After a four-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Easter Bonnet Competition returned to the Minskoff stage April 24 and 25, and Playbill is bringing you inside the community celebration!
The Easter Bonnet is the culmination of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS' spring fundraising push, which includes red bucket donations and show specific items from participating productions, who compete to raise the most money for the organization.
The 34th annual competition featured performers from Broadway, Off-Broadway, and national touring companies sharing original songs and skits, as well as their unique bonnet designs. It marks the end of a six-week fundraising effort by each show.
The celebration began with a bare ghost light onstage at the Minskoff, and a somber moment acknowledging everything the community had been through. The light was then rolled offstage, unextinguished, to reveal one of the hosts for the performance, James Jackson, Jr. (of White Girl in Danger), who handled the afternoon with characteristic aplomb in a radiant gold porter's uniform with a script binder to match. The second porter, Aladdin's Sonya Balsara, sported a similar golden getup, with all pieces designed by Stacey Stephens.
The prop heavy opening number "We're Back/There's No Future Without U" by Billy Hipkins had the crowd clapping along and cheering when Jeigh Madjus stepped forward as the drum major/COVID Safety Manager, leading a drill routine dance break with oversized COVID test swabs. Jackie Hoffman made an appearance as a replacement stage manager trying to keep Broadway together in the face of increased illness absences.
Duos of Broadway performers presented each of the different parody songs, dance numbers, and skits offered by different productions and performance companies. First up was Parade stars Ben Platt and Michaela Diamond, who noted the irony of Jewish composer Irving Berlin composing the song "Easter Parade" before introducing the company of Parade.
The song by Parade was an emotional affair, rewriting "Old Red Hills of Home" in support of trans performers and drag queen entertainers. Audience members across the auditorium could be observed in tears when the cast strode forward waving pride flags and holding protest signs aloft.
The next offering, "Baddies on Fire" from Bad Cinderella, was a sharp shift in tone, taking aim at the production's negative reviews through a rewritten mashup of "Cinderella" by The Cheetah Girls, and "Girl On Fire" by Alicia Keys. It culminated in the destruction of a paper copy of the New York Times, while members of The Hunks ensemble performed a Chippendales-style dance routine. Their final statement? "Bad reviews can shove it, cause the people love it."
Parsons Dance offered an athletic and evocative pas de deux "Balance of Power." Performers Zoey Anderson and Croix Dilenno brought the audience to their feet through their sharply accented execution of David Parsons' choreography. The piece, which was commissioned by Linda Stocknoff for the company, garnered audible bravo's from the crowd.
Will Swenson and Victoria Clark introduced the next swath of shows with a fun fact: Clark was Swenson's first voice teacher in New York City! The pair joked at length about the young age of their cast mates in A Beautiful Noise and Kimberly Akimbo.
Kimberly Akimbo brought the first Shrek the Musical reference of the day (yes, there were multiple). The skit "Aunt Debra Show Choir Surprise" played off of the oeuvre of composer Jeanine Tesori. It showed Debra (as played by Bonnie Milligan) taking over the Bergen County Show Choir, who had intended to perform "Ring of Keys" from Fun Home at Nationals, to instead make them perform a song of her own invention: "Freak Flag" from Shrek. As the ensemble sang their heart out and threw candy necklaces into the audience, their bonnet was displayed while wearing a shirt that read "Gershwin, Rodgers, Bernstein, Sondheim, Tesori." Legends indeed!
The National Tour presentation, which was choreographed by Lainie Sakakura, was an emotional celebration of the struggles performers shoulder in order to bring shows across the country, while leaving loved ones behind. Titled "Two Halves of Our Hearts," the dance piece was set to a funky rendition of "I Could Have Danced All Night" as performed by Jamie Cullum. The cumulative bonnet, which was designed by all participating tours and worn by Sakakura, was perhaps the most intricate of the lot, extending down to the floor through a connected poncho and broken heart motif.
A Beautiful Noise brought the second Shrek reference, with Swenson and Bri Sudia replicating a moment from the musical before spinning out into a full fairytale rendition of "I'm A Believer," which Neil Diamond wrote in 1966 before it was repurposed for the animated film series. Hijinks ensued, with company members Kalonjee Gallimore and Tatiana Lofton emerging as Donkey and Shrek. Then Tony nominee Mark Jacoby bounded in, ready to play The Wolf in Into The Woods. The performance was capped off by a bonnet that featured a recreation of the dragon from Shrek, carried by Swenson.
Stark Sands (& Juliet) and Kimberly Marable (Chicago) took over hosting duties from there, introducing the next sequence, which was presented by the cast of Chicago. The song honored The Phantom of the Opera, and Chicago's new status as the longest-running musical on Broadway. Velma understudy Mary Claire King performing "Nowadays" in tandem with Ryan Lowe, performing a show stopping falsetto rendition of "Think Of Me," complete with the cadenza.
