The Lion King Wins Gypsy of the Year; 25th Annual Event Earns $4.3 Million

By Robert Viagas
December 10, 2013

The Lion King won Best Presentation for the second year in a row, while the new musical Kinky Boots took top fundraising honors at the 25th annual Gypsy of the Year Competition, which took place Dec. 9 and 10 at the Minskoff Theatre.



"Born to the Playground," a nimble dance number in which the gypsies of The Lion King skipped, leaped and whirled over sets of thick jump ropes, earned that show the title honor of the 25th Annual Gypsy of the Year Competition, the second year in the a row the show took that honor at the event.

The Dec. 9-10 Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fundraising event collected a grand total of $4,343,234, up sharply from last year’s $3.9 million, but not quite up to 2011’s record $4.9 million.

Top fundraiser among all shows was the Broadway company of Kinky Boots, whose collection baskets brought in $377,301. The Lion King’s winning presentation, choreographed by Ray Mercer, was offered in memory of South Africa’s late President Nelson Mandela.

First runner-up for Best Stage Presentation went to "Cosmic Love" by the cast of Newsies, in which 16 of the show’s young male dancers wearing black trousers and tees, presented a dance full of leg-swinging acrobatics choreographed by David Guzman, Jacob Guzman, Jess LeProtto, Julian Guzman and Evan Kasprzak.

Fundraising awards were handed out by Cherry Jones (The Glass Menagerie), Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (Waiting for Godot/No Man’s Land) and Daniel Craig (Betrayal).

Top Broadway musical fundraisers were The Phantom of the Opera with $125,373, Newsies with $125,469, The Book of Mormon with $209,943, Wicked with $273,940, and the aforementioned Kinky Boots with $377,301.

Other top national tour fundraisers included Wicked (Emerald City Tour) with $182,926, Book of Mormon (Jumamosi Tour) with $296,279, Book of Mormon (Latter Day Tour) with $314,133 and Wicked (Munchkinland Tour) with $333,086.

Top Broadway play fundraisers were The Glass Menagerie with $161,218 and Twelfth Night/Richard II I with $116,653. The top fundraisers among Off-Broadway shows were Avenue Q with $27,066 and Peter and the Starcatcher with $23,360.

This year's “Gypsy” featured more than 250 Broadway and Off-Broadway performers. Shows that performed original numbers included After Midnight, Avenue Q, Chicago, Disaster!, First Date, Kinky Boots, The Lion King, Mamma Mia!, Newsies, Once, Pippin, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and Twelfth Night/Richard III. Dancers Responding to AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, were represented by an original piece choreographed by Jeremy McQueen for the 2013 Fire Island Dance Festival.

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 show's untitled opening number offered Klea Blackhurst doing her patented impression of Broadway diva assoluta Ethel Merman, upbraiding the corps of modern-day gypsies that they have it so much easier than gypsies did in the old days, to the tune of "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" from the show Gypsy. The youngsters (one of whom paused to take a "selfie" with the Merm) then proceeded to demonstrate how much harder it is today to be a triple-threat dancer-singer-actor who has to commute from Queens on the R train. The number ended with Merman blowing a trumpet and allowing "I stand corrected/I realize we're connected/You're connected to every gypsy that ever performed on a Broadway stage."

Host Seth Rudetsky offered a series of comic mini insider tutorials for Broadway newcomers, explaining, for instance, how much better it is for a singer to end on the sky-high tonic note instead of settled for the easy fifth in the musical scale.

The cast of Avenue Q offered a salute to late Tony-winning actor Michael Jeter, who died of AIDS in 2003, by recreating his sensational dance number "We'll Take a Glass Together" from Grand Hotel, but using the show's puppets to sing and dance about Avenue Q's tenth anniversary.

Kinky Boots presented a comedy sketch in which the show's star, Billy Porter, is out sick, along with all his understudies and standbys. So three other cast members, all with wildly inappropriate physical types, do their best Porter impressions. The contest was won by Dougie Baldeo, a child, who brought down the house with kicks and cartwheels.

The Newsies performance
photo by Monica Simoes

In daredevil acrobatic comedy sketch, the cast of Pippin offered a rat-a-tat compression of the show, "Pippin in Three Minutes."

An unusual number of shows presented dance pieces. In their final appearance at Gypsy of the Year, the cast of soon-to-close Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark performed "Spider-Man Overcomes Demons" in which dancers with painted designs on their most bare skin performed flips and jumps to "Demons" by Imagine Dragons.

"In memory of the hundreds of Cotton Club performers, too brown for Broadway but to great to be forgotten," the newly opened After Midnight did "The Sepia Beauty," in which a woman in a pastel-rainbow skirt sashayed around the stage escorted by man in green pants and suspenders.

The gypsies of Chicago appeared in near-identical suits and fedoras to perform a tightly coordinated series of movements in unison and in succession, sometimes meshing smoothly to perform a "wave," sometimes poking or bumping into one another, all to the song "Good Comrades Go to Heaven" by Solex.

In a pair of recreated pieces from the 1995 "Gypsy of the Year," dance was combined with comedy. Kristine Bendul and Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva did a sinuous dance to "Blues in the Night" in which they clung to each other as he slung her over his shoulders and she slithered snakelike around his body to the stage.

Jen Cody, who usually appears at these events in her Little Sally persona from Urinetown, followed that dance with Kristi Lynes and William Ryall's elaborate parody of the same piece, performed with Ryall himself. Highlights of which included the bald Ryall losing his hairpiece and Cody losing her drawers, displaying her thonged bottom to the Minskoff crowd.

The 2013 "Gypsy of the Year" showcased two monologues that employed clever wordplay. Stephen Fry of Twelfth Night read a story about a man's visit to Dracula's castle, filled with puns on cliché expressions. Dancer Daryl Raines recreated John Salvatore's 2002 Gypsy of the Year presentation in which a dancer talks about his plans for the evening, filled with puns on the names of ballet moves while performing each of those moves. Examples: "Do you want to go fifthing [fishing]?" "What's the pointe?" "See you later, I've got to split!"

Gypsy of the Year is designed to give the spotlight to those who usually stand behind the star. However, in the finale, at least one star got to have his moment. Award presenter McKellen, who often riffs on his openly gay persona, expressed exaggerated delight when the all-male cast of Newsies was announced as one of the runners-up for top fundraisers, and kissed every one of the fit young men who appeared on stage to collect the prize. When the same show also was announced as runner-up for best presentation, McKellen again gleefully attempted to smooch them all.

Remarkably, there was not a single reference to last week's NBC-TV broadcast of The Sound of Music Live!

Returning 1989 host Hadary recalled the founding of "Gypsy of the Year" in some of the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic when, to quote his character in Awake and Sing, "a silence of death was on the city." His co-host Daly thanked the audience and all the people who support Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS' efforts to raise money to help those suffering from the disease. In a season with so many Shakespeare productions, she quoted The Merchant of Venice, saying "How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world."

Judges for the 2013 "Gypsy of the Year" competition were choreographer Graciela Daniele, actress Mary Bridget Davies (A Night With Janis Joplin), actor Brandon Vintor Dixon (Motown), actress Rebecca Luker (Cinderella), actors Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez (First Date) actor Hugh Panaro (The Phantom of the Opera), actor Roger Rees (The Winslow Boy) and two winners of a fundraising bid to help adjudicate, Eric Forst and Peg Wendlandt.