AIDS/HIV | Books | Jerry Mitchell | Theatre

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Grin And Bare It

Backstagepass_pg073

Tony-winning choreographer Jerry Mitchell created Broadway Bares—the annual fleshfest benefit on behalf of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS—in 1992 after losing several friends to the disease. Having choreographed The Full Monty, Mitchell provides somewhat less than that with these risqué revues, which consist of hundreds of the Great White Way's greatest performers shaking what will hopefully be their money-makers through a series of naughty sketches and elaborate dance routines set to familiar and sometimes original songs. Counting this year's $875,000+ haul, Mitchell’s creation has brought in nearly $6 million dollars for AIDS over the past 16 years from a show that's traditionally only performed twice a night, once a year.

The show has such beautiful advertising, production values, participants and intentions, it was only a matter of time before a coffee-table book was born—the red-hot Backstage Pass: Broadway Bares (Universe, $55) offers 160 pages of promotional images, behind-the-scenes peeks and live moments that are not to be missed.

Having attended my first Broadway Bares on June 22, where I picked up the book, I sent word that I’d love to speak with Mr. Mitchell for this blog and he followed the yellow-brick Towleroad, calling me yesterday for a warm chat on virtually no notice. I can see why his associate refers to him as "a big ball of YES."

AFTER THE JUMP, check out the full interview.

Jerry_mitchellTowleroad: Most people know AIDS is a serious problem, but what inspired you to do something about it back in 1992?

Jerry Mitchell: I lost so many friends. By 1991, I'd already lost five of my best friends, so I kind of felt I had no choice.

Towleroad: How did you make the leap from wanting to help to deciding to do it via a burlesque show?

Jerry Mitchell: I was in The Will Rogers Follies, sort of dancing naked on a drum, and I had been volunteering at GMHC and doing all that kind of stuff—the dance-a-thons, sending out flyers. I needed to find a way to use my own creative stuff.

Towleroad: Did anyone tell you it was in poor taste to raise money for AIDS by flaunting sexuality? Especially in the early '90s, it seems like this might have rubbed people the wrong way.

Jerry Mitchell: Nobody close to me! I heard a few rumors, though. People who don't come might think it's something that it isn't. Burlesque was sex and humor in the same pot—Broadway Bares does that in a way that's surprising how it sneaks up on you. One moment, it's really funny, and then the next thought might be, "This is sexy!"

Towleroad: How different was Broadway Bares I from the most recent staging?

Jerry Mitchell: The spirit of the event has never changed after all these years because of what was created in the first place and how it was maintained by myself, Michael Graziano, Denis Jones and Broadway Cares.

Towleroad: You always get great, hot stars to strip down for you—Matthew Morrison was a highlight this year, Tom Wopat and Cheyenne Jackson have been others from previous years. Has anyone ever said no due to the gay slant or all the skin?

Jerry Mitchell: No. I've never had anyone turn me down because they're afraid of Broadway Bares, only for scheduling. After the second or third one, I'd get calls saying, "Oh, my God! I just saw it and can I be in it next year?"

Backstagepass_pg154aTowleroad: Do you have any favorite performers?

Jerry Mitchell: There's so many! Thousands and thousands of people have taken part. What I'm most proud of is that all the dancers who have gotten up there and stripped have walked away saying how empowering it was for them. Daniel Robinson, who was Tweedle-Dee this year, will tell you that.

Towleroad: The book is divided into promo shots, backstage shots and on-stage shots. The on-stage ones are incredible—you must have a favorite number from over the years…?

Jerry Mitchell: Every year there's five numbers that are just phenomenal! A few years back, in Broadway Bares VII and again in Broadway Bares X (a best-of), it was the first time we had an original song written for the show. Andrew Lippa had seen VI and said, "I wanna write a song for you." It changed everything. We had our own song, our own ad campaign by SpotCo and Denis on a rope naked in a top hat shot by Max Vadukul who had shot Chicago. The show took a leap forward that year, becoming something other than a flash in the pan.

There's also a number in IV or V where a guy goes to the refrigerator in the middle of the night and whip cream and ice cream come out and turn him into a hot fudge sundae—the audience loved it.

Towleroad: Have you ever considered doing Broadway Bares as a regular revue, not just an annual fundraiser?

Jerry Mitchell: We're actually doing a commercial show in Las Vegas called Peep Show. It will be much more sophisticated and sexier and a whole level up from what we did. And it's in Vegas, so it features women!

Towleroad: I was surprised how permissive the participants were during "Rotation," the part at the end where they go-go dance for dollars.

Jerry Mitchell: Honey, we'll go as far as we have to to get the money! No boundaries. I was up there rotating, too. It's a chance to live out a fantasy, to be a professional stripper for one night. For an actor, that is a wonderful thing to be able to go out there and do.

Towleroad: Who's taken in the most cash that way over the years?

Jerry Mitchell: I did! I took in the most and no one has ever beat me! [Laughs] I was gonna lead the charge. I had to empty my suit five times.

Towleroad: For years, the show’s tagline has been “Sass, Class and Ass.” Rank the three for us.

Jerry Mitchell: Rank them? I think they're in order, one-two-three. You always save the best for last! [Laughs]

A fabulous slideshow of Broadway Bares images can be found here.

