The 16th Annual Easter Bonnet Competition, a yearly fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, raised $1,826,392, it was announced April 24.
Held at the New Amsterdam Theatre — home of The Lion King — this year's competition included an array of skits, songs, dances and exhilarating moments.
The opening number, with lyrics by comedian-writer Seth Rudetsky, featured final callbacks for a "45-minute presentation of Gypsy for Disney cruise lines." The woman running the audition explained, "It's so much easier when you just cut the role of Louise!" The young throng of singers and dancers strutted their stuff, as one small dancer showed she still had the moves even if she had "Little Gams, Little Gams," sung to the tune of Gypsy's "Little Lamb." A thunderous ovation also greeted the 98 year-old Doris Eaton Travis, a former "Follies girl," who offered a few steps of her own.
Broadway enthusiast Rosie O'Donnell also took part in the first number and was then presented with flowers by her Grease! leading man Jason Opsahl, who thanked her for all the support she's given Broadway. A visibly moved O'Donnell commented that "the theatre community is astounding . . . and it's been the best part of her six years on the show."
Urinetown's skit poked fun at itself and much of the Broadway community. "What's Nathan Lane doing now that he's left The Producers?" Little Sally asked Officer Lockstock. "Paxil," Lockstock deadpanned. When discussing those on-liners who are obsessed with theatrical goings-on, Lockstock commented, "Don't blame them. They're just wannabe actors who have nothing to do but sit around and write about Broadway." "Like Ben Brantley?" Little Sally questioned. Sally also wondered, "Do you think we'll win a Tony?," to which Lockstock answered, "If we can’t put out a national tour, I guess we won’t.” Other cast members held up signs that read, "We're a hit" and "56%," referring to the fact that despite good reviews, the show has been playing to less-than capacity audiences. The Mamma Mia! cast presented ABBA songs in a comical variety of styles — country, disco, et al. A few members of the Les Misérables company offered a tribute to Eddie, the Broadway "beat cop" who guards their stage door, and the NYPD officer took part in the presentation by wearing the show's bonnet, a gigantic policeman's hat.
Bea Arthur provided a voiceover for the Easter Bunny — who was unable to attend the proceedings — and then Menopause: The Musical introduced four legendary theatrical characters — Annie, Eponine, Evita and Maria von Trapp — who addressed the change-of-life through song.
Target, the nationwide chain that has been a long-time supporter of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, offered a quartet of jazz singers and then presented BC/EFA with a check for $350,000. Graduate stars Alicia Silverstone and Jason Biggs accepted the check on behalf of the fundraising organization.
Edward Hibbert and Marian Seldes — two of the afternoon's many co-hosts — read a few moving thank-you notes from organizations outside of New York who have benefitted from BC/EFA's donations. The duo then introduced the Naked Boys Singing! presentation, which began with a speech from one of the actors dressed in drag as The King and I's Mrs. Anna. To the tune of "Hello Young Lovers," Mrs. Anna sang, "Hello young actors, whoever you are. I know auditions are few. . . "
The Lion King offered glow-in-the-dark costumes and the song "I'd Like to Teach the World To Sing," rendered by two of its child actors. Charles Busch, who penned The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, arrived onstage in drag as a theatrical diva and recited a comical monologue about an upcoming production of Macbeth in which he/she wanted to star.
One of the more touching moments of the competition followed, a song cut from Sweet Smell of Success, that was sung by Jack Noseworthy, Kelli O'Hara and the company of that show. While the performers sang the Craig Carnelia-Marvin Hamlisch song — entitled "That's How I Say Goodbye" — a video screen behind them projected photos of those performers who have died from AIDS and cancer, including Laurie Beechman, David Carroll, Nancy LaMott and too many others.
Rosie O'Donnell again took the stage to introduce the celebrity judges: Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, Celeste Holm, Willa Kim, Arthur Matera, Martin Pakledinaz, Chita Rivera and Paul Stevens. When O'Donnell introduced Rivera, the talk-show host admitted, "I want to revive The Rink with you next season . . . And unlike Liza [Minnelli], I'll show up for every performance."
