It's that time of year again, when Broadway Bares hosts another pair of burlesque-themed shows to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS—which just handed $150K to the Orlando victims' families—and I worry about getting a good spot.
When I first started going, the show was loud and clear about not wanting photography. There even used to be printed banners asking us to respect the dancers; perversely, I own one. (A sign, not a dancer.) But in spite of the stern warnings, photography was never policed, attendees indulged in it liberally, photos and videos littered the Internet and—in spite of protestations from the powers that be concerning the dancers' feelings—the dancers loved everyone's cellular attention and tagged themselves in photos across social media.
I would guess this only broadened the show's reach and helped sell official DVDs and tickets to future performances.
Order Bares DVDs here.
This year, the show's director, the indefatigable Nick Kenkel, granted a fantastic interview to Billboard. Kenkel noted the show is loosening up on its approach to photos. Even without that official word, the photo-friendly atmosphere last night couldn't be missed—no announcement was made, no signs were spotted. Let the games begin. (Within hours of posting a video consisting of 60 seconds of snippets from the show, I received a friendly take-down notice, the first time I've ever heard of this happening after the fact. Perhaps it was because it was video, but Instagram has plenty of that up already, too. Hm.)
I was front-and-center for the June 19, 2016, midnight edition of Broadway Bares 26: On Demand at the Hammerstein Ballroom. The theme was TV, which is kind of like radio doing a special about TV in the '50s considering TV is theater's biggest rival! It seems like millennial gays are increasingly addicted to their shows, like old ladies used to be to soap operas—it's a wonder they can be counted on to buy tickets to anything, even a show like Bares, which is a reliable taint buffet.
In line waiting to get in, an adorable young guy from Utah was trying to remain spoiler-free, looking away from the phones of the guys ahead of him ... they were watching Game of Thrones. He later had to put up with a precociously smashed guy groping him and asking him such long-lost Proust Questionnaire queries as, “How are you even here?” and, “Where do you sleep?”
The show kicked off with “Bares TV,” setting up the plot: Failing TV station (fronted by Lesli Margherita and populated by Morgan Weed, Erik Altemus and Michael Longoria) decides that sex sells, so decides to sell sex from within every offering on the network: News, weather, soaps, VOD and more.
Who knew On Demand was a docuseries?
That first number was notable for actual singing (most of the hour-plus-long show focuses on dancing set to recorded music), with contributions from Michael Buchanan, Michelle Dowdy, Carlos Encinias, Sean Zuni Green, Kenita Miller, Catherine Ricafort, Helen White and Stephanie Wilberding.
The main reason I liked the opening was stand-out hottie Erik Altemus (Pippin), who looked like a young Dean Stockwell mixed with a dash of a more boyish Andy Cohen. Loved his little stache, and he had great energy and technical proficiency. In short, he sold it, I bought it and I didn't even keep the receipt because there's not way it's going back.
As part of this long opener came the first of several black lead dancers. The show has become much more diverse since I started going in 2008, reflecting both the Broadway community and the community it is serving, and this guy was serving it, all right. His body was thick and sick.
The rest of the crew wasn't too shabby, either (translation: if Rentboy were still around and any of them were on it, their ads would be asking you to call them to negotiate rates). The conceit that the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team was in the studio meant plenty of stars 'n' stripes unitards, and lots of red, white & blue balls in the crowd.
The number drew to a close with a pair of back flips that ended with a blink-and-you-missed-it stripping-off of the G-strings. I felt like I could see what the dancers had for lunch.
Next up, it was time to “Get Pumped,” with strains of “Physical” (by Olivia Newton-John—check Wikipedia if you're young enough that your dad saw the first Broadway Bares) getting us in the mood. (Great use of older songs/mixes, by the way.) I was surprised to recognize the lead dancer, Amaker Smith, as a trainer from my small gym. The money I stuffed into his, let's go with underwear, later on might make for some awkward times on the treadmill.
Kidding aside, he was electrifying, giving as much energy as you'd expect in a $150 Broadway show. Ariana DeBose and Hope Easterbrook were equally on-point.
“Sweet Treats” was the Bares version of Top Chef—or maybe Vers Chef. The lead female dancer, Nicole Smith, was stunning, and somewhere in the universe a lot of straight guys who wouldn't be caught dead at a gay show like Bares were getting unexplained boners from her cosmic energy.
