by Mo Brady
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ two annual fundraising celebrations are both times for the community to showcase their talents and passions for one another. The 32nd Annual Easter Bonnet Competition, presented on April 23 and 24 at the Minskoff Theatre, showed both that heartbreak and humor were on the minds of New York theatre artists.
In a touching tribute, current and former members of the Wicked cast welcomed ensemblist Jerad Bortz back to Broadway. After performing in the show’s ensemble for 12 years, he was paralyzed in a car accident this February. Over four dozen of his colleagues assembled on the Minskoff stage to welcome him back. Bortz, who himself wore the show’s presentation bonnet, rediated love and appreciation for the community that had helped him rebuild his life over the last two months.
In a more lighthearted performance, the cast of SpongeBob SquarePants took on critics of a comics-based musical making it to Broadway by drawing comparisons to Annie (another resident of the Palace Theatre). Staged by ensemblist Curtis Holbrook, the show lampooned Times Square in 2018 complete with a Naked Cowboy (Kyle Matthew Hamilton) and Roxie Redtights (Lauralyn McClelland). Additionally, the skit featured SpongeBob highlight Jai’Len Christine Li Josey belting the “Star-to-Be" role of the song “NYC” for the Gods.
One of the best parts of watching a Broadway Cares benefit performance is seeing stand-out ensemblist dancers in the numbers celebrating the organization’s fundraising efforts. In the opening number, Sharrod Williams performed an incredible rendition of the opening choreography from A Chorus Line (making obvious why he was cast in the role of Richie in The Muny’s presentation of the show last summer). In the number celebrating National Tours, Jack Sippel’s ferocious take on Richard J. Hinds’ choreography was also a standout.
The 32nd Annual Easter Bonnet Competition was a chance for hundreds of ensemblists to perform for a warm audience of 4,000 industry professionals and admirers. From the humorous performances by the casts of Escape to Margaritaville and A Bronx Tale to the tributes by actors from Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, the performance was filled with ensemblists stepping out of the shadows and onto downstage center.