The 32nd Annual Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Easter Bonnet Competition

by Michael Mahany | 4/24/2018 4:40 PM

Monday and Tuesday of this week brought the Broadway community together to celebrate the annual Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Easter Bonnet Competition. Performed at the Minskoff Theatre, the home of Disney’s The Lion King, the thirty-two year old tradition brought company members from at least fifteen different Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, representatives from the Actors’ Equity National Touring companies, and other affiliated organizations side by side, to perform skits and model their originally designed bonnets, all in the name of charity.


Each year during the holiday and spring seasons, Broadway shows and National Tours collect donations from audience members in the trademark BC/EFA red buckets, host charity events, and offer other incentives like signed show posters, backstage tours, autographed props and more to theatre fans to raise contributions. Every April, all the fundraising culminates in a celebration known as the Easter Bonnet Competition.


For the competition itself, each represented show brings their own creative and original Easter bonnet— and, a related accompanying performance piece, usually in the form of a musical skit or dance. Productions perform and compete for a group of guest judges made up of Broadway’s biggest names— all with the goal of winning community respect by being crowned the winner of the beloved event.


This year’s guest judges include Christy Altomare from Broadway’s Anastasia, Kate Rockwell and Ashley Park from Mean Girls, and Alison Luff and Paul Alexander Nolan from Escape To Margaritaville.


The tradition of the The Easter Bonnet Competition started back in 1986 when, in the midst of the AIDS crisis, the cast of smash hit musical La Cage Aux Folles gathered for an informal show backstage at the Palace Theatre to raise donations for friends and colleagues affected by the epidemic.


According to Playbill, the cast was “judged on poise, personality, and talent with the rest of the company voting by putting dollar bills in a jar for each contestant. The effort raised $1,200 for the National AIDS Fund.”


Lea Solanga (pictured), along with Taylor Trensch, Gavin Lee, Ethan Slater, Lilli Cooper, Ericak Henningsen, Taylor Louderman, John Cariani, and Ari’el Stachel, and more are all set to guest host the 2018 Easter Bonnet Competition. Photo Credit: Tricia Baron


Over the last decade or so, the Easter Bonnet Competition has become an enormous production and beloved community event. Broadway and Off-Broadway shows are encouraged to come together as companies to write, direct, and stage their own individual sketches that feature their original designed and built bonnets.


These days, the competition can expect to bring in upward of six million dollars, and to date, the annual event has raised over $75 million dollars for BC/EFA.


“I love being apart of Easter Bonnet because it is a wonderful way for our community to come together,” Marjorie Failoni of Broadway’s Escape To Margaritaville told Dance Network. “Not only do we raise money for an incredible cause but we also get to perform together in the same space and really support each other while having a lot of fun!”


Cast members from Broadway’s School Of Rock, A Bronx Tale, Chicago, Escape To Margaritaville, The Band’s Visit, SpongeBob SquarePants, The Lion King, Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, and Wicked, joined Off-Broadway’s Avenue Q, When Pigs Fly, and the BC/EFA affiliated group Dancers Responding To AIDS for this year’s Easter Bonnet Competition.


The first performance number in the competition, presented by the cast of Broadway’s School Of Rock, featured a moving song written by Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Peña called Shine. Garrity and Peña, who also performed live in the number with the cast, are student survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting back in February.


Other notable performances included: Dancers Responding To AIDS— who presented a remarkably moving and energetic piece choreographed by Caleb Teicher, Avenue Q’s spoof on the Frozen hit Let It Go with a sketch called Let My Puppets Go: A Passover Tale, the combined forces of Broadway Green Alliance, Broadway Serves, and R.Evolución Latina’s presentation of an emotional number called Stand, and a hilarious sketch called, We Dance, created by the companies of Escape To Margaritaville and The Band’s Visit which humorously commented on the wide array of works on Broadway this season.


The incredibly emotional penultimate moment the evening’s programme brought many in the audience to tears; an appearance on stage from former Wicked company member Jerad Bortz who, after an auto accident in February with his husband, was paralyzed from the chest down. Bortz, who joined his fellow Ozians on stage in a singing of Dear Old Shiz from Wicked, also spoke to the importance of the assistance programs BC/EFA and it’s affiliated organizations offer to performers in need.


2017’s featured Bonnets. Photo Credit: Monica Simoes/BC/EFA


The competition’s performance also includes a nod to the twenty-four Equity national touring companies that collected contributions from patrons all over the country, and donated their own personal time and work to the fund raising efforts. Broadway’s Richard J. Hinds was tasked with choreographing this year’s National Tours number.


Dance Network asked Hinds how choreographing for The Easter Bonnet is different than other BC/EFA events he’s set in the passed.


“I have directed and choreographed for Gypsy of the Year and Broadway Bares but this is my first time directing and choreographing for Easter Bonnet. I have been fortunate to assemble twenty-two of the most talented people I know who have poured their heart and soul into creating our number,” Hinds told Dance Network. “It’s incredibly fulfilling to be in a room creating with a group of artists— especially when it’s for such an important cause.”


MORE: Listen to Broadway’s Richard J. Hinds On Dance Network’s Bartender


“My number represents all the National Tours that are out on the road collecting in cities all across North America,” Hinds continued. “My associate, Anthony Raimondi, and I wanted to celebrate these artists so we created a number that tells their story. We start by seeing a group of performers entering into the theatre, doing their show and then getting their hands on the coveted BC/EFA red buckets to begin their collecting.”

2017’s Easter Bonnet cast and the reveal of the total donation: $6,379,572. Photo Credit: Monica Simoes/BC/EFA.


Failoni, who performed in both Escape To Margaritaville’s and the National Tours tribute numbers, (which were scheduled back-to-back, no less) told DN about the challenge of dancing in multiple sketches.


“Being in two different numbers was a great opportunity and experience—but, it was definitely been a bit of a juggling act,” Failoni said. “Rehearsals for the National Tours number were mostly in the mornings, and we were able to rehearse our Margaritaville piece in between performances on our two show days— but, even as crazy as it all was, it was so worth it! I really love that I got to represent both, because, on top of my current job at Margaritaville, I’ve also have toured quite a bit. I get how hard it is to collect on the road, and I know how much [the touring companies] raise for Broadway Cares.”


MORE: Listen To Escape To Margaritaville’s Marjorie Failoni On Dance Network’s Barretender


Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS contributes millions of dollars annually to its affiliated organizations like The Actor’s Fund, The Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, local and state AIDS assistance organizations, and to national and international grants with help from the donations received throughout the year.


“BC/EFA is an organization that is very near and dear to my heart. I stand behind everything they represent and I love how they bring our community together,” Hinds said. “[Producer] Valerie Lau-Kee Lai knows how to put on a hell of a show, while never losing sight of why we are doing it. It’s an honor to use our skills to help make a difference.”


The final number amount raised for 2018 wasn’t announced as of press time, but Dance Network will announce the totals when the numbers are released later today.