Parodies and Powerful Song and Dance Illuminate 2019 Red Bucket Follies

Six weeks of enthusiastic fundraising erupted into two extraordinary performances of lighthearted parodies, inspiring calls-to-action and exceptional dance at this year’s Red Bucket Follies. The show, which was performed December 9 and 10, 2019, celebrated the 58 Broadway, Off-Broadway and national touring companies that participated in fall fundraising for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Red Bucket Follies raised a remarkable $5,631,888, the second-highest fall fundraising total in Broadway Cares history. The total was announced at the conclusion of Tuesday’s performance by Little Shop of Horrors‘ Christian Borle and Jonathan Groff and Tina – The Tina Turner Musical‘s Adrienne Warren and Daniel J. Watts.

This year’s top overall fundraising award went to the Hamilton – And Peggy tour, which raised an astounding $434,841. That tour also won the spring’s top overall fundraising award at the Easter Bonnet Competition

Borle, Groff, Warren and Watts also announced the judges’ picks for best onstage presentations. Off-Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof – in Yiddish took top honors. In its number, the company added some chutzpah to the holiday season with the “Radio City Chanukah Spectacular.” The keenly tuned parody, complete with Chanukah Harry, a dancing camel and a dreidel-infused Nutcracker, culminated in the glittering arrival of the high-kicking Menorah-kettes.

The runner-up was the company of The Great Society with a folk rendition of classic protest song “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.” Staying true to the play’s political roots, the piece was adapted by cast members Marc Kudisch and Tramell Tillman. Interspersed through the motivating song were quotes from Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman and others. The song ended with a resonant quote from Congressman Elijah Cummings, who challenged, shortly before his death this year, “In 2019, what did we do to keep our democracy intact?”

This year’s opening number was a sparkling celebration of the more than 200 actors making their Broadway debuts this season. The performance featured 60 newcomers, from a bevy of Broadway’s brightest children to adults stepping into the spotlight. Featured performers included Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, Clinton Greenspan, Gizel Jiménez, Jeigh Madjus, Reneé Rapp and Marissa Rosen. The full-hearted number, which received a standing ovation, was written by Michael Liscio Jr. and Jed Resnick and directed and choreographed by Richard J. Hinds.

After looking across Broadway’s impressive landscape, the cast of Chicago asked the question, “What Would Fosse Do?” if he had a hand in today’s blockbusters. The answer was an inspired twist on three of theater’s biggest hits, delivering classic Fosse choreography and his slinky, sultry treatment to The Book of Mormon, Mean Girls and Hamilton.

Frozen went “Into the Unknown” with a breathtaking dance performance set to the hit song from Frozen 2. In a piece choreographed by cast member Donald Jones Jr., the company shared a contemporary ballet as they journeyed forward with elegant lifts and daring leaps.

In a funk-fueled piece choreographed by cast member Karla Puno Garcia, the company of Hamilton leveraged the smooth, bass-filled sounds of indy band Vulfpeck’s “Lost My Treble Long Ago” to get the entire audience grooving.

Many Broadway performers, with their eight-shows-a-week schedule, find themselves far from family and their familial customs during the holidays. To celebrate and honor one of these special cultures, The Lion King cast member Kellen Stancil choreographed and performed a traditional Hawaiian dance, sharing the unique connection between musician and dancer.

We found the cast of Dear Evan Hansen in the midst of auditioning actors for its titular star. The finalists had to complete a series of vital tasks for the role, including Evan’s distinctive dance style and crying on cue in the fastest time. Poking fun at the show’s current fresh-out-of-high-school Evan, the role ultimately went to a baby still in the womb.

Iconic rocker David Byrne was joined by the company of his Broadway debut American Utopia to perform “God Draws Straight” from Byrne’s 2013 hit Off-Broadway musical Here Lies Love. Appearing with two drummers and two other vocalists, both this moving piece and his current show speak to the power of connection and hope for a better future.

The three child actors in The Rose Tattoo – Alexander Bello, Isabella Iannelli and Jacob Michael Laval – comically lamented their lack of onstage time and inability to understand the adult-centric intricacies of Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece through playful parodies of kid-friendly songs from Matilda the Musical, Annie and Oliver!.

Paying homage to legendary producer, director, and 21-time Tony Award winner Hal Prince, who passed away earlier this year, George Lee Andrews and Elizabeth Welch shared a touching tribute to the man who made their show, The Phantom of the Opera, a reality.

