Six weeks of enthusiastic audience appeals, unique memorabilia sales and one-of-a-kind auctions by 52 Broadway, Off-Broadway and national touring companies pushed Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ 25th Annual Easter Bonnet Competition fundraising grand total to an extraordinary $3,706,085.
Since the Easter Bonnet Competition began in 1987, the event has raised more than $46 million for Broadway Cares.
The 2011 grand total was revealed April 26 at this year’s Easter Bonnet, which ended in two star-studded, sold-out shows featuring hilarious original skits and songs, eye-popping dance numbers and the true stars of the show: the extravagantly elaborate, custom-made bonnets from 17 of the participating productions.
The show started in high gear with a Glee-inspired original opening number, pitting the “Broadway Gleeks” against the pop music-inspired “Cheerios,” complete with Broadway’s version of Mr. Shue and Coach Sue. More than two dozen dancers and singers filled the stage in a battle of musical styles that at times pitted classic Sondheim against Ke$ha, Adler and Ross against Michael Jackson.
The number was directed and choreographed by Shea Sullivan, with musical direction, arrangements and orchestrations by Ben Cohn. Lori Barber served as associate director and choreographer with lyrics by Jordan Mann and additional material by Jeff Thomson.
Robin Williams, currently on Broadway in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, started the show with a side-splitting comedic run through of some of the differences between today and 1987, the year of the first Easter Bonnet Competition. Slowing only briefly to take a breath, the Oscar winner balanced his unique humor with reminders about the early days of the AIDS epidemic and its impact on our community.
Some of the most memorable performances of the day brought tears to many in the audience.
Christopher Sieber, co-star of the current La Cage aux Folles revival, shared the history of the Easter Bonnet Competition, which was started by company members of the original production of La Cage in 1987 at the Palace Theatre. “Touched personally by the AIDS crisis, the company attacked the fear, the misinformation, the panic with humor, style and grace”, Sieber said.
As Broadway’s current Cagelles sang a solemn refrain of “We Are What We Are,” they shared the names of original company members who died of AIDS. Then, members from the original 1983 company and the 2004 revival joined them on stage for an inspiring rendition of “The Best of Times.”
Their number ended with La Cage book writer and star Harvey Fierstein donning this year’s bonnet, a recreation of the winning 1987 La Cage bonnet designed by the late Howard Crabtree and featuring Zaza in a massive hoop skirt, which then opened to reveal a miniature scene from the show.
Another moving moment occurred when Tony-nominated choreographer Christopher Gattelli led the audience in a moving tribute to Doris Eaton Travis. Doris was an original Ziegfeld Girl who performed in 12 editions of Easter Bonnet and died last year at the age of 106, just two weeks after her final Bonnet appearance.
As Logan Epstein danced an understated re-creation of one of Doris’ Ziegfeld dances, an audio clip of Doris from past Easter Bonnet Competitions was played for the enraptured audience.
“My goodness how marvelous it is to be back on Broadway like this and to have you receive me the way you do,” she had told last year’s audience. “You just make my life terrific. Thank you. I love you all. Let’s go on with the show. And just dance!”
The bonnet presentation honoring the national tours was a satirical ballet, “Blossoming Kalinka Snowball Bush,” and featured Chicago‘s Michael Cusumano as Russian ballerina Olga Vaghinavah, providing her own brand of advice to the tours of Les Misérables, The Lion King – Gazelle and Wicked – Emerald City.
“For the past 25 years, BC/EFA has been in the forefront of coming to those in need,” intoned the “Voice of God” midway through the show. “And this past year was no different. We’ve witnessed some of the most troubling times in our history … and Broadway has called on its own first responders.” And after a two-year absence, Jen Cody and Don Richard returned to the Easter Bonnet stage as crowd favorites Officer Lockstock and Little Sally. Before their five minutes were up nearly all of Broadway had been toasted and roasted with their own special recipe of hilarious and occasionally jaw-dropping love and affection. From Wonderland to Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark to Chicago, Mamma Mia! and Rock of Ages, few escaped the duo’s attention or the audience’s delight.To quote Little Sally: “Truth is power. We just say what everyone else is thinking! We must use our slanderous observations for good.”
Fashion runways took center stage in two rocking numbers: the company of The Lion King paid homage to Logo’s Ru Paul’s Drag Race and the ladies from the cellblocks of Chicago took their turn at haute couture complete with an appearance by supermodel-turned-Broadway-star Christie Brinkley dressed in a sequined white dress and the show’s dazzling bonnet.
Off-Broadway was well-represented by performances from two shows: Avenue Q, which celebrated producers’ “recycling” efforts, particularly moving Broadway shows like Avenue Q and Rent to new Off-Broadway homes; and Freud’s Last Session, which put a musical twist on its famous psychiatrist’s story.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert celebrated the sexiness of “Burlesque” with a steamy line of scantily clad male dancers in platform heels that ultimately turned their dressing table into a massive bonnet, while the young cast of Billy Elliot, which features 23 performers under the age of 16, celebrated individuality and being who you are with “Express Yourself.”