“Soakin' Wet” was, to my eye, the most artistic piece; it was horny-making but also arty with its breathtaking (if we all weren't already sucking it in to appear less than twice the size of the guys on stage) use of transparent umbrellas, monotone colors (when costumes were even on) and moody blue lighting. It created the illusion so well it felt like they were splashing around in an expensive, water-logged set, but they were totally dry. It's some of the guys around me who were standing in puddles.
Choreographer Brice Mousset out-did himself on this one.
God bless Mother Nature for the lead dancer, Lawrence Alexander, who was—and this word will out me as being a homosexual—exquisite to look at, all beautiful lines and graceful moves.
“¡Daytime Dramatico!” was probably the funniest number, a parody of telenovelas with excellent mugging by lead chica Holly James. You get the sense that the only direction being given in actual telenovelas is, “Bigger! Bigger!”—this piece delivered in that department, in the departments of broad comedy and broader shoulders.
One of the best blends of the male and female dancers was “Stock Tip,” a clever and sexy take on what would happen if Mattel updated Barbie for realz. Loved the leggy young woman who paraded as Barbie, Ms. Whitney Sprayberry. With her curls and pop-eyed expression she had a bit of old-school Victoria Jackson going on, but her transformation when she let down her hair was more Iggy Azalea. The bitch could even get away with wearing Barbie's infamous horizontal(!)-striped one-piece bathing suit without looking fat.
If you've never seen a corporate exec down to his boxers with his meat and potatoes fighting to pull focus from a conga line of human Barbies, you could have checked that off your bucket list last night.
The guys were incredible, especially Robert Keir, whose dancing was top-notch and who successfully exuded the appropriate “I'm in heat” vibe one looks for during the post-show “Rotation.”
The show's highlight—mitts down—was “Based Loaded,” the Kellen Stancil-choreographed sextravaganza filled with horny baseballers in a locker-room orgy of dancing that cleared the bench. Just fantastic footwork by stud (and arguable break-out star of the night) Josh Drake, whose booty-poppin' in and out of yellow short-shorts was a total home run.
The elaborate and lightning-paced number made you open to taking more than one for the team, which along with the MVP already mentioned consisted of Tom Feeney, Matthew Ryan Tiberi, Josh Bates, Fredric Odgaard, Alex Ringler, Dave August and Ian Joseph.
Hilariously, when a TV cameraman (Zach Frank) is caught filming the guys in action and social media explodes with embarrassing hashtags, he's hazed into being the team's towel-less boy for life. (I could relate to him, not counting the punishment.)
A short sketch with NY1's Frank DiLella and Roma Torre allowed each to display a modest amount of their wares while pretending to be worried about their careers as serious journalists. They cover theater in real life, but both were great sports to participate in the show, which seems to be having a hard time landing big-name surprise celebs like it has in the past.
One troubling trend was the use of pre-recorded video by various stars—including Gloria Estefan and the Property Brothers dudes—which, while cute, seemed to be a concession to how difficult it is to get famous folks to show up anymore. (Big ups to beautiful Daniel Dae Kim of The King and I, who gamely engaged in a skit about Asian-American representation before stripping off his shirt.)
“Debate This” was a loosely political-themed number, but nobody impersonated Hillary or Donald (the fuck?). Lead dancers Adam Perry and Ericka Hunter had two of the evening's best bodies, so would never need to stuff the ballot box—though Perry appeared quite capable of doing so.
My buddy Mark MacKillop and his co-star Judah Frank definitely nailed “Nailed It,” a dizzying home-improvement sketch in which he started out looking dandyish in his best summer ensemble and wound up as stripped (at our performance, quite down to the short hairs) as an antique hope chest before it's re-sold.
Loved the use of a sort of glory hole for two-by-fours emerging between Mark's legs, and Mark's wood-grain undies, which made it hard to see the forest for the tree. Best of all was when Frank was held aloft and climbed over temporary stairs held in the air by this team. It was done with Fred Astaire flair and Gene Kelly sex appeal.
It felt a little tacked-on thematically, but “Scared Stiff”—a send-up of slasher flicks of the '80s—was a big dose of morbid fun, featuring chainsaws, Freddy Krueger (Adriana James) and some hysterical teens in tightie-whities and less. It captured the barely-suppressed libido inherent in those films, when everyone's scared and hard at the same time.
