This past Sunday I gagged over Broadway Bares -- and I thought I'd lost my gag reflex long ago. But the dizzying spectacle/AIDS benefit, celebrating its 22nd year, broke its own fundraising records to raise $1,254,176. That brings the overall total to over $9.8 million since the event's humble beginnings at Splash Bar with seven dancers grinding for tips. This year's offering was called "Happy Endings" and featured burlesque routines based on fairy tales that knocked this ol' fairy's socks off. OK, make that my support hose.
I was a little surprised when I got a call to make a cameo in the show -- I'm more from the club world than the legitimate theater world, and take away my gay card, but I'm not the biggest theater queen. And because I like rough trade, I was curious to see how alluring the cast of strippers actually was. I'd imagined that if their "sexy" game face included jazz hands and the only thing erect was their precision "I'm on!" perky posture, it might be a little too corny for my taste. Boy, was I was wrong!
There were two dressing rooms for the featured entertainers, and they stuck me in the men's room. Before I had a chance to yell "that's transphobic!" my jaw dropped at the sight of the two men leading me, whose bits I'd get to ogle as they changed: droolworthy Kyle Dean Massey is looking for his prince charming, and he finds him in hunky John Carroll. Next door, in the real ladies' dressing room, were Miriam Shor (whom I didn't immediately recognize from Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and Jennifer Tilly. Miriam played the fairy godmother and nailed it with a dazzling winged costume, a perfect singing voice that's as clear as a bell, and impeccable comic timing. Jennifer camped it up as the wicked stepmother, and yes, she's just as charming in real life.
Because performers couldn't be seen before we went on, I couldn't see all of the show or give you a full synopsis. But I could hear the roar of the crowd backstage. They beat the walls over a creative conceptualization of Aladdin that just kept piling on the razzamatazz with amazing choreography, props, and gorgeous aerialists twirling above the audience in next to nothing. Thanks for putting me on right after the night's biggest hit! (The other most talked-about number went to the ladies for a saucy retelling of Puss in Boots whose soundtrack expertly blended Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" with Beyoncé's "Run the World (Girls)."
With 30 genetic females, yours truly spoofed Rapunzel to the tune of Lady Gaga's "Hair" and Nicki Minaj's "Turn Me On." In a massive coiffure and brandishing a giant pair of scissors as a sort of Mama Rapunzel, I whacked off the dancers' long ponytails -- including one who pulled hers through her crotch. Did it make any sense? No, not really. Was it totally fun, impeccably staged and lit, and showing off lots of skin? Definitely! And that's all that mattered to the sold-out, cheering crowds. Every number received a standing ovation -- well, there weren't exactly any seats. But it isn't easy to keep a standing audience pumped up for an hour and a half.
The second show at midnight is always racier, and some of the strippers really let it all hang out. Yes, there are two shows for this one-off event, and let me tell you how hard these dancers work. They rehearse for weeks in advance, but on the big day they attend a rehearsal at 2:00 and then race to the matinées of the Broadway shows that employ them, then back to Roseland for a tech rehearsal at 5:00, then back to their jobs for the evening show, and then back to Broadway Bares for performances at 9:30 and 12:00 a.m. That's dedication! Not everyone can afford to donate to causes, but this cast and crew gave very generously of their time to create these magical scenes, as did everyone involved. Many of the volunteers who work behind the scenes return to help year after year -- and they gladly missed the entire show to man a snack table or check in with me to see if I needed anything, those two tasks being very closely related. Oink! But what really struck me was the sense of community that is often missing from other large gay events -- like the NYC Pride parade, which feels so corporate now that every other float is Verizon or Red Bull featuring straight go-go boys to hawk their wares to gays.
Although I must say, Broadway Bares not only schooled me on how erotic Broadway dancers can be but forced this lefty, liberal, power-to-the-people 99-percenter to acknowledge that -- it hurts to say it... choking a little here -- huge corporations aren't always bad. (Whew, I got that out!) The charitable spectacle couldn't happen without backers like M.A.C. Cosmetics, which has sponsored the event since its beginning and also donates makeup and a slew of makeup artists each year to make sure that all mugs are painted to perfection. You have to give credit where it's due -- to corporations that have the heart to wield their financial power to help those who need it, even if it's Broadway Bares' Mormon-owned sponsor Marriott, which (gnashing my teeth) also sponsored the defeat of Prop 8 in California. Oh, well, different causes, I suppose. There's gay marriage and there's AIDS, and then there's marital aids!
As a cast member, I received the same incredibly moving email that the whole cast got from Broadway Cares' executive director, Tom Viola. I'd love to reprint his letter in its entirety, but it basically reminded us that the reason for this light, sexy, and sparkling event is an ugly disease. We don't talk about AIDS anymore! It's too gloomy to fit in with our buff bodies and cocktail-oriented publications. We know how to prevent it, yet it keeps on spreading. So someone's not getting the message. Sadly, it's often our youth who didn't grow up seeing their friends waste away as my generation did, and who don't perceive AIDS as a death sentence because of new meds.
Tom and Broadway Bares, I applaud your courage to tell the truth no matter how tragic it is, and your passion to help correct the situation. He went on to share POZ's latest safe-sex guidelines and info about PEP, a new drug that can stop seroconversion if a slip-up happens during sex. Isn't that what gay pride is about: caring for our community? I see so much disdain for each other in the gay community based on who's a bottom, who's fat, who's femme, who's an old "troll," or whose HIV positive (wait, is this my Craig'slist personals ad?) that this caring vibe makes a super-refreshing change. I was so moved by Tom's words that I even cancelled the after-party I'd planned at my apartment, which I'd named Broadway Barebacks. Kidding!
The party's over for this year, but it's an annual event that you can either attend or view by purchasing the DVD. With a show this entertaining and sexy, it's a very fun way to care about your people. Personally, I was thrilled to be part of this show-stopping event with tons of heart.