Doris Belack and Illeana Douglas, who are currently starring in Off Broadway's Surviving Grace, announced a list of shows — Broadway, Off-Broadway and national tours — that raised money but chose not to present a bonnet. Their speech was followed by Ben Stewart and Matthew Stewart's energetic dance — to Frank Sinatra's "I Won't Dance — and the modeling of bonnets from the tours of Kiss Me, Kate and Mamma Mia!, which were worn by BC/EFA supporters Barbara Ann Klein and Marion Duckworth Smith.
The three stars of Mamma Mia! — Judy Kaye, Karen Mason and Louise Pitre — introduced the company of Aida, who sang a rousing version of Barry Manilow's "One Voice." Brian Hutchinson then modeled the dramatic Proof bonnet, which was followed by a visually stunning presentation by the cast of Metamorphoses, which celebrated the birth of Venus and the birth of love. The company employed large horizontal sheets of blue cloth to simulate water, and their bonnet was a large clam shell that opened to reveal the show's logo, a large sparkling M.
Following Metamorphoses was this announcement over the speakers: "At this performance of Elaine Stritch: At Liberty, the role usually played by Elaine Stritch will be played by Carol Channing." Rick Borutta, dressed in drag in black stockings and white shirt, impersonated Channing while performing Stritch's opening monologue, changing Stritch theatrical references to Channing ones.
Chicago's number — "Revival Survival" poked fun at its employment of several TV/film actors with limited stage experience while celebrating and lamenting the idea that the show may run forever. The bonnet was modeled by the 98-year-old Eaton who — borrowing a line from the musical — joked, "You see, I'm older than I ever expected to be."
The Producers spoofed Mel Brooks' next screen-to-stage venture, a staging of "Moulin Rouge" entitled Mel En Rouge, which also featured a production number with old women and their walkers. However, it was the presentation by the David Parsons Dance Company that received the most enthusiastic response of the afternoon. Dancer George Smallwood provided a thrilling dance that employed a strobe light to striking effect — each time the strobe light came on, Smallwood was seen in mid-air, magically walking and dancing around the stage.
Disney's Beauty and the Beast presented the final number, "Standing at the Fontanne," a revised lyric to the Broadway classic "Standing on the Corner." Beast, which now plays the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, is situated next to the gay strip club The Gaiety, and Beast's male cast members sang, "Standing at the Fontanne, watching all the boys go by" as a parade of muscle men walked by.
As the judges' votes were tallied, Sweet Smell's Brian d'Arcy James offered David Friedman's "Help Is On the Way," which has become the anthem of the annual competition. As James forcefully belted out the song's final verse, the curtain rose to reveal cast members from each show wearing the striking array of bonnets.
Rosie O'Donnell was then joined by Kathleen Turner and Billy Crudup to present the awards. The winners — in order of their presentation — follow:
3rd Prize for Best Bonnet Presentation was a tie between Naked Boys Singing and The Producers
2nd Prize for Best Bonnet Presentation: Proof
Special Award for Bonnet Design & Construction went to The Producers's Chris March
1st Prize for Best Bonnet Presentation: Metamorphoses
Off-Broadway Fundraising Award (Off-Broadway) Company that raised most the money: Naked Boys Singing! ($17,605)
4th Runner-Up Prize for Fundraising Award/B'way: The Phantom of the Opera ($84,433)
3rd Runner-Up Prize for Fundraising Award/B'way: The Lion King ($89,548)
2nd Runner-Up Prize for Fundraising Award/B'way: Rent ($97,568)
Award to Broadway PLAY that raised the most money: Metamorphoses ($102,209)
1st Runner-Up Prize for Fundraising/B'way (and the first time that a national tour has placed): Mamma Mia! tour ($140,077)
Winner of Prize for Fundraising: Mamma Mia! Broadway ($162,037)
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is the nation's leading industry-based, not-for-profit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organization. Since its founding in 1988, BC/EFA has raised over $50 million for services for people with AIDS, HIV or HIV-related illnesses. Go to www.broadwaycares.org for more information.