Lion King Wins Gypsy of the Year Competition; 24th Annual Event Raises $3.9 Million
By Robert Viagas
"Tossed Around," an athletic dance number that sent the gypsies of The Lion King whirling over sets of wooden chairs, earned that show the title honor at the 24th Annual Gypsy of the Year competition. The Dec. 3-4 Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fundraising event collected a grand total of $3,902,608, the fourth highest total ever, although down from last year's record of $4.895 million.
Top fundraiser among all shows was the national tour of The Book of Mormon, whose collection basket brought in $478,130.
Hosted by Seth Rudetsky, this year's edition of the revue at the New Amsterdam Theatre offered a mix of comedy songs, dance and honest sentiment, especially from some of the older stars and presenters, who recalled the darkest days of the epidemic in the 1980s — before treatments that have controlled but not cured the illness, which gave birth to the first Gypsy of the Year competition in 1989. The event has raised more than $65 million in the ensuing near-quarter century.
Among the highlights were an opening number that celebrated the history of Broadway dance from West Side Story (including a cameo from original cast member Harvey Evans) to A Chorus Line and a salute to late Cabaret and Chicago lyricist Fred Ebb, performed by members of the combined casts of Chicago and Curtains performing "Show People" from the latter musical.
Ebb's bequest of a percentage of his royalties to BC/EFA has resulted in a reported $6.9 million windfall for the charity since his death in 2004.
First runner-up for Best Stage Presentation went to "Feel Ur Beat" by the cast of Bring It On: The Musical, in which dancers from various shows and periods tried to raise the spirits of a would-be gypsy who had lost heart about finding a job. Their message: "You're never beaten as long as you feel your beat."
Fundraising awards were handed out by Chita Rivera (The Mystery of Edwin Drood), Ricky Martin (Evita) and Katie Holmes (Dead Accounts).
Other fundraising awards:
Top Broadway musical fundraisers: Once with $232,770, Evita with $224,105, The Book of Mormon with $209,265, and Wicked with $165,370.
Other top national tour fundraisers: Wicked (Emerald City Tour) with $357,379, Wicked (Munchkinland Tour) with $252,152, and Les Miserables with $172,290.
Top Broadway play fundraiser was The Heiress with $50,204.
The top fundraisers among Off-Broadway shows were Avenue Q with $24,940 and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
As has become custom, the event featured a vaudeville-like mixture of satirical skits, inspirational songs and virtuoso dance numbers, all performed by the "gypsies," the Broadway dancers who go from show to show and provide singing and dancing support to the leads.
The production was packed with surprises. Rudetsky did one of his trademark "deconstructions" of one of his own youthful recordings featuring a tragically misguided attempt at bluesing-up "Tomorrow" from Annie. To cleanse the audience's palate Rudetsky brought out Broadway's new Annie, Lilla Crawford, to show how to do it right. That brought a huge hand. But then, in an only-at-"Gypsy" moment, she was joined by now-adult Andrea McArdle — the original Annie of 1977 — for a duet on the show's signature anthem.
The long-running Broadway production of Chicago saluted the show's late choreographer Bob Fosse with a recreation of his high-powered "Sing Sing Sing," but not before the revival's current leading man, country star Billy Ray Cyrus, reduced the house to silence with an a cappella version of "Bye Bye Blackbird."
Introduced as "the non-dancing ensemble from Newsies" a group of older adults, young kids and singers bemoaned the fact that they'll never be able to "Dance Like the Newsies" (original music by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx of Avenue Q) — until it dawns on them that they're getting paid the same rate as the strenuously-working dancers. Parody choreography included two of the youngsters gingerly helping one of their elders to do a spin on a newspaper broadsheet, as in the popular Disney show.
Two of the production assistants from Once picked up the guitar and cello to perform "The Ballad of the Once PAs," in which they told their sad tales of trying to get audience members to stop taking pictures, get off the stage — and stop trying to touch leading man Steve Kazee.
The cast of Mary Poppins, which graciously consented to share the New Amsterdam for the event, offered one of the audience-favorite skits, a takeoff on the "Island of Misfit Toys" sequence from the perennial TV Christmas special "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." In this Broadway-ized version, however, it was "The Island of Misfit Shows." Thus, they presented Murray Poppins, a Jewish alter kocker who uses an umbrella to fly — but nobody seems to care. He was joined by the dubious stars of Little Orphan Grannie, WarWhores, The Book of Merman, and, in a swipe at the never-opened Rebecca, the leading character of that show.
Speaking of which, surviving cast members of Rebecca rallied to present "Keep the Home Fires Burning," a lament about their show succumbing to a alleged financial fraud perpetrated against their producer, Ben Sprecher, whose name they pronounced to rhyme with "Rebecca."
In a salute to Les Miserables, shortly to appear in a film version, master impressionist Christine Pedi of Off-Broadway's NEWSical rolled out a medley of songs from the Tony-winning pop opera…as they might have been interpreted by the unlikely likes of Liza Minnelli, Eartha Kitt, Carol Channing, Bernadette Peters and Julie Andrews. As a topper, Pedi demonstrated how Elaine Stritch might have sung "Master of the House."
Among the other shows that performed dances or skits: Rock of Ages, Evita, Mamma Mia!, Complexions Contemporary Ballet for Dancers Responding to AIDS and an ensemble of gypsies from more than a dozen different national tours dancing an energetic salute to the bright red buckets "Gypsy" volunteers use to collect donations at the end of each show.
This year's performance competition judges were John Bolton (A Christmas Story); Judith Ivey (The Heiress); Judy Kaye (Nice Work If You Can Get It); Laura Osnes (Cinderella); Adam Pascal (Memphis); Michael Shannon (Grace); producer Hal Luftig; composer John Kander; plus Hollis Stern and Peg Wendlandt. The introduction of the judges was interrupted by a prolonged standing ovation for Kander.
Celebrity presenters included Katie Finneran (Annie), Steve Kazee (Once), David Hyde Pierce (Off-Broadway's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike), Debra Monk (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Celia Keenan-Bolger and Adam Chanler Berat (Peter and the Starcatcher) and Judith Light (The Assembled Parties).
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