Broadway’s best spread messages of unity, hope and resilience through satire, song and dance December 5 and 6, 2016, at the 28th annual Gypsy of the Year competition.
Gypsy of the Year , which celebrated six weeks of dedicated fundraising from 55 Broadway, Off-Broadway and national touring companies, raised $4,492,636 for Broadway Cares. The grand total was announced Tuesday by Tony Award winners Cynthia Erivo and Jessie Mueller and Hamilton star Javier Muñoz following two incredible days of performances. Erivo, Mueller and Muñoz also presented the awards to the top fundraisers and best performances across the two afternoons.
The company of Hamilton took top honors for best onstage presentation. In “America,” the cast mashed up the music and lyrics of Bob Marley and Lin-Manuel Miranda and the poetry of Langston Hughes into a call for peace and equality in our country. Javier Muñoz and Syndee Winters led the integration of song and word, with the cast channeling the duo’s sentiments into a powerful, striking dance.
The company of The Lion King was runner-up with a moving spoken-word piece giving voice to those marginalized by the current political climate. The piece, written by cast member L. Steven Taylor and choreographed by Ray Mercer, found four isolated actors, and a dancer expressing their words through movement, finding common ground in fighting for each other’s plight. The piece concluded with the performers declaring in unison, “I will never leave you alone.”
This year’s edition of Gypsy of the Year opened with a energetic dance featuring the return of Broadway legends Baayork Lee, Donna McKechnie and Margo Sappington. The dynamic trio recreated their unforgettable “Turkey Lurkey Time,” which they originated in 1968’s Promises, Promises. Based on the original choreography by Michael Bennett, the updated version was directed and choreographed by Al Blackstone and also featured Ward Billeisen, Ashley Blanchet, Karli Dinardo and Khori Petinaud.
The show concluded with a celebratory send off to long-running Broadway hit Jersey Boys, which closes January 15 after 11 record-breaking years. The performance, written, directed and staged by continuing original cast member Peter Gregus, featured more than 60 past and present cast members, including Mark Ballas, Drew Gehling, Andy Karl, Dominic Nolfi, Drew Seeley, Jarrod Spector and Andrew Rannells. This year’s top fundraising award brings the Broadway company’s all-time fundraising total for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS to a remarkable $2,719,887.
The cast of On Your Feet! gave Rent‘s “Seasons of Love” a Spanish-language twist as they intertwined recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. With slurs scrawled across each cast member’s costume, the diverse cast, led by Ektor Rivera, Andy Señor Jr. and Ana Villafañe, defiantly stood up to bigotry in “This is What an American Looks Like.”
The cast of The Color Purple took the audience to church with a stirring rendition of The Reverend Paul Jones’ Gospel classic “I Won’t Complain.” Even in uncertain times when the days seem darkest, “But he knows what’s best for me/Although my weary eyes/They can’t see/ So I’ll just say thank you Lord/I won’t complain.”
Original Dreamgirls star Sheryl Lee Ralph shared her personal story of loss on Broadway during the early days of HIV/AIDS epidemic. Accompanied in dance and song by her fellow cast members of Wicked, Ralph led them in powerful renditions of Dreamgirls‘ “Listen” and “Family.”
The high-flying talent of Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour presented a fast-paced, emotional dance number, “The Message,” which explored themes of police brutality and political unrest.
Adding a healthy dose of satire to the social activist undertones, the cast of Avenue Q presented a comedic ode to a certain orange-skinned politician called “Fuh Q,” sung to the tune of CeeLo Green’s pop hit with a similar name. The most prominent Democrats also made appearances, including a Hillary Clinton puppet and a caricatured Bernie Sanders look-alike.
The young cast of School of Rock – The Musical parodied Hamilton‘s opening number with an amped-up rock ‘n’ roll version called “School of Rock, A Rock Musical.” The hit show’s cast of tweens raised the roof by playing live on drums, guitar, keyboard and bass, just as they do eight times a week at the Winter Garden Theatre.
