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52 Shows Propel Easter Bonnet Competition to New Heights


The generosity of the American theatre community shined brightly as six weeks of spring fundraising raised another record-breaking grand total for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

The 29th Annual Easter Bonnet Competition raised a remarkable $4,711,386, making this the third year in a row the event set a new fundraising record.

Easter Bonnet 2015


The grand total was announced on April 21, 2015, by four of this season's brightest stars: Andy Karl, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren and Matthew Morrison.

The news was revealed after two days of Easter Bonnet Competition performances, which honored the fundraising efforts of 52 Broadway, Off-Broadway and national touring productions in song, dance, comedy and 18 ornate, handmade bonnets.

More than 200 of Broadway and Off-Broadway's most talented performers performed in this year's show, which was once again held at the Minskoff Theatre, home to Disney's The Lion King.

Karl, Miranda, Mirren and Morrison were met with thunderous applause from the standing-room audience as they announced the top fundraisers and the winners of outstanding bonnet design and best presentation at this year's show.


The company of Jersey Boys took top design honors for its shimmering crystal-and LED-covered bonnet, created by Ricky Jay Yates.

     


Winning the best presentation award was the company of Avenue Q, which lamented The Lion King’s perennial status as the winner of the presentation award. In "Bonnet of Life," the Avenue Q cast delivered a side-splitting parody of the long-running Disney hit’s signature number "Circle of Life," which left the audience roaring.

Runner-up presentation honors went to Jersey Boys, featuring current and alumni cast members who showed what happened when the legendary show went global. The company delivered amusing international versions of the show’s hits as performed by a mariachi band, a German oompah band, a reggae quartet and full-scale Bollywood production.


Opting to skew younger in casting, Les Misérables set out to find a new Jean Valjean and landed with a star-in-the-making performance of "The Confrontation" by 13-year-old Joshua Colley, who stunned the audience in his vocal duel with current Javert understudy John Rapson.



On the Town
's adorably awkward Lucy Schmeeler, expertly played by Allison Guinn, reluctantly became the new Miss Turnstiles and enjoyed a special dream ballet that called out cast member Ricky Ubeda, the most recent winner of So You Think You Can Dance.


Chicago's current Mama Morton, NaTasha Yvette Williams, led her castmates in a jazzy rendition of the Al Jolson trademark song "April Showers," though they were all engagingly upstaged by Williams' four-year-old dancing twins, Mackenzie Lee and Nile Lee.


Mamma Mia!
, which just announced it will play its final performance in September after nearly 14 years on Broadway, sang and danced to a summer song homage written by recent cast member Bryan Scott Johnson. They were then joined by current and past cast members for a moving acapella version of ABBA's "Thank You for the Music."

The cast of Hand to God, the just-opened hit Broadway play, parodied themselves and skewered veteran cast member Mark Kudisch in a skit about creating a skit for the Easter Bonnet Competition, complete with foul-mouthed sock puppet "Tyrone."


Christine Pedi from NEWSical The Musical added her unique twist to "The Witch's Rap" from Into the Woods, singing it in the voices of Broadway greats Julie Andrews, Angela Lansbury, Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch.

Introduced by Aaron Nelson and Alton Fitzgerald White, Broadway's Simba and Mufasa, the South African members of the cast of The Lion King shared an inspiring traditional Zulu dance and song that left the audience cheering and clapping along to its rhythmic drum beat.

Gypsy_2014

This year's top fundraisers were:

Broadway Musicals  
 
Top Fundraiser  The Book of Mormon
$325,556
First Runner-up  Aladdin
$150,869
Second Runner-up  The Phantom of the Opera
$147,178
Third Runner-up  Jersey Boys
$142,765
   
 
Broadway Plays  
 
Top Fundraiser  Fish in the Dark
$140,374
First Runner-up  It's Only a Play
$120,720
     
   
 
National Touring Shows  
 
Top Fundraiser  Wicked – Munchkinland
$348,552
First Runner-up  The Book of Mormon – Latter Day Company
$347,943
Second Runner-up  Kinky Boots
$265,917
Third Runner-up  The Book of Mormon – Jumamosi Company
$168,545
   
 
Off-Broadway  
 
Top Fundraiser  Hamilton
$96,819
First Runner-up  Into the Woods
$29,084

 


Gavin Creel, who's currently starring in Broadway's The Book of Mormon, closed the show with a new arrangement of "Help is on the Way," BC/EFA's Easter Bonnet anthem written by David Friedman. And Broadway favorite Tituss Burgess, who recently made a splash in the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, made a special appearance on behalf of Broadway Cares affiliate organization ASTEP (Artists Striving to End Poverty) to sing the moving "Because of One," written by Tina Lear to honor Nobel Peace Prize winner and Liberian activist Leymah Roberta Gbowee.


This year's Easter Bonnet Competition original opening number riffed on the abbreviated versions of Broadway shows that play in Las Vegas, "where luck runs high and shows run short." The original number included a special appearance by Hand to God star Steven Boyer and “Tyrone,” and featured Jason Kravits and Jen Perry. It was directed and choreographed by Rommy Sandhu with writing by Stacia Fernandez and James Hindman, and music direction and arrangements by Ben Cohn.


A bright, upbeat celebration of the 17 national touring productions, which raised $2.2 million this spring, was choreographed by Charlie Williams and featured 16 of Broadway's best dancers.


The show included special performances representing Classical Action: Performing Arts Against AIDS and Dancers Responding to AIDS, both programs of Broadway Cares. The all-male singing string quartet Well-Strung performed Leonard Cohen's haunting "Hallelujah." And accomplished young dancers David Guzman and Jacob Guzman enthralled the audience with an excerpt from the whimsical "Me Before We Met," choreographed by Al Blackstone. Bonnets also were presented, in a special number choreographed by Dionne Figgins, for BC/EFA affiliate organizations Broadway Green Alliance, Broadway Impact, Broadway Serves and R.Evolución Latina.


The Easter Bonnet Competition judges were The Actors Fund President and CEO Joseph Benincasa, Michael Cerveris and Judy Kuhn from Fun Home, Corey Cott and Vanessa Hudgens from Gigi, Robert Fairchild and director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon from An American in Paris, Judith Ivey and Rufus Wright from The Audience, and Nathaniel Parker from Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two. Also joining the judging panel were Jake Perlman and Peg Wendlandt, who both won their spots by being high bidders on exclusive VIP packages at the 28th Annual Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction in September.

The judges were introduced by the incomparable Andrea Martin and Seth Rudetsky.


Many of Broadway Cares' most valued friends served as hosts for this year's show, including Adinah Alexander, Jen Perry and Daniel Stewart Sherman from Kinky Boots; Francesca Faridany and Alex Sharp from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; Ann Harada from the original Avenue Q cast; Jasmine Cephas Jones, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo from Hamilton; Rob McClure and Nancy Opel from Honeymoon in Vegas; and Micah Stock from It's Only a Play.

This year's edition was directed by Kristin Newhouse with music supervision by Ben Cohn. Jason Trubitt served as production stage manager.

The Easter Bonnet Competition is the culmination of six intensive weeks of fundraising efforts by company members of Broadway, Off-Broadway and national touring productions. Curtain speeches, bucket collections, autographed poster and program sales, auctions and cabaret performances bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars from audiences. The 29 editions of the Easter Bonnet Competition have raised $63.3 million for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Last year's event raised $4,532,129.

The Easter Bonnet Competition is sponsored by The New York Times and United Airlines.

Photos by Daniel Roberts and Monica Simoes
Video by Reel Time Video Production; Video editing by Mo Brady and Jonathan Frank

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