Red Bucket Follies’ Rousing Return Celebrates Show-Stopping Fundraising

An exultant and effervescent Red Bucket Follies returned after a four-year, pandemic-induced hiatus to celebrate six weeks of enthusiastic and dedicated fundraising. The star-studded variety show, performed December 4 and 5, 2023, honored 46 Broadway, Off-Broadway and national touring companies that participated in fall fundraising for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Red Bucket Follies raised a remarkable $4,553,203. The total was announced at the conclusion of Tuesday’s performance by Jonathan Groff, Rachel Bay Jones, and Leslie Odom Jr. and Kara Young.

This year’s top overall fundraising award went to Merrily We Roll Along, which raised an astounding $631,932. Surprising the standing-room-only audience to accept the award was one of Groff’s co-stars, Daniel Radcliffe, who for six weeks energetically led nightly auctions from the stage offering one-of-a-kind show props and other signed treasures.

Best onstage presentation went to the company of The Lion King. Set to spoken word written by Daniel Watts and performed by Bongi Duma, the timely and meaningful piece was directed and choreographed by cast member Ray Mercer. The piece challenged how toxic masculinity often forces men to suppress their emotions, asking, “what happens to boys when boys don’t cry?”

Back to the Future: The Musical earned the runner-up presentation title for an original number that had cast members revving their engines in an audition for the role of the national tour’s time-traveling DeLorean. Representing theater’s most iconic modes of transportation, from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Greased Lightning to Miss Saigon’s helicopter and Starlight Express’ dining car, the cast comedically competed in a “Car-us Line” to earn the starring role. However, there could only be “One Single Car Sensation.” The number was directed by Billy Hipkins and Jelani Remy.

In this year’s opening number, Bonnie Milligan met the ghost of Tony Awards present – the magnetic J. Harrison Ghee – in a delightful dream sequence that ushered in the return of Follies. Traveling through time in a DeLorean, they met Back to the Future: The Musical’s Jelani Remy who joyfully announced, in the style of the Backstreet Boys, that Red Buckets are back (alright!). Complete with a joyful ensemble, spirited choreography and Milligan dressed as a Red Bucket that transformed into a sparkling gown, the number was written by Jed Resnick and directed and choreographed by Andrew Turtletaub.

Seth Rudetsky, host of SiriusXM’s “On Broadway” channel, returned for the 13th time to host the show with his quintessential deconstructions. He thrilled the crowd as he unpacked the vibrato and vocal choices of Broadway’s most legendary names.

Among Red Bucket Follies’ performances:

After eight years of performing the role of Samuel Seabury, Hamilton’s only remaining original cast member, Thayne Jasperson, was fed up of losing to the 10-dollar founding father eight times a week. So Jasperson humorously hijacked the number to transform Seabury into the show’s central star in its most pivotal moments. He took the throne as King George, suffered a dramatic post-duel death as Philip and stole the show’s final moments as Hamilton’s loving wife, Eliza.

Here Lies Love shared “Pasko Na, My Love,” an original Christmas carol with a Filipino twist composed by cast member Angelo Soriano. Despite the song’s heart wrenchingly affecting lyrics about a lost love missed on Christmas, the cast’s buoyant energy and uplifting harmonies brought the spirit of the show to the New Amsterdam stage.

Though it seemed like a dozen Broadway dames graced the stage, it was simply SiriusXM “On Broadway” host Christine Pedi sharing her spot-on impressions of Broadway’s most legendary ladies. Set to the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” her riotous impressions celebrated stars from Barbara Streisand and Patti LuPone to Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch.

Representing Off-Broadway’s hit Here We Are, Rachel Bay Jones shared a poignant rendition of Paul Simon’s classic “American Tune.” Jones’ unparalleled ability to imbue emotion into lyrics had the audience reflecting on the challenges of the past four years, while looking to brighter times ahead.

Hadestown star Lillias White led a bracket of Broadway’s best in renditions of “ All Over Now” and “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” – songs she sang as Effie White in the original 1981 and revival 1987 productions of Dreamgirls. Joined by Javier Colon, Bobby Daye, J. Harrison Ghee, Ta’Nika Renee Gibson, Leslie Odom Jr., Jelani Remy and Kimber Elayne Sprawl, the powerhouse vocals brought the New Amsterdam audience to its feet.

