Robert de Michiell's fabulous illustrationfor the 2001 Easter Bonnet Competition
Robert de Michiell's fabulous illustration
for the 2001 Easter Bonnet Competition
"Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year" might have been the theme song for this year's Easter Bonnet Competition, presented yesterday afternoon--more than a week after the titular holiday--at the New Amsterdam Theatre as a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. (The dress-rehearsal-with-audience was on Monday). As it turned out, the opening number of the 15th annual event was a variation on that theme: a parody version of "One Night Only" from Dreamgirls, retitled "One Week Later." But the phrase "better late than never" is appropriate in this case, given the fact that the competition and the efforts that led up to it netted more than two million dollars.

One of the best shows in town, however brief its run, the Easter Bonnet gala is the culmination of six weeks of fundraising by Broadway, Off-Broadway, and touring productions each spring. If you've been to a show recently, you've likely heard one of the cast members make a plea for donations after the performance. Word is that Henry Winkler and John Ritter, now starring in Neil Simon's The Dinner Party, were particularly tireless pitchman. And it worked: that show gathered the most bucks for BC/EFA, with a total of $175,224.74. To top it off, the Dinner Party cast members were present at the Easter Bonnet event yesterday and raised an additional $10,000 by auctioning off two of Winkler's handkerchiefs.

Teams of celebrity hosts this year included Faith Prince (Bells Are Ringing) and James Barbour (Jane Eyre), Jennifer Ehle (Design for Living) and Howard McGillin (The Phantom of the Opera), Rebecca Luker (The Music Man) and Patrick Quinn (A Class Act), Lea DeLaria (The Rocky Horror Show) and Betty Garrett (Follies). As usual, the backbone of the event was a series of numbers cobbled together by the cast members of various shows, each culminating in the revelation of that show's custom-designed Easter Bonnet. It was hard to top the opening routine, sparked by 97-year-old former Ziegfeld girl Doris Eaton Travis. But other highlights included the Rocky Horror presentation ("There is Nothing Like a Dick," as in Dick Cavett, who appeared in drag to prove the point); Reba McEntire singing "I'll Be" and "Why Haven't I Heard from You?" as part of the Annie Get Your Gun presentation; and the grand finale, in which Carol Woods (Follies) rocked the rafters with the unofficial anthem of the Easter Bonnet competition, David Friedman's "Help is On the Way."

Barry and Fran Weissler have been favorite targets of irreverent humor in past Easter Bonnet shows and in the annual BC/EFA "Gypsy of the Year" contests. In fact, Fran W. has sometimes appeared on stage at these events in the person of the Broadway musician/standup comic Seth Rudetsky. That gentleman was busy in another capacity this year, playing and conducting in the pit; but the Weisslers were referenced onstage nonetheless, acknowledged for their revolving door stunt casting of Seussical in an attempt to keep that troubled show running. Kevin Chamberlin, who plays Horton the Elephant in Seussical, appeared as one of the Easter Bonnet hosts with Broadway playwright/drag queen extraordinaire Charles Busch, the latter in full female regalia. When Busch remarked that he was surprised not to see a number and/or a bonnet presented by the Seussical company, Chamberlin replied that they didn't have time to get anything together because "the cast of Eight is Enough is coming into the show." Busch then passed on the rumor that Vivian Vance may be joining Seussical. When Chamberlin pointed out that Vance is dead, Busch replied, "That's never stopped the Weisslers before!"

Such frivolity is priceless, yet still secondary to the fundraising aspect of the event. Bebe Neuwirth, Alan Cumming, and Mary-Louise Parker appeared at the end of the show to name the winners as chosen by a panel of eight judges (Annie Get Your Gun won for best bonnet, The Music Man for best presentation) and to announce that a total of $2,275,658.38 had been collected this year to support the good works of BC/EFA.