Easter Bonnet Competition Soars to New Fundrasing and Entertainment Heights
By: Ellis Nassour
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ 28th Annual Easter Bonnet Competition, held April 21 and 22 at the Minskoff, home to Disney’s The Lion King, brought the semi-annual six week Bucket Brigade fundraising drive to a soaring climax with a record high of $4, 532,129 raised through the generosity of Broadway and nationwide audiences and special activities at each of the participating 57 Broadway, Off-Broadway and national touring companies. This topped last year’s tally by over a half million dollars. The event has raised in excess of $58-million for the BC/EFA and Actors Fund grants and local and national outreach programs.
Bryan Cranston, Fran Drescher, Idina Menzel, and Denzel Washington hilariously announced the final tally and bonnet winners for design and presentation on the 22nd following a spectacular show produced by Valerie Lau-Kee, BC/EFA exec director Tom Viola, and retiring producing director Michael Graziano and directed by Kristin Newhouse. Music supervisor was Ben Cohn. Jason Trubitt was production stage manager, assisted by a SM team of nine.
Hosts were Brandon Victor Dixon, Jerry Dixon, Hunter Foster, Ramin Karimloo, Andy Karl, Ron Kunene, Tshidi Manye, Jefferson Mays, Cass Morgan, Jessie Mueller, Bryce Pinkham, Christopher Sieber, and Karen Ziemba.
It was song, dance, comedy, 17 elaborate, custom-made bonnets, and thunderous applause led off by a stupendous opening number whose huge cast covered the spectrum of Broadway in all its magic and glory – directed and choreographed by Al Blackstone, who co-wrote it with Vanessa Brown, and headlined by Tony and Drama Desk nominee Rory O’Malley.
There was a surprise appearance by Tyne Daly in a comedy skit by Terrence McNally which featured Mothers and Sons co-stars Frederick Weller, Bobby Steger, and Grayson Taylor. Stage/TV’s Kim Zimmer, who recently finished 15 months on the road with Wicked, helped whining tour performers appreciate life on the road in a show-stopping parody of Avenue Q’s "It Sucks to Be Me," directed and choreographed by Adam Fleming and written by Tim Fitz-Gerald. Cast members from Cinderella danced to Air Supply’s "I’ll Find You" in memory of those who are no longer with us.
One of the show’s mesmerizing moments was a performance by Jon Eden [Dancers Responding to AIDS] of Momix in Man Fan, as a human peacock with a gigantic soaring and flowing silk fan.
The company of The Lion King won best bonnet presentation for an uproarious take-off of their own frequently winning presentations, this time featuring the booty-short wearing "two white guys" from their show aerobically dancing to Frank Stall one’s "Far from Over." After Midnight took runner-up honors for a sultry, crowd-pleasing number set in a speakeasy with gorgeous flappers, their gentlemen callers and two lounge singers who delivered a steamy, jazz-infused take on Abeyance’s "Crazy in Love."
The special award for bonnet design was given to the company of Once for its bonnet, created by Becky Bodurtha.
Jeremy Stolle from The Phantom of the Opera performed David Friedman’s "Help is on the Way," BC/EFA’s traditional Easter Bonnet finale, in a salute to the show’s longtime production stage manager, Craig Jacobs, who is hospitalized.
There were also performances by cast members from If/Then, Kinky Boots, The Lion King, Mamma Mia! and Once and Off-Broadway’s Avenue Q, and Murder for Two.
The judges, introduced by Of Mice and Men‘s James Franco, Chris O’Dowd and Leighton Meester, were costume designer Gregg Barnes, actors Christopher Hanke, Carly Rae Jepsen, Michael McKean, Jim Norton, Patrick Page, Annie Potts, and Anthony Rapp, abetted by Eric Forst and Peg Wendlandt, who won spots as high bidders on VIP packages at September’s Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction.
Graziano was given a memorable sendoff by Viola and special guest Sutton Foster, who spoke eloquently, and minus cue cards, of his extraordinary commitment, passion, and creativity.
The Easter Bonnet Competition is generously sponsored by The New York Times and United Airlines.
With thanks to Broadway, Off Broadway, and tour audiences, this year’s top fundraisers were:
Top Fundraiser: Kinky Boots – $284,170
First Runner-up: Beautiful – $208,697
Second Runner-up: Cinderella – $206,941
Third Runner-up: The Book of Mormon – $181,065
Top Fundraiser: All the Way – $186,424
First Runner-up: Mothers and Sons – $100,102
National Touring Shows:
Top Fundraiser: The Book of Mormon – Latter Day Company – $405,009
First Runner-up: Wicked – Munchkinland – $277,109
Second Runner-up: The Book of Mormon – Jumamosi Company – $209,023
Third Runner-up: Wicked – Emerald City – $182,704
Top Fundraiser: Avenue Q – $28,577
First Runner-up: Heathers – $24,363