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May 16, 2008
tome illustrates 17 years of
All right, a quick trivia question: What event, in its 17 years of existence, has raised almost $5 million for AIDS services?
After humming the theme to Jeopardy! for the appropriate amount of time, call out the answer. You don’t have to phrase it in the form of a question--this isn’t that formal a quiz.
Now answer honestly. Who said Broadway Bares, the risqué revue started in 1992 by choreographer Jerry Mitchell?
The inaugural benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS was held in a New York City bar on a drizzly April night. They had to add a second performance to accommodate the crowd lined up around the block.
Mitchell directed Broadway Bares for the first 13 years, then handed it off to Jodi Moccia for a year and Denis Jones for the last three years.
This year’s event will be held on June 22 in New York, but all it takes to enjoy the magic of this “family”--but not family--show is a coffee table and $55.
Broadway Bares: Backstage Pass (Jerry Mitchell, Rex Bonomelli and Michael Graziano, Universe, hardcover) is a jaunt through almost two decades of one small facet of Broadway reacting to the plague that decimated its best and brightest, in words and photos as bright and sparkling as the hearts of those who participated in those 17 benefits.
“Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Michael Graziano have given me an unexpected place to grow as an artist in the time of AIDS,” writes Mitchell in “Sass, Class and Ass,” the introduction to the book. “It’s a place every director-choreographer dreams of working. A place where you are surrounded by a staff of willing participants determined to go the distance.”
“They have followed me into the so-called naked abyss,” he continues. “It’s a deep dark hole but look at the riches we have found!”
The first event in 1992 raised $8,000. Last year’s installment, with the theme “Myth-behavior,” raised $743,000. Lord only know what the 18th production, “Wonderland,” will bring.
What we have, right here and now, is a marvelous volume illustrating the wit, cleverness, sexiness and playfulness of the Great White Way at its brightest.
After the introduction and a brief verbal history, the various incarnations are celebrated through studio photographs. Little Bo Peep, superheroes, space sirens and iconic images of New York get the Broadway Bares treatment, in a lusty, libidinous, yet somehow never smutty way. There are buns aplenty, but never a wiener. And, reflecting that not everyone on Broadway is a gay man, there are women too, although fewer than there are men.
After that, there are backstage photos--makeup, costumes, and all-around silliness pervading the very serious business of putting on a show and raising money for AIDS. If one looks closely, one can even spot actor Martin Klebba backstage, proving that he’s the sexiest little person on earth, at least since Warwick Davies started making those atrocious Leprechaun films.
The book wraps up with actual photos taken from the events over the years, broken up into their individual productions, giving just a taste, a schmear in theater-talk, of what the audience sees. Of course, the photographs are static, while the people in them were singing, dancing, kibbitzing and more . . . all while scantily clad.
While the cost of Broadway Bares: Backstage Pass is significant, as are the price tags on most coffee table books, even that goes to a good cause--proceeds from book sales benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the same people who throw cabaret nights for local organizations every time a Broadway show is touring, and the folks who sell autographed posters in the lobby after the show.
They’re good people, it’s a great cause, and this is a marvelously fun book. If you can’t “come on and listen to the lullaby of Broadway,” then go to the bookstore and read the fairy tale of Broadway.