A roof-raising gospel revival, dancing divas in motorized scooters and even a parade of pooches helped make the 26th Annual Easter Bonnet Competition a memorable spectacle celebrating the incredible generosity and creativity of the theatre community and all Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS supporters.
This year’s Easter Bonnet Competition raised $3,677,855, the result of six weeks of intensive fundraising for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS by 51 Broadway, Off-Broadway and national touring companies.
The grand total was announced April 24 at the second of two Easter Bonnet shows featuring original presentations, songs, dances and 18 elaborate, custom-made bonnets.
Since the Easter Bonnet Competition began in 1987, the event has raised more than $49 million for Broadway Cares.
Ricky Martin, Audra McDonald and Eric McCormack were on hand to announce the grand total to a standing-room-only audience at 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.
The company of Disney’s The Lion King took top presentation honors for its celebration called “Hallelujah Harlem.” Featuring a cast signing and dancing in 1920s period costumes, the original number was a call for coming together: “Everybody rise up and walk/To the opportunity/Rise up to greet the sky/We can become angels of unity.”
Runner-up for presentation was the company of Broadway’s Mary Poppins. After a hysterical performance at last year’s Gypsy of the Year competition, the young cast members of the show returned with more “junior” versions of classics, this time taking on the darkest and bloodiest of scenes from Medea, Macbeth and Sweeney Todd.
The special award for bonnet design was given to Mamma Mia! for its blooming lavender bonnet revealing a world globe wrapped in sparkling LED lights. The winning bonnet was created by Glen Russo, Rodd Sovar, Monica Kapoor, Don Lawrence, Lisa Brescia and John Maloney.
The 26th annual edition opened with a sequined and sparkly send-up of the plethora of religious-themed shows suddenly appearing on Broadway, mixed with a friendly poke at television’s behind-the-scenes hit Smash. The number was directed and choreographed by Rommy Sandhu, with music direction and arrangements by Ben Cohn. It was written by David Beach and Stacia Fernandez.
Humorous skits filled much of the show line-up.
The company of Chicago, which recently celebrated its 15th year on Broadway, poked fun at their reputation for employing older dancers with a side-splitting geriatric version of “All That Jazz,” led by Broadway’s current Velma, Amra-Faye Wright, and complete with wheelchairs, walkers and a motorized scooter. Supermodel Christie Brinkley, who is completing a return engagement in the show before embarking on its national tour, escorted by her Chicago leading man Tony Yazbeck, dashed all images of the “senior citizens” as she dazzled the crowd in the show’s flamboyantly floral bonnet.
The presentation from Anything Goes literally went to the dogs as Julie Halston pandered for judges’ votes by acknowledging that when there are animals on stage, they’ve got everyone’s attention. Then she proceeded to introduce a parade of more than a dozen adorable pooches, escorted by their owners, all members of the Anything Goes cast.
The company of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark poked fun at their own storied mishaps with “Kiss of the Spider-Man” while the Jersey Boys offered a game show-infused peek at the audition process in 3012, Hunger Games-style, complete with a “fight to finish.”
The cast of The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess showed there is much more to their talent than amazing voices: they can dance with the best of them. And The Phantom of the Opera offered an Andrew Lloyd Webber-inspired blend of TV’s Downton Abbey meets The Dating Game, with special appearances by Paul Nolan and Chilina Kennedy from the current revival of Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
The event’s humor and satire was equally matched with show-stopping song and dance.
Maia Nkenge Wilson represented The Book of Mormon in that Tony Award-winning show’s first Easter Bonnet appearance. Backed by The Golden Plates Band featuring musicians from the show’s orchestra, Wilson delivered the jazzy anthem “I Forgive You” about freeing oneself from a troubled relationship.
Dancers Responding to AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares, enlisted The Lion King’s Ray Mercer to create a powerful and dynamic original choreographic work called “Boys, Boys, Boys.” The company of Broadway’s Mamma Mia! turned their sites toward Bollywood for a stunningly vibrant dance honoring women who have fallen changing our world.
An intricately designed trio of bonnets, the “Scenic Bonnets of Broadway,” represented scaled down versions of the spectacular sets from three current Broadway hits. Tony Award-winner John Glover gracefully presented the bonnet from his current show, Death of a Salesman; Matthew Risch joined the parade with a replica of the set he appears on eight nights a week from Other Desert Cities; and young Ripley Sobo from Once even broke into song while balancing her guitar-shaped bonnet.
Off-Broadway was well-represented by performances from two shows. Wade Dooley from The Awesome 80s Prom resurrected acting coach Mary Shennanbargger who shared some of her sage audition advice with the audience. And the company of Avenue Q took a page from TV’s Smash for a dueling rendition of “Let Me Be Your Star,” which concluded with a surprise appearance by original cast member Ann Harada.
A special tribute to the national touring productions traveling to cities and theatres across the country featured a comedic take on life and fundraising on the road, set to Stephen Sondheim’s “Putting it Together,” led by an all singing and dancing Felicia Finley. The number was written by Bob Bray and David Marquez.
Broadway veteran Tituss Burgess sang a rousing and uplifting rendition of the Easter Bonnet anthem, “Help is on the Way,” written by David Friedman.
This year’s hosts included Stockard Channing, Judith Light and Stacy Keach from Other Desert Cities; Gavin Creel and Rory O’Malley from The Book of Mormon upcoming tour and current Broadway cast, respectively; Sister Act‘s Raven-Symoné and Newsies‘ Jeremy Jordan; Nick Jonas, Michael Urie and Rob Bartlett from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying; Corbin Bleu, Lindsay Mendez and George Salazar from Godspell; and Selloane Nkhela and Ron Kunene from Disney’s The Lion King.
This year’s top fundraising award went to The Book of Mormon, which raised $286,725. Other top fundraisers were:
First Runner-up: Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark – $231,997
Second Runner-up: Wicked – $204,777
Third Runner-up: The Phantom of the Opera – $144,899
Fourth Runner-up: How to Succeed in Business… – $144,179National Touring Shows
Top Fundraiser: Wicked – Emerald City – $280,504
First Runner-up: Wicked – Munchkinland – $166,434
Second Runner-up: Les Misérables – $158,816
Third Runner-up: American Idiot – $141,661
Fourth Runer-up: Mamma Mia! – $128,033
Top Fundraiser: Other Desert Cities – $71,965
Top Fundraiser: Rent – $38,265
First Runner-up: Avenue Q – $30,094
The Easter Bonnet judges included Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy from Venus in Fur, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Adam Chanler-Berat from Peter and the Starcatcher, Megan Hilty from TV’s Smash, comedian Lisa Lampanelli, costume designer Carrie Robbins, Frank Wood from Clybourne Park and Mark Anderson, United Airline’s senior vice president of corporate and government affairs. Also joining the judging panel was Karen Walter, who won her spot by being the high bidder on an exclusive VIP package at the 25th Annual Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction in September.
The judges were introduced by Seminar star Jerry O’Connell and Godspell‘s Corbin Bleu.
This year’s 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.
The Easter Bonnet Competition is sponsored by The New York Times and United Airlines.