Jerry Mitchell was honored with the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award at the 76th Annual Tony Awards June 11, for his work creating and producing Broadway Bares. The annual burlesque event raises money for Broadway Cares and has, over 30 iterations, raised more than $24 million to help people with AIDS and support the efforts to find a cure.
Taking the stage at the Tony ceremony at Washington Heights' United Palace, Mitchell shared the genesis of the annual event. The future Tony winner arrived in New York City 43 years ago to prepare to make a Broadway debut in a revival of Brigadoon. And then he began to see his peers start to die. "I had to do something," shared Mitchell. "So I'm in The Will Rogers Follies, and I'm dancing naked eight shows a week—thank you [costume designer] Willa Kim—and my dressing roommate Jason Opsahl goes, 'Go dance on the bar at Splash and raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.' And 10 days later, John Ganun, Jason, Troy Johnson, myself, and Jack Doyle put on the first Broadway Bares."
Mitchell went on to mark how much the event has evolved since its earliest days. "[The first year] I walked home with a pillowcase soaking in beer and sweat. It was 8,000 bucks. Last year, Broadway Bares 30—2 shows; 6,000 people; $1.9 million—$25 million to date! It's madness! It just proves that anyone can make a difference, really anyone can make a difference. I probably begged most of you in this room, cajoled, maybe bribed you over a margarita to take your clothes off for me and Broadway Bares. And most of you have. And if you haven't taken your clothes off, you've built the scenery, you've made the costumes, you've done the all the other stuff, which is just everybody volunteering. ... There's nothing wrong with taking your clothes off, particularly when you're doing it in service of your friends in your community."
The Kinky Boots director-choreographer closed his speech quoting closeted, queer playwright George Bernard Shaw. "'I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community. And as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It's a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn full out and brightly as possible before handing it off to future generations.' George, I added the 'full out.' Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."
Mitchell previously won Tony Awards for choreographing La Cage Aux Folles in 2005 and Kinky Boots in 2013.
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