BC/EFA’s Holiday Extravaganza Gypsy of the Year Exceeds Wildest Expectations: Donations Set a New Record: $5,229,000
By: Ellis Nassour
The 26th edition Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ annual Gypsy of the Year Competition, held Monday and Tuesday at the New Amsterdam Theatre, home of Disney’s Aladdin, shattered even the wildest expectations. A mind-boggling record amount of $5,229,666 was raised. That bests last year’s record breaker by over $334, 358. The generosity of Broadway, Off Broadway, and touring audiences is magnitudinous.
There were appearances by a Who’s Who from this season’s shows: Two-time Tony and Drama Desk winner Matthew Broderick and two-time Tony and five-time DD winner Nathan Lane (It’s Only a Play), 2013 Tony winner Lena Hall and TV’s diabolical mastermind murderer Michael C. Hall (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), 2013 Tony and DD winner James Monroe Iglehart (Aladdin), 2013 DD winner and Tony nominee Anika Larsen and 2013 Tony nominee Jarrod Spector (Beautiful – The Carole King Musical), and the always eagerly-anticipated presence of 2012 and 2013 Tony and DD winner Judith Light (The Assembled Parties; Other Desert Cities), who once again poignantly reminded audiences of the importance of BC/EFA’s mission and asked for a moment of silent remembrance – the only such moment of silence in any BC/EFA event.
At the Tuesday final, Ms.Light, Lane, and Jackman presented honors to the top fundraisers and also the best presentation amid some hilarious hijinks. Many of you may remember The Girl in the Yellow Dress, and no one at the New Amsterdam for the final tallies, especially quick-with-the-quips Lane will forget The Girl in the Very Very Short and Tight Black Dress.
This year’s top overall fundraiser was The River, which stars Jackman, brought in $549,725. The runner-up, It’s Only a Play, headlined by Lane and Broderick, rung up $464,559. That combined tally in excess of $1-million was a first for plays and set a standard for the record books.
Top fundraisers: Broadway (Musical) : Kinky Boots, $233,544; First runner-up, Cabaret, $217,699; Second runner-up, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, $195,773; Third runner-up, The Book of Mormon , $193,181.
There were performers from the casts of Aladdin, Avenue Q, Chicago, Cinderella, Kinky Boots, The Lion King, Mamma Mia!, Motown, Once, Pippin, Rock of Ages, and Wicked.
A stunning and perilous edge-of-the-seat acrobatic pas de deux by Pippin’s Nicholas Jelmoni and Charlotte O’Sullivan brought a thunderous ovation from the SRO audience. The performance by 16 dancers from touring shows boasted innovative choreography by Adam Fleming. A quartet of future Broadway actors poked delicious fun at Love Letters, in a skit written by Vanessa Brown. Nathan Lucrezio from Cinderella displayed legs of fire in a parody of Michael Flatley and Riverdance choreography with 16 cast members.
"This event, like our annual Eastern Bonnet and Broadway Bares shows, honors the tireless work of the ensemble singers and dancers in theater, known as ‘gypsies,’" says BC/EFA executive director Tom Viola. "The annual largesse of theatergoers is truly awesome."
The Lion King company took Onstage Presentation honors with a unique and socially-charged dance, created by Ray Mercer, which began with the word "Justice" written on a wall. In a flurry of arm movements, artist Clarione Gutierrez transformed the wall into a dove of peace as dancers personified the struggles of racism and fairness torn from the headlines.
The winners were selected by a celebrity panel of judges that included stars of shows, industry execs, and the two of the high bidders from the annual BC/EFA flea market.
The event rung down the curtain on the Fall season’s six weeks of intensive fundraising by the dozens of dedicated volunteers of BC/AFA’s Red Bucket Brigade and all sorts of special activities by Broadway, Off-Broadway, and touring companies to garner support for the myriad programs allocated locally and nationwide by BC/EFA and funded by the incredible generosity of theatergoers.
For two afternoons, more than 200 Broadway and touring shows’ gypsies and special guests perform original, wildly-costumed all-singing, all-dancing Broadway-caliber skits in celebration of the donations raised and the extended wide reach of programs of BC/EFA. The host was long-time supporter, SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s On Broadway and music director/composer Seth Rudetsky, who returned for the seventh year.
Keeping with annual tradition, a Broadway musical was saluted on its anniversary. The opening number, conceived by T. Oliver Reid, Brian Harlan Brooks, and Ben Cohn, saluted the 40th anniversary of Charlie Small and William Brown’s The Wiz, winner of seven Tonys – including Best Musical. The Wiz, directed by the late Geoffrey Holder, was one of the first large-scale musicals to feature an all-black cast. Returning to the yellow brick road were André DeShields (the Wiz) and Dee Dee Bridgewater (Glinda), both dazzlingly costumed, and Drama Desk winner Ken Page (Ain’t Misbehain’), a later Lion. They were joined by Charl Brown (Motown), Carly Hughes (Pippin), pop star Keke Palmer (Cinderella), Christina Sajous (Holler If Ya Hear Me), Alton Fitzgerald White (The Lion King), and Tony winner Lillias White, who took the spotlight for the finale with her poignant rendition of the show’s "Home."
To reach the record-breaking total shows here and on the road offered autographed Playbills and posters in exchange for a generous donation. Some shows had special offers, such as that of Phantom of the Opera, long one of the season’s largest fundraisers, which sold ceramic monkey music boxes, similar to the one seen in the musical and the Phantom’s autograph for a $500 donation. At It’s Only a Play, cast members took turns speaking of the BC/EFA programs and offered autographed posters and Playbills. Then, there was an auction for a selfie with the entire cast onstage in costume. Bids averaged $1,500.
No one topped the crafty showmanship and innovative salesmanship of long-time BC/EFA champion Jackman who became a professional auctioneer post performance at Circle in the Square tempting audience members to donate upwards of $10,000 for the honor of owning tee-shirts he wears in the play. The donation came with an up close and personal backstage visit and photo opt.
Of course, all funds raised go to a great cause. The 25 editions of Gypsy of the Year have raised more than $57.2 million. Since 1988, BC/EFA, one of the nation’s leading industry-based nonprofit fundraising organizations, has collected more than $250-million for essential services for people with AIDS and other critical illnesses across the U.S.
BC/EFA also awards grants to more than 450 AIDS and family service organizations in 50 states and is the major supporter of the social service programs at The Actors Fund, including the HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, and the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic.
Gypsy of the Year was sponsored by The New York Times and United Airlines.
You can still donate online, bid for specialty items, and do holiday shopping for clothing, jewelry, DVDs, posters, much more; and unique souvenirs, such as the Broadway Legends Collection of exclusive ornaments [including Gwen Verdon, Julie Andrews, and Liza Minnelli], at www.broadwaycares.org, where you can find more information on programs and grants. Follow BC/EFA on Facebook. Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.