Do you think that lately I’ve been writing too much about cute little animals and my life in the theater? Do I seem to be escaping into infantilism? Be honest. I’ve had my “ear to the ground” and that’s definitely the feeling I’ve been getting. But what am I supposed to write about? Kathy Dent and how she stole my vote? That wouldn’t be very life-affirming.
So, like so many of us, I’m regressing. I’ve created a little fantasy world for myself, so different from the real world. Some of us hide in a bottle. I hide in a theater.
I realized this the other day, when I was in New York, attending the Gypsy of the Year contest. A gypsy, in case you don’t know, is a Broadway chorus person. A Chorus Line made the Broadway gypsy famous—the singer-dancer who spends his or her career moving from show to show, always in the chorus, always virtually anonymous.
But as A Chorus Line so memorably shows, gypsies are not simple souls. They are tormented by their limitations. They have everything but that one ingredient that would make them a star. Yet they make the same outrageous sacrifices as a star— their youth, their bodies, their personal lives. Most come from troubled homes. Many of the men are gay.
The Gypsy of the Year contest is a show they put on once a year for each other. If you’ve been to the theater in New York in November, you probably remember how they collect money after the show for Equity Fights AIDS. At the Gypsy of the Year, they announce what show raised the most money—this year it was The Color Purple, which raised $194,500 of the $2,992,800 million total—and actors being actors, they also perform skits. The gypsies from each show come up with some original number, rehearse the heck out of it, perform them all one afternoon in an empty theater, and the best one gets the prize. The rivalry is fierce.
Now, how many of you have heard of this thing? That’s what I thought. Absolutely zero. I mention it to my friends who make a living in the Broadway theater and they are only vaguely aware of its existence. And that’s what makes it such pure Broadway gold. It’s the characters in A Chorus Line come to life and putting on a very raucous party just for themselves.
The fun started even before the curtain went up, as you got to watch the celebrity judges (including Cynthia Nixon, Jill Clayburgh, and Marian Seldes) get settled. I eavesdropped on the two young men sitting behind me. One had just moved back in with his parents in Queens. (“I’m back in my childhood bedroom. The only difference is this time I’m 33 and have a porn collection.”) The other young man was working as a window dresser at Saks. He said he was busy doing a window and the door into the store was open and who should pop her head in but Chita Rivera. “Can you tell me how to get to Broadway?” she asked. “Honey,” he said, “you got to Broadway long ago.”
On that note, the curtain rose, and what followed were 16 songs, skits, numbers— call them what you will—that ranged from heartbreaking to hilarious. There was standup comedy from the casts of Spamalot and Urinetown, highly insulting to the other shows and the world in general (jokes about Michael Richards backstage at The Color Purple, a video of Clay Aiken entering the Marines—“No, it was just one Marine”). There was some very beautiful dancing from the cast of Twyla Tharp’s The Times They Are A- Changin’. Tom Jones, who wrote The Fantasticks, sang a song he’d written for an old Julius Monk revue; Marc Shaiman sang a song about musical comedy that he dedicated to all the dead gay men in heaven, and he started crying even before he started singing it, along with the rest of the audience, needless to say.
On they came, the gypsies from The Drowsy Chaperone, Phantom of the Opera, Mamma Mia, The Little Dog Laughed (they did a nude scene), Rent, The Lion King, Hairspray (with American Idol runner-up Diana DeGarmo!) It was one showstopper after another, with just enough celebrities popping up to introduce (Martin Short, Ana Gasteyer, Christine Ebersole).
Sometimes, during a lull in the applause or laughter, you could hear a baby crying somewhere in the theater, but nobody minded. We were all one big happy family.
The funniest moment came from the gypsies in Beauty and the Beast, of all places. The most wicked Disney parody I’ve ever seen, and all the more subversive coming from Disney underlings. It was that song The Colors of the Wind, sung by a very tall girl in a slightly askew Pocahontas wig. She had a powerhouse voice and the ability to sing slightly off-key. It was a masterpiece of comic self-delusion. If there were an inappropriate gesture, she found it. If there were a way to upstage the cute little children dressed as forest creatures, she went right for it. By the end everyone was rolling on the floor and gasping, “Who’s that girl?” (For your information, her name is Marla Mindelle…make a note of it.)
Yes, how perfect. A star was born at the Gypsy of the Year contest.
I left the theater bouncing on air. That’s the answer! Comedy! Skits! Fun! I decided I would enter the Gossip Columnist of the Year contest.
Here’s my entry:
It’s a snapshot I took of Kathy Dent at the Election Supervisor convention in Orlando. She’s meeting with her chief ballot designer.
Now, if you would like to attend this year’s Gypsy of the Year contest, visit www.Broadwaycares.org or call (212) 840-0770 ext. 268.