After a shoutout to the many unions that support members of the Broadway industry, the affiliate organization of BCEFA (Broadway Green Alliance, Broadway Serves, and R.Evolución Latina) presented a modern dance with three calls to action: Be The Change Beyond The Stage, Dare to Build a Movement, and Dare to Go Beyond.
The bonnet parade, which honors productions that designed bonnets but opted not to perform a skit or song, consisted of Some Like It Hot, Little Shop of Horrors, Six, and a Tribute to the Starlite Deli, which has recently shuttered after decades of feeding the theatrical community.
The Lion King, which is celebrating more than a quarter century on Broadway, performed a spoken word contemporary dance piece about Black love and social strife. It featured a complex bonnet fashioned out of hair that was shaped through natural texture afro structures, with carefully constructed braids spelling out the word "love."
Christian Borle and J. Harrison Gee, (both of Some Like It Hot) introduced a presentation by the alumni of The Phantom of the Opera, titled "The Phantom of the Actors' Home." The skit paid tribute to the Englewood, New Jersey residence that provides nursing, rehabilitation, and assisted living care for elder theatre community members. It featured a bevy of Phantom alumni, including Raissa Katona Bennett, David DePietro, Cris Groenendaal, Katharine Heaton, Scott Mikita, Heather McFadden, George Spelvin, Nick Wyman, and of course Broadway's longest tenured Phantom, Howard McGillin—as the Geezer of Music.
Hamilton closed out the song and skit presentations of the day with a dance piece set to "Another Day of Sun" from La La Land, directed and choreographed by original Hamilton cast member Thayne Jasperson. Their bonnet was a golden confection that was electrified—it included a matching gown.
The final performance of the show featured Bonnie Milligan performing the anthem of BCEFA, "Help Is On The Way," as the starry night sky curtain rose to reveal all the participating bonnets atop Pride Rock on The Lion King's set. That final number also included one last bonnet: a ghost light bonnet.
Carolee Carmello (Bad Cinderella), Arian Moayed (A Doll’s House), and Brandon Uranowitz (Leopoldstadt) introduced the judges at the April 25 performance: producer and Broadway Cares Trustee Barry Brown, Kevin Cahoon and Caroline Innerbichler from Shucked, Wayne Cilento from Bob Fosse's Dancin', Jordan Dobson and Linedy Genao from Bad Cinderella, Tovah Feldshuh from Funny Girl, Elijah Rhea Johnson from MJ The Musical, and Paulo Szot from & Juliet.
Winners of the fundraising competition were announced by Annaleigh Ashford (Sweeney Todd), Jessica Chastain (A Doll’s House), Josh Groban (Sweeney Todd), and Lea Michele (Funny Girl). The competition raised $3,601,355 total this year. The individual show breakdowns are below:
Top Fundraiser: & Juliet $231,536
1st Runner-up: The Phantom of the Opera $223,274
2nd Runner-up: Moulin Rouge! The Musical $198,586
3rd Runner-up: Wicked $169,445
4th Runner-up: Funny Girl $166,178
Top Fundraiser: A Doll’s House $176,480
1st Runner-up: Pictures from Home $86,373
Off-Broadway Plays and Musicals
Top Fundraiser: Little Shop of Horrors $54,441
1st Runner-up: The Play That Goes Wrong $43,198
Top Fundraiser: Wicked—Munchkinland Tour $204,090
1st Runner-up: Hamilton—Philip Tour $112,731
2nd Runner-up: Frozen $96,348
3rd Runner-up: Six—Aragon Tour $94,008
The award for best presentation went to the cast of The Lion King. First runner-up went to The Phantom of the Opera.
The award for best bonnet design went to Chicago. Created by Patrick Rinn and the Chicago wardrobe department, the bonnet was an elaborate double design that honored both The Phantom of the Opera and Chicago.
Additionally, the work of three legacy bonnet designers was recognized: Philip Stoehr, who created this year’s opening number bonnet; Ricky Jay Yates for the bonnet of the national tours; and Billy Hipkins for hisghost light bonnet.
Paul Smith directed this year's competition with Mahlon Kruse serving as production stage manager, Ted Arthur as music supervisor, and Charles Gordon as orchestra coordinator. Sound design was by Greg Reif, and lighting design is by Jessica Creager.
Donations raised through the competition will be put to action through Broadway Cares’ National Grants Program, providing meals, health care, and hope for those facing illness, personal challenges, and crises.
The last in-person edition of the Easter Bonnet Competition, held four years ago, raised a record-breaking $6,594,778. Since the fundraiser began in 1987, the event has raised $87.5 million.
Broadway Cares is one of the nation’s leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. By drawing upon the talents, resources, and generosity of the American theatre community, since 1988 Broadway Cares has raised more than $300 million for essential services for people with HIV/AIDS, COVID-19, and other critical illnesses across the United States.