The 6-foot, 6-inch- tall Zachary James and diminutive 12-year-old Adam Riegler, who portray Lurch and Pugsley from The Addams Family, teamed for a humorous rendition of “Me and My Shadow,” directed by their illustrious co-star Bebe Neuwirth, and expertly played off the comical difference in height between the two. The skit ended as an Easter Bonnet (worn by Logan Rowland) waddled on the stage: its bottom half was the long hair of Cousin Itt and the top half was an elaborately decorated, sparkling Easter egg which then popped open to reveal Thing’s hand.
The company of Broadway’s longest-running musical, The Phantom of the Opera, brought together the extended families of Phantom companies past and present in an acoustic rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World,” featuring moms, dads, kids and even pets.
R.Evolución Latina, a collective of artists and activists inspiring artistic growth within the Latino community, delivered a fiery flamenco dance dubbed “The Passion of a Dream,” which was originally performed at their 2011 Choreographers Festival, Uniting People through the Universal Language of Dance.
In another beautifully simple turn for the afternoon, the cast of Mamma Mia! tapped Sugarland and the Rolling Stones for “You Get What You Give,” combining a capella vocals with dance, ultimately transforming an oversized BC/EFA collection bucket into a beautiful bonnet complete with a flowing red AIDS ribbon and flowers.
And representing Dancers Responding to AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares, was Monica Bill Barnes & Company, which featured three flirtatious performers in a comical take on sexiness.
The 25th Easter Bonnet Competition concluded with Catch Me If You Can‘s Aaron Tveit introducing co-star Kerry Butler, who belted the inspirational Easter Bonnet anthem, “Help is on the Way,” written by David Friedman. During the song, the curtain rose to reveal a stage filled with the colorful bonnets featured in this year’s show.
Harvey Fierstein (La Cage aux Folles), Sutton Foster (Anything Goes) and Daniel Radcliffe (How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying) announced the grand total to the audience packed into the Minskoff Theatre, home to Disney’s The Lion King. The trio also presented awards to the top fundraising companies and the outstanding bonnet presentation.This year’s hosts included Judith Light and Dan Lauria (Lombardi), Heidi Blickenstaff and Roger Rees (The Addams Family), Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells (The Book of Mormon), Ron Kunene and Selloane Nkhela (The Lion King), Jose Llana (Wonderland), Renée Elise Goldsberry (Good People), Jayne Houdyshell (The Importance of Being Ernest) and Maxwell Caulfield (Cactus Flower).
The Easter Bonnet Competition, directed by Kristin Newhouse and made possible by an army of volunteers including an outstanding stage management team led by Valerie Lau-Kee Lai is the culmination of spring fundraising efforts for BC/EFA by company members of Broadway, Off-Broadway and national touring productions.
This year’s top fundraising award went to Wicked – Munchkinland tour, which raised $360,021.Other winners were:
How to Succeed in Business…
The Phantom of the Opera
National Touring Shows
Wicked – Emerald City
That Championship Season
Freud’s Last Session
The company of La Cage aux Folles took top honors for bonnet presentation while The Addams Family was runner-up.
The special award for bonnet design was given to Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. The winning bonnet, created by Moira MacGregor-Conrad and Tree Sarvay, featured a replica of the show’s tiger cage set, complete with an imprisoned stuffed tiger.
The Easter Bonnet judges included Nick Adams (Priscilla Queen of the Desert), Montego Glover (Memphis), composer Bobby Lopez (The Book of Mormon), Actors’ Equity Association Executive Director Mary McColl, director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon), costume designer Marty Pakledinaz (Anything Goes, The Normal Heart), Estelle Parsons (Good People) and Kate Shindle (Wonderland).
The judges were introduced by Rob Bartlett (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) and John Leguizamo (Ghetto Klown).
This event could not be possible without the help of scores of cast, crew and volunteers who make magic. There is an entire community to thank: stage door men and women who would hand buckets, signed posters and credit card machines to volunteers 10 minutes before the curtain to prepare for the audiences coming through the lobbies after the appeal from the stage; front of house staff who made us welcome and often held buckets; the crews, musicians, sound and wardrobe personnel and many others backstage who graciously gave us extra time so an appeal could be made; the casts who signed thousands of posters and Playbills, helped with collections, gave backstage tours and created audience pleasing auctions from the stage; company managers and general managers who offer invaluable support; producers and theatre owners who so generously allow us into their theatres and to be a part of their productions, and, perhaps most importantly of all, the incredible community of stage managers who work so closely with the BC/EFA staff to make sure it can happen reasonably, safely and, frankly, at all. True champions, the unsung heroes.
BC/EFA extends its sincere thanks to all who made these efforts possible – and do so again and again. It is greatly appreciated, valued and never taken for granted.
After 25 years, “what we do together” continues to make a difference.
Members of the original 1983 production, the 2004 revival and current revival of La Cage Aux Folles close the 25th Annual Easter Bonnet Competition.