A wave of unseasonably cold, damp weather didn't stop Bette Midler, Josh Groban and other stars from dropping by New York's Minskoff Theatre -- currently the home of The Lion King -- Tuesday for Broadway's 31st annual Easter Bonnet Competition, an afternoon of music, dance and comedy featuring the casts of the Great White Way's hottest plays and musicals, as well as touring companies. A favorite event of the Broadway community, it's a (playfully) cutthroat competition that awards the show and cast who design the best Easter bonnet and present their creation in the most imaginative way.
The Broadway community hasn't shied away from politics as of late, and, true to form, many performances featured zings at President Donald Trump. The show opened with a spoof of "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast, in which iconic musical optimists Little Orphan Annie (Marissa Rosen) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum's Pseudolus (Jason Kravits) vowed to "give audiences hope" and "make them laugh" while urging the crowd to "resist."
More pointed, still, was "Bigly Little Lies," in which the company of off-Broadway's Avenue Q unveiled a Trump puppet who "galloped" alongside a bare-chested Vladimir Putin on horseback. Groban and his Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 co-star Denée Benton led "a post-liberal dream ballet on American and Russian musical theater themes," with nods to politically tinged musicals like Assassins and Fiddler on the Roof, while "The Battle of 52nd Street: Cats vs. Hogs" found the stars of Cats engaged in a West Side Story-like battle while presenting a larger-than-life pink "pussy hat" bonnet covered in twinkling lights.
Other stars offered heartfelt speeches encouraging those disenchanted with America's current political climate. "We have never been more committed in our fight for those whose voices have been silenced or marginalized," Groundhog Day star Andy Karl said. His co-star Barrett Doss told the crowd, "Our work up here has never been more important."
But the show's most breathtaking moment was also its most nuanced. In "To Be Fruitful," actor L. Steven Taylor performed an original spoken-word poem as cast members of The Lion King appeared in traditional African, Indian and Asian dress, calling for unity through dance. Their bonnet appeared first as a sprout before "growing" into a colorful tree. (The competition's judges were also wowed: The Lion King nabbed awards for best presentation and best bonnet.)
Colorful performances aside, the event also raised a record-breaking $6.38 million for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Hello, Dolly! stars Midler, David Hyde Pierce and Gavin Greel presented the Glenn Close-led company of Sunset Boulevard with the highest fundraiser award for having raised $509,246 over six weeks of nightly curtain calls.
For all the razzle-dazzle, the show ended on a poignant moment when Taylor returned to the stage for the competition's official anthem, "Help Is on the Way," accompanied by James Brown-Orleans on guitar. The performance seemed to reinforce a sentiment that Karl had offered to the crowd earlier in the show: "We will not allow fear or hate to impede the progress we have made -- our lives depend on it."