Broadway Bares 18: Wonderland

With a big boost from event sponsor M·A·C AIDS FUND, on Sunday, June 22nd, two performances of Broadway Bares XVIII: Wonderland raised $874,372a new record and more than $130,000 above 2007’s total of $743,787.  

Since its inception in 1992, when Tony Award®-winning choreographer and director Jerry Mitchell – then in the ensemble ofThe Will Rogers Follies – put six of his fellow dancers up on the bar at an infamous “watering hole” in New York City’s Chelsea district and raised $8,000 for Broadway Cares, the 18 editions of Broadway Bares have grown beyond all expectations, raising more than $5.7 million for BC/EFA.

From such hot and humble beginnings, a now legendary event was born. Over 5,500 people attended this year’s shows atthe Roseland Ballroom with over 2,900 in attendance for the 9:30 performance, followed by a second wide-eyed crowd of over 2,500, raising the roof in the name of flesh and fancy at the midnight show. Ticket sales, from VIP to general admission, contributed $457,180 to the impressive total.

On with the show! Off with their clothes!

Drawing upon Lewis Carroll’s  classic Alice in Wonderland, Broadway Bares: Wonderland opened with a chorus of English schoolmates and featured a wealth of twisted and nearly naked guests from beyond the looking glass, including, the “Queen of Hearts,” the infamous “Caterpillar,” the “Walrus and the Carpenter,” the “Dodo Bird” and “Mock Turtle,” along with such favorites as “the Cheshire Cat,” “White Rabbit,” a chorus of “Tweedledums and Tweedledees,” and, of course, young Alice, making her way through an orgy of unforgettable characters discovered down the rabbit hole.

Actress Mary Birdsong (Fame Becomes Me, “Reno: 911”), as the evening’s leading lady, ‘Alice,’ and Tituss Burgess (The Little Mermaid, Jersey Boys) as the‘White Rabbit’ kicked off the show and brought down the house with an opening number written by [title of show] co-creators Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, who penned the sketches that marked Alice’s erotic journey through Wonderland.

In a show of dazzle, razzle, sizzle and spark, highlights included a red-hot “Smokin’ Lotus,” featuring perennial favorites from the Las Vegas-based aerialist-outfit, “The Living Art of Armado.” Butt-tressed by brilliant butterfly wings – and little else – three airborne idols spun sensationally on ropes twirled by muscular male dancers below.

It was almost “off with his head” for Tony Award®-nominee Christopher Sieber (Shrek The Musical, Spamalot), who made an appearance as the tart-stealing ‘Knave of Hearts,’ encountering Alice in hasty retreat from all the kings horses and all the king’s men – a nifty reference for a natural segue way into “Humpy,” in which Tony-nominated actor Matthew Morrison (South Pacific, Hairspray) made an auspicious Broadway Bares debut as “Humpty Dumpty,” literally breaking out of his shell – and all manner of costume – to stop the show with his outrageous, muscular break-dancing set to “The Humpty Dance.”

Slow and flightless, the dodo bird became extinct in 1681 … but she was back onstage, in the shapely form of Legally Blonde’s Amber Efe, shaking out her tail-feather in the aptly titled piece “Dodo Bird,” and featuring a chorus of shirtless dancers in pec-poppin’ suspenders.

Broadway veterans Tyler Maynard (The Little Mermaid) and Jennifer Cody (Shrek The Musical, Urinetown) caught the crowd by surprise appearing in Wonderland as, respectively, hanger-hawking Joan Crawford and dotty daughter, Christina, while Tony Award®-winner Julie White (The Little Dog Laughed, From Up Here) made a hilarious cameo with her mockingly vulgar, yet mindfully keen, ‘Mock Turtle.’ Not to be outdone, Tony Award®-winner Nathan Lane (The Producers, November) and two-time nominee Andrea Martin (Oklahoma!,Young Frankenstein) soon followed, perrrrrrrfectly paired as the “Cheshire Cat” and his lovely “beard,” – er, we mean “wife” – “Mrs. Cheshire Cat.” Only at Broadway Bares!

Continuing on her rounds, Alice next found her way to a tea party she’ll not soon forget, as “Antigravity” presented a precocious field mouse, dancing tea cups, a silver spoon, a cake come to life, plus the highly charged, over-sexed “Mad Hatter” who preferred to find Alice – not dessert – on his plate, proving that there are times when you can have your cake and eat her too.

“Dee, Dum, and Then Some” featured several pairs of muscled, scantily-clad Dees n’ Dums performing a mirror dance and other sexy smooves to a lighthearted Ella Fitzgerald-style tune, while the aptly titled “Off With Their Clothes,” folded nicely into the finale, during which Birdsong led the full company onstage to perform a dance-beat driven medley of John Mayer’s hit song “Your Body is a Wonderland” mixed with “Boogie Wonderland,” by Earth, Wind and Fire.

It Takes More Than a Village

A group of 14 choreographers, brilliantly lead by director Denis Jones and associate director Peter Gregus, put over 210 dancers through their inspired, pant-worthy paces, supported by production stage manager, Timothy Eaker heading up 40 expert stage managers, along with 200 crew and backstage workers, 75 costumers, 100 make-up and hair personnel, and 500 hard-working and generous volunteers, all under the extraordinary leadership of Broadway Bares producers, (BC/EFA’s) Michael Graziano, Michael Clarkston and Scott Tucker, with the support of the entire BC/EFA staff.

An Incredible Financial Success!

Bares Founder and Executive Producer Jerry Mitchell joined the dancers onstage after the final number, taking time to thank all the events sponsors who together contributed over $200,000 towards the event’s grand total. Nancy Mahon, the executive director of The MAC AIDS Fund presented Mitchell and BC/EFA with a check for $115,000 and challenged the stage – lovingly lined with over 200 dancers – with a second check for $50,000 as a matching “challenge” grant for the up-coming “rotation”; Broadway Bares’ ‘end of show’ tradition.

Other generous sponsors included: Showtime’s Californication ($15,000), Creative Artists Agency ($10,000), Aussie Bum ($10,000), Club H Fitness ($10,000), Absolut ($7,000), Mamma Mia! – the movie ($5,000) and The Terry K. Watanabe Charitable Trust ($5,000).

Before the rotation began Mitchell added a second surprise when he announced the donation of $30,000 from “Peep Show”, his up-coming “Bares- inspired”extravaganza to open in Las Vegas in 2009. “I hope to make this ‘Peep Show’ donation a new tradition that – as Bares itself has – grows and grows each year!”

As bubbles filled the stage, Mitchell brought back Jen Cody and Chris Sieber to lead the dancers in the rotation, urging lusty audience members on as they shoved bills, quills and last wills into the dancers’ skimpy costumes.

And just as Alice, who must work her way through a mind-field of characters wild and wooly to emerge unscathed and thrilled with all she has seen, so shall Broadway Bares 19 be back next June to strip, tease and enchant you with the best of Broadway and Broadway Cares.   Welcome back from the rabbit hole.