Fiddler on the Roof‘s cast presented an amusing take on the future lives of show’s characters in “Anatevka: Where Are They Now?” Through a humourous musical medley, Alix Korey and her fellow cast members delivered Fiddler versions of songs from Evita, Hello, Dolly!, Sound of Music and Sweet Charity.
Two performances featured numbers from “Carols for a Cure,” the theatre community’s annual CD of holiday standards and original songs benefiting Broadway Cares.
The cast of Waitress, including Jessie Mueller, performed the original song “Love is Christmas,” written by pop icon Sara Bareilles, who also wrote Waitress‘ music and lyrics.
Chicago‘s Angel Reda, backed by six members of the cast, performed their upbeat contribution to this year’s CD, entitled “Holiday Melody,” written by cast member Brian O’Brien.
Gypsy of the Year also included a special number recognizing the 17 national touring productions that fundraised this fall. The rhythmic number, directed and choreographed by Kellen Stancil, used an oversized red basket passed among the dancers to symbolize the fundraising efforts that happen in theatres .
Representing Dancers Responding to AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo performed a playfully parodied excerpt of Mikhail Fokine’s classic ballet The Dying Swan.
Here’s the breakdown of this year’s fundraising champions:
|Top Fundraiser||Jersey Boys||$322,211|
|2nd Runner-Up||The Book of Mormon||$202,844|
|3rd Runner-Up||The Lion King||$168,361|
|Top Fundraisers||Oh, Hello on Broadway||$127,633|
|1st Runner-Up||The Humans||$92,776|
|Off-Broadway (Play or Musical)|
|1st Runner-Up||Avenue Q||$24,323|
|Top Fundraiser||Wicked – Munchkinland||$268,802|
|1st Runner-Up||The Book of Mormon – Jumamosi||$164,383|
|2nd Runner-Up||Fun Home||$147,065|
|3rd Runner-Up||The Lion King – Gazelle||$146,600|
Seth Rudetsky, host of SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s “On Broadway” channel, longtime friend of Broadway Cares, returned to host the show for the ninth time.
A longtime friend and champion for Broadway Cares, the inimitable Judith Light led the audience in a moving moment of silence to remember lives lost to and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Other special presenters included the cast of Falsettos – Stephanie J. Block, Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells, Anthony Rosenthal, Tracie Thoms and Brandon Uranowitz, Holiday Inn‘s Lora Lee Gayer and Megan Sikora, and Cagney’s Bobby Creighton.
The panel of judges who chose the best presentation award winners was introduced by the curmudgeonly yet charming Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, as portrayed by comedy duo Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, currently starring as Gil and George in Oh, Hello on Broadway.
This year’s judges were James Barbour, Denée Benton and Lucas Steele, Clifton Davis, Harvey Evans, Todrick Hall, Lisa Lampanelli, Lesli Margherita and Mary Beth Peil. Also joining the panel were Lee Perlman and Peg Wendlandt, who won their judging spots by bidding on exclusive VIP packages at the 30th Annual Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction in September.
Gypsy of the Year was directed by Jason Trubitt with Matthew K. Lutz serving as production stage manager, leading a team of 11 accomplished stage managers. Ted Arthur was music supervisor. Lighting design was by Joel Shier with sound by Marie Renee Foucher and Kurt Fischer.
Gypsy of the Year was sponsored by The New York Times and United Airlines.
An army of 155 tireless volunteers and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS staffers enhanced the Gypsy of the Year fundraising efforts this season. They held buckets and sold autographed memorabilia in the lobbies of Broadway and Off-Broadway theatres alongside company members of participating shows. Over the course of six weeks of audience appeals, volunteers filled 3,492 shifts at 1,121 appeals.
Photos by Monica Simoes and Matthew Stocke
Video by Reel Time Video Production; highlights video edited by Mo Brady