From an Off-Broadway theater not so far, far away, Scott Richard Foster, Emily McNamara and Justin Sargent from A Musical About Star Wars presented an out-of-this-world rap parody. Borrowing a beat from Hamilton, the trio summarized the inherent, yet beloved, absurdity of the Star Wars universe.

The show concluded with the Grammy Award nominated Broadway Inspirational Voices sharing a rapturous and rousing rendition of “A Whole New World” from Aladdin.

To celebrate the efforts of the 23 national touring productions that joined in the fall fundraising, Peter Gregus directed and choreographed an energetic salute set to The Cheetah Girls’ rendition of “Route 66.”

Seth Rudetsky, host of SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s “On Broadway” channel and a longtime friend of Broadway Cares, returned for the 12th time to host the show with his quintessential deconstructions. Rudetsky was joined for one bit by Christine Pedi to honor the 40th anniversary of Evita. Through a medley that interpreted the songs of Evita, Pedi shared an impressive library of impersonations that included spot-on imitations of Angela Lansbury, Julie Andrews, Bernadette Peters, Liza Minnelli, Ethel Merman and more.

Representing Dancers Responding to AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Moulin Rouge! The Musical‘s Khori Petinaud performed choreographer Josh Prince’s Housework.  The hilarious feminist proclamation, set to a spoken word recording of Carol Channing, chronicled the unfair expectation that housewives should relish their cleaning responsibilities. The piece was performed at this fall’s Hudson Valley Dance Festival.

Here’s the breakdown of this year’s fundraising leaders:

Top Overall Fundraiser Hamilton – And Peggy $434,841
Broadway Musical
Top Fundraiser Moulin Rouge! The Musical $315,746
1st Runner-Up Hadestown $238,230
2nd Runner-Up Hamilton $215,088
3rd Runner-Up Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations $185,780
Broadway Plays
Top Fundraiser Betrayal $107,827
1st Runner-Up The Great Society $67,103
Off-Broadway (Play or Musical)
Top Fundraiser Little Shop of Horrors $74,694
1st Runner-Up Fiddler on the Roof – in Yiddish $68,295
National Tours
Top Fundraiser Hamilton – Angelica $339,466
1st Runner-Up Dear Evan Hansen $272,609
2nd Runner-Up Come From Away $253,071
3rd Runner-Up Wicked – Munchkinland $219,780

Longtime Broadway Cares supporter and Hadestown cast member André De Shields led the audience in a moving moment of silence to remember lives lost to and affected by HIV/AIDS and “to ensure that all are embraced in times of crisis, isolation and injustice.” After sharing a moving personal story about his connection to the cause, De Shields said, “I’m showing up today because Broadway Cares showed up for me.”

Other special presenters included Moulin Rouge! The Musical‘s Tam Mutu, Sahr Ngaujah, Karen Olivo and Aaron Tveit; Jersey Boys‘ CJ Pawlikowski and John Rochette; Rock of Ages‘ CJ Eldred and Ashley Matthews; and The Play That Goes Wrong‘s Ellie MacPherson and Sid Solomon.

The panel of judges who chose the best presentation award winners was introduced by the stars of Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations: James Harkness, Jawan Jackson and Ephraim Sykes.

Red Bucket Follies 2019 posterThis year’s judges were Derren Brown from Derren Brown: Secret; Andrew Burnap, Samuel H. Levine and Kyle Soller from The Inheritance; Damon Daunno and Rebecca Naomi Jones from Oklahoma!; Michael Benjamin Washington from Fires in the Mirror; and Sharon Wheatley and Astrid Van Wieren from Come From Away. Also joining the panel were Leslie Mayer and Peg Wendlandt, who won their judging spots by bidding on exclusive VIP packages at the 33rd Annual Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction in September.

Red Bucket Follies was directed by Jason Trubitt with Matthew Kurtis Lutz serving as production stage manager, leading a team of 14 accomplished stage managers. Ted Arthur was music director and Charles Gordon was music coordinator. Lighting design was by Aaron Porter with sound by Marie Renee Foucher and Kurt Fischer.

Since 1989, Red Bucket Follies, and its predecessor Gypsy of the Year, has raised $87.6 million to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Photos by Allison Stock and Monica Simoes
Video by Reel Time Video Production; highlights edited by Mo Brady

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