Harmony’s Sierra Boggess took the “Music of the Night” to new heights when she shared a continent-spanning spin on Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera. She delighted the crowd as she seamlessly switched between singing “Think of Me” in English, French, Japanese and a Christina Aguilera-inspired rendition straight from a Vegas run.

Original Sweeney Todd Len Cariou shared the story of when Stephen Sondheim took away the promise of his 11 o’clock number in A Little Night Music, instead writing the iconic “Send in the Clowns” for a different character. The leading light reclaimed his moment when he performed the song to a standing ovation.

Some Like It Hot’s composer and lyricist Marc Shaiman told the tale of his travels with illustrious actor Jenifer Lewis when she surprised the crowd and burst onto the stage. The duo performed two uproariously off-color songs they wrote together during their globe-crossing travels.

The show also included a rapturous rendition of “Stand By Me” from Tony Award-winning Broadway Inspirational Voices, as well as tribute to legendary lyricist Sheldon Harnick from Danny Burstein, Jessica Hecht and Andrea Martin.

Hamilton’s Jasperson directed and choreographed a celebratory salute to the 14 national touring productions that joined in the fall fundraising.

Representing Dancers Responding to AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the Verdon Fosse Legacy’s Tyler Eisenreich led Sam Faulkner and Hannah Sides in “Mexican Shuffle” from Sweet Gwen Suite, a trio of dances originally performed by Gwen Verdon for television performances in the 1960s. The piece was performed at this fall’s Hudson Valley Dance Festival.

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

Broadway Musical

Top FundraiserMerrily We Roll Along$631,932
1st Runner-upSweeney Todd$291,902
2nd Runner-upSome Like It Hot$186,437
3rd Runner-upGutenberg! The Musical!$170,418

Broadway Play

Top FundraiserPurlie Victorious$87,781
1st Runner-upThe Shark is Broken$56,647

Off-Broadway (Play or Musical)

Top FundraiserLittle Shop of Horrors$52,727
1st Runner-upHere We Are$41,478

National Tours

Top FundraiserWicked – Munchkinland$202,894
1st Runner-upBeetlejuice$176,861
2nd Runner-upFrozen$172,284
3rd Runner-upAladdin$151,635

Patrick Page led the audience in a soul-stirring moment of silence to remember lives lost to and affected by HIV/AIDS. Currently starring in his one-man show All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain, Page further shared appreciation of the Bard with a few words from his 30th sonnet, which examines the healing nature of silence: “But if the while I think on thee, dear friend / All losses are restored and sorrows end.”

Other special presenters included Julie Benko, Corbin Bleu, Sierra Boggess, Victoria Clark, Lorna Courtney, Danny Kornfeld, Zal Owen, Jelani Remy and Chip Zien.

The panel of judges who chose the best presentation award winners was introduced by Roger Bart, Alex Brightman and Danny DeVito.

This year’s judges were Museum of Broadway co-founder Julie Boardman, Casey Cott, Courtney Reed, Lucy DeVito, Melanie La Barrie, Kimberly Marable and Ben Jackson Walker. Also joining the panel were Corey Brunish, Gary Wendlandt and Peg Wendlandt, who won their judging spots by bidding on exclusive VIP packages at the 37th annual Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction in September.

Red Bucket Follies 2023 poster

Red Bucket Follies was directed by Jason Trubitt with Bernadette Schoenborn serving as production stage manager, leading a team of 16 accomplished stage managers. Ted Arthur was music director and Charles Gordon was music coordinator. Lighting design was by Anthony Pearson with sound design by Marie Renee Foucher.

Since 1989, the 31 editions of Red Bucket Follies(formerly called Gypsy of the Year) and last fall’s in-theater fundraising effort have raised $98.9 million to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Red Bucket Follies was performed at the New Amsterdam Theatre, home to Disney’s Aladdin. Red Bucket Follies was sponsored by The New York Times.

Photos by Curtis Brown and Rebecca Michelson

Video by Bardo Arts; edited by Isabella Danzi

This year’s program