Ian Campayno and Daniel Lynn Evans provided tons of comic relief with their preppy terror, the entire thing vibing on the late, great American Psycho: The Musical. (Dammit, if people had just kept going to that show we could have added Benjamin Walker to the mix).
“Throne Games” (guess what it was inspired by?) provided medieval male bonding (slave meets warrior, slave washes warrior, slave gets warrior) at its finest, making good use of creepy-sexy masks and the annual show's trademark aerial antics.
The finale, “Bares Idol,” found Broadway and reality star Frankie James Grande Ryan Seacresting it as a singing-competition host, announcing the winner as Adam Roberts, a lean machine with the body of a '70s fashion model and vocal ability to boot—he ably took on the thankless task of singing a parody of the 2002 American Idol clunker “A Moment Like This,” in which I think a gag line about having an STD popped up a few times. At any rate, he's a star and was a solid chassis on which to close.
The show raised something like $1.4 million before “Rotation,” the all-too-brief period afterward during which the performers make like go-go dancers and encourage you to stuff money in their G-strings—hopefully in their G-strings and nowhere else, but one does see fingers—invariably the ones offering George Washingtons—attempting to plant bills somewhat deeper. Guys, guys, guys—you can look, and you can even touch, but let's not perform unwanted colonoscopies.
“Rotation” is a shadow of what it once was, owing to the space limitations of the Hammerstein's smaller stage. That, plus the fact that many of the guys in the front are just looking or just taking pictures and not giving money. I gave $50 to Mr. Baseball and $20 or $5 to many of the others, for $300 in total. It's a pay for play situation, IMHO.
After it was over, I was excited to run into my friend Marc Sinoway, who was so good in the Web series Hunting Season. We agreed one dancer seemed a little overly intoxicated by his big night and wondered if he would wake up pregnant today, like so many others there.
As Billy Porter said from the stage toward the end: “Safe sex is hot sex!” (And alert sex is safe sex.)
Kudos to all involved for pulling off another crazy installment of Broadway Bares.
Broadway Bares 26: On Demand raises money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Director: Nick Kenkel. Choreographers: John Alix, Laya Barak, Jim Cooney, Eamon Foley, James Harkness, Nick Kenkel, Brice Mousset, Michael Lee Scott, Kellen Stancil, Charlie Sutton, Sidney Erik Wright. Book: Hunter Bell.
Cesar Abreu, Andrés Acosta, Erik Altemus, Chrisopher J. Anderson, Laura Lee Anderson, Michael Apuzzo, Dave August, Heather Lea Bair, Simoné Bart, Josh Bates, Angelica Beliard, Richard Biglia, Stephanie Bissonnette, John Bitley, Steve Bratton, Amanda Braun, Timber Brown, Lawrence M. Bullock, Sarah Eika Burke, Nick Rashad Burroughs, Karen Burthwright, Sarah Buscaino, Ian Campayno, LaMae Caparas, Allyson Carr, Randy Castillo, Adam Chandler, Cara Chapman, Adrianne Chu, Sarita Colon, Calvin Cooper, Anthony Crouchelli, Chris Crowthers, Mark Alex Crus, Nicolas Cunningham, Jason Davies, Chloe Davis, Christopher DeAngelis, Ariana DeBose, Anthony DeCarlis, Emmanuel De Jesus, Gina DePool, Michelle DiTerlizzi, Mark Donaldson, Josh Drake, Hope Easterbrook, Clinton Edward, Elle Estanol, Daniel Lynn Evans, Kristin Ewing, Armando Farfan Jr., Tom Feeney, Judah Frank, Zach Frank, David Gamboa, Omar Garibay, Danielle Marie Gonzalez, Frankie Grande, Alyssa Gray, David Gray, Voltaire Wade Greene, Matt Gregorio, Willow Grey, Matthew Griffin, Tony Guerrero, Daniel Gutierrez, Eric Harbin, Justin Henry, Jenny Holahan, Benjamin Horen, Bruce Landon Huffman, Ericka Hunter, Adriana James, Holly James, Ian Joseph, Dereck Juillerat, Shari Katz, Sarah Jean Kaye, Caroline Kehoe, Robert J. Keir, Kimo Kepano, Emily Grace Kersey, Rebecca Kritzer, Keiji Kubo, Christopher Michael Lacey, Mindy Lai, John Paul LaPorte, Emily Larger, Gelsey Laurie, Alexander Lawrence, Marina Lazzaretto, Adrian Lee, Ben Lerman, Sarah Lewandorski, Aaron