227,768, The Color Purple ($168,620), Mary Poppins ($164,373) and The Lion King ($163,174).
  • Runners-up for best bonnet and skit: Hairspray, In the Heights (tie) and The Lion King.
  • Special award for Best Designed and Constructed Bonnet: The Phantom of the Opera (designed by Robert Strong Miller). Similar to BC/EFA's annual Gypsy of the Year event, "Easter Bonnet" presents cast members from various shows performing skits, songs and/or dances frequently spoofing themselves and other shows before presenting their elaborate "Easter Bonnet" presentation (literally, a trouper wearing a giant novelty bonnet).

    The winningest skits were from shows that made fun of themselves while sideswiping other shows.

    The cast of Journey's End bemoaned the fact that while they were the "best-reviewed show this season" ticket sales have been anorexic for the "straight play with straight actors." They claimed that their weekly box office take was the same as Jersey Boys — minus "the one in the millions column." Desperate for a remedy, they turned their show into the musical (Journey Boys), stripped off their shirts and even deployed a hand puppet in an attempt to emulate more successful shows. They may not be selling a lot of tickets, but they walked away with the award for best bonnet presentation.

    A great audience favorite was "Small House of Edna Turnblad," in which the cast of Hairspray presented their show in the style of "Small House of Uncle Thomas" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I: "I regret to put before you…Velma Von Tussel!" "Lover's name 'Linc.'" "Ashley Parker Angel takes one look at river and his coolness make river freeze!" When the Tuptim stand-in breaks out of character, it's not to upbraid the King, but to complain that Hairspray "got robbed" in last fall's Gypsy of the Year competition.

    In "Tradizzle," the Off-Broadway musical In the Heights performed a rap version of "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof, complete with breakdancing flygirls in hot pants. "How did these traditions start? Bubaleh, no clue!" Their bonnet was a mega-size steaming New York coffee cup framed by a bridge.

    The Lion King offered one of the afternoon's few serious numbers, "The End Starts Here," in which dancers in colorful loincloths leaped to the South African melody "Thari E Ntsho." Their hat was an African Lady Liberty wearing a crown of sunbeams, like the statue.

    These were the winners, but there were plenty of other gems. Among the highlights:

    Monty Python's Spamalot re-created the number "Burn Her" that was cut during the show's out-of-town tryout. In it, an alleged witch being burned at the stake sings about how her heart (and other parts) were literally "burning for you" atop of pile of flaming fagots (that means bundles of firewood, as they helpfully explained) while the chorus did a production number.

    Anne Runolfsson, currently the diva in The Phantom of the Opera, duetted on Irving Berlin's "Anything You Can Do" with her daughter, Tess Adams, currently playing the tiny orphan in Les Misérables on the same block of 44th Street. The daughter seemed to be pulling ahead until the verse about who can hold a note longer, which the exasperated Runolfsson cut short by cramming a handkerchief into the prodigy's mouth.

    The most beautiful skit may have been The Color Purple's "Pretty Ladies Who Beautifully Lunch," in which the female cast members sang soulful versions of Stephen Sondheim's "Pretty Women" and "The Ladies Who Lunch" while dancing around a picnic table in colorful sun dresses.

    The cast of Wicked performed a country-western version of "One Short Day," led by "Glinda-Jean" in a Texas-size country hairdo, and ending with the unveiling of a giant green cowboy hat/Easter bonnet.

    The musician-actors of Company saluted A Chorus Line by re-creating bits of the latter show filled with references to their instruments. Instead of "Am I my resume?" it was "Am I my piccolo?" Instead of the, um, usual lyric to "Dance 10, Looks 3," they sang of "reeds and brass." Their bonnet was an inverted tuba.

    The opening number deserves special mention. Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell of the Off-Broadway musical [title of show] tried brainstorming ideas for an opening number while each of their concepts was enacted, however briefly, behind them. At one point they said they could try to get Julia Murney of Wicked to rise up out of the stage, and do a big solo — at which point the stage opened and Murney herself began to appear. But then they agreed that they would never be able to get her, and a confused-looking Murney sank back into darkness without ever singing a note.

    Perennial favorites Officer Lockstock and doll-toting Little Sally (Don Richard and Jennifer Cody), characters from the long-closed Urinetown, not only rolled out one of their patented snarkfests — after the Hairspray cast begged someone to "find them a job," — but Cody and Richard were awarded the star spot, second from last. They rewarded this placement by riffing on a the recent Time Out magazine story, "20 Dirty Secrets About NY Theater," saying the magazine had no business making "vicious attacks" at the perceived inadequacies of Broadway's stars and chorines. "That's our job," complained Little Sally.

    Among other harpoons launched into the sides of old Broadway: Noting that the "Encores!" series is stretching the definition of long-closed musicals by doing Gypsy this summer, they predicted that next season they would do The Producers, Beauty and the Beast…and Xanadu. Bemoaning changes in the Actors Equity health plan, Little Sally complained, "My benefits got beat up faster than Don Imus at a Color Purple cast party."

    Despite the hijinks, there was an unusually elegiac tone to some of the proceedings, as Beauty and the Beast and the just-closed The Producers gave their final "Easter Bonnet" presentations. Beauty's bonnet was designed to look like a huge version of the rose that is one of the show's symbols. At the last moment of their presentation, a single petal fell off the hat, as it does to the magical rose in the show.

    Two traditions were skipped this year: the event was held at the Minskoff Theatre instead of the New Amsterdam, and former Ziegfeld Girl Doris Eaton Travis, now 103, was unable to appear, though a two-page tribute to her career was included in the Playbill.

    Among judges for this year's event were Fantasticks author Tom Jones, Mary Poppins composer Richard Sherman, Chicago actress Bebe Neuwirth, A Chorus Line choreographer Baayork Lee and The Year of Magical Thinking author Joan Didion.

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