Libby, Jaimie Linn, Glen Llanes, Katie Lombardo, Michael Longoria, Ryan Lyons, Mark MacKillop, Rebecca Magazine, Nalina Mann, Lesli Margherita, Megan Marod, Stanley Martin, Tommy Martinez, Jaysin McCollum, Scott McDonald, Greg McGoon, Ralph Meitzler, Drake Miller, Jeremy James Miranda, Erica Misenti, Justin Mock, Azula Momoki, Megan Morgan, Jillian Mueller, Katrina Newman, Rommel Pierre O'Choa, Arisa Odaka, Fred Odgaard, Courtney Ortiz, Yuki Ozeki, Emily Palmquist, Alfie Parker Jr., Jamie Patterson, Adam Pellegrine, Javier Perez, Adam Perry, William Michael Peters, Janice Picconi, Alexandra Piechota, Robert Piper, Madeline Reed, Jelani Remy, Lanae Rhodes, Summer Rich, Ian M. Richardson, Alex Ringler, Diego Rios, Adam Roberts, Geraldine Rojas, Mark Roland, Tim Roller, Paul Romero Jr., Marie Rose, Marissa Rosen, Celia Mei Rubin, Ben Ryan, John Patrick Sabatos, Chad Sapp, Stephan Savage, MiMi Scardulla, Matthew Alan Schmidt, Ricky Schroeder (the night's #1 money-maker!), Marlowe Scott, Jessica Seavor, Kris Seto, Ray Sheen, Andrew Slane, Amaker Smith, Gabriella Sorrentino, Jeffrey C. Sousa, Nicole Spencer, Whitney Sprayberry, Ed Stanley, Emily J. Stillings, Cori Stolbun, Macy Reeves Strimple, Nate Suggs, Ashley Talluto, David Terry, Lucas Thompson, Katie Thrasher, Matthew Ryan Tiberi, Christopher Trepinski, Hernando Umana, Alec Varcas, Mykel Vaughn, Cesar Villavicensio, Silvia Vrskova, Julie Wagner, Richard Waits, Boe Wank, Lincoln Ward, Alena Waters, Mitchell Wayne, Morgan Weed, Micki Weiner, Colt Weiss, J. Morgan White, Dennis Williams, Karell Williams, Jody Cole Wood, Kelli Youngman, Rachel Yucht and Ricardo Zayas.
From a press release:
This year’s top Stripathon fundraiser was Ricky Schroeder, who raised a remarkable $21,500. He was closely followed by Ariana DeBose, raising an impressive $16,116 – setting a record for most money raised by a woman in Broadway Bares history. Rounding out the top five were Ben Ryan with $16,000, Ed Stanley with $13,347 and Madeline Reed with $12,661.
Broadway Bares: On Demand was produced by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, led by Producing Director Valerie Lau-Kee Lai and an extraordinary staff. Production Stage Manager Kathleen Purvis led a team of 33 stage managers with more than 700 other volunteers behind the scenes to create the show. Paul Miller served as lighting designer; Nevin Steinberg handled sound design; and the show’s scenic designer was Jason Lee Courson ... Aaron Hamilton served as assistant director.
Presenting sponsor M∙A∙C VIVA Glam delivered a $300,000 check, presented by Jennifer Balbier, M∙A∙C senior vice president of global product development and M∙A∙C AIDS Fund board member. Balbier also saluted the extraordinary skills of more than 70 M∙A∙C makeup artists who volunteered to create the show’s incredible looks.
Broadway Bares was created by Tony-winning director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell in 1992 as a way to raise money to help those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. In its first year, Mitchell and seven of his friends danced on a New York City bar and raised $8,000. To date, Broadway Bares has now raised $15.8 million for Broadway Cares.
In addition to presenting sponsor M∙A∙C VIVA Glam, Broadway Bares receives generous support from BC/EFA corporate partner United Airlines.
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is one of the nation’s leading industry‐based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant‐making organizations. By drawing upon the talents, resources and generosity of the American theatre community, since 1988 BC/EFA has raised more than $285 million for essential services for people with AIDS and other critical illnesses across the United States.
Broadway Cares is the major supporter of the social service programs at The Actors Fund, including the HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative and the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic, and awards annual grants to more than 450 AIDS and family service organizations in all 50 states.