Buy the book directly from the BCEFA Web site—I'm told it's the only way the charity sees any real profit.

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Comments

  1. So, when I get paid today...It's the first thing on my list to buy.

    This book and my textbooks for next semester, that should be an interesting package to receive.

    Posted by: Nick | Jul 2, 2008 11:54:46 AM


  2. It's a nice picture book. I got my copy last week. But Jerry Mitchell may not always be a big ball of yes if he's the one who keeps yanking Broadway Bares clips off of YouTube.

    Posted by: sam | Jul 2, 2008 12:05:38 PM


  3. too bad we don't have ethel merman in her g-string and pasties from gypsy....

    Posted by: the queen | Jul 2, 2008 12:10:40 PM


  4. The Queen, I think I just fell off my desk chair laughing my ass off! LOL!

    The gym I go to on my lunch break is overrun with chorus boys. It's funny when I go to a show and I think "oh, wait, I've seen him in the showers!" Haven't worked out with Jerry Mitchell, but we've passed each other on the street several times and he's super tall and super handsome (not that one has anything to do with the other. I'm short, so tall people are like architectural wonders to me or something).

    I remember chatting with a chorus boy about 10 years ago who was prepping for Broadway Bares and he said, "Oh, girl, I'm on the Broadway Bares diet! Lettuce and ice water, hold the ice!" :)

    Posted by: Alex | Jul 2, 2008 12:16:52 PM


  5. i am in love with him! he makes me so happy.

    Posted by: jeremy | Jul 2, 2008 12:33:29 PM


  6. I love the book I have purchased 4 copies as gifts and one copy for myself. My only comment is where’s the beef!. Surely there is one sole brave enough to go full Monte.

    Posted by: hootn | Jul 2, 2008 12:37:08 PM


  7. Whenever I see photos or video clips of Broadway Bares, "The Great White Way" pretty much sums it up.

    Posted by: Q | Jul 2, 2008 1:30:55 PM


  8. Q, I guess you mean that the performers are all supposed to be white, this makes me think you haven't seen any of these shows there have always been people of every color, sex and even size in featured and supporting roles. Before you make your silly comments you should do some research.

    Posted by: Broadway Boi | Jul 2, 2008 4:49:42 PM


  9. I bought the book after the show this year and i love it. My only comment is that they could have named the actors on the photos, esp for those Broadway newbies. Some were unrecognizable because of the makeup and costume.

    Posted by: qram | Jul 2, 2008 5:02:16 PM


  10. the one person I knew who was in Broadway Bares was not white.

    Posted by: Alex | Jul 2, 2008 5:07:06 PM


  11. Evan, what the hell are you on about?

    You do know that Broadway Bares is made up of chorus boys and a lot of them are gay right?

    Posted by: Alex | Jul 2, 2008 5:12:39 PM


  12. Excuse me Broadway Boi, but I distinctly said, "whenever I see photos and video clips" and I stand by that statement. True, I have never seen the whole thing, but how come the "photos and video clips" don't seem to reflect the diversity you claim exists? I see a few ethnic faces, but that is a big ass show, is it not?

    Posted by: Q | Jul 2, 2008 5:48:49 PM


  13. Thanks for doing the interview of Jerry Mitchell! I heart him! So much that I 'contributed' to his suit too! :)

    Posted by: jase | Jul 2, 2008 6:35:29 PM


  14. Hey Q, I think that says more about the posters than it does about the show. In every single show there are black, asian, latino, actors, singers, dancers in lead spots as well as in the chorus. There have also been some little people and some heavy-set performers who don't fit into the body facism of the usual gay entertainment. You're standing by a statement you know nothing about.

    And Evan, where did you come up with the Jerry Mitchell's favorite performers are straight? I think you are all making statements about things you don't know anything about.

    Posted by: Broadway Boi | Jul 2, 2008 6:47:57 PM


  15. Q, did you even look at the BCEFA website? The first photos feature an African American female dancer an African American male dancer (who is playing the white rabbit), a dancer who appears to be Latino. I've seen full videos of all the Broadway Bares for the last several years and every one of them has a huge diversity, many people from the casts of THE LION KING, MISS SAIGON, and on and on. The casts of Broadway Bares are far more diverse than the casts of Broadway shows.

    Posted by: db | Jul 2, 2008 6:57:36 PM


  16. So Q, you feel comfortable passing judgement on this event based on what photos and video clips people post on their blogs? That says a lot.

    Evan, are you basing your statement on the AfterElton interview--that's a pretty amazing misreading. That says a lot too.

    You can't trust information you read on message boards.

    Posted by: DanielM | Jul 2, 2008 7:56:57 PM


  17. DanielM, are you saying that you NEVER pass judgments based on what you have read in the paper online? You truly must be a saint.

    Broadway Boi, my comments were based on the REPORTING that I have seen of the show, NOT the show itself. Did you not get that? Please go back and read my original statement. The pictures that I see online of BB brings to mind the same question when I see the annual Gay Pride reports; where are the minorities? One picture of a drag queen does not a diverse Pride make.

    DB, I went to the site. I saw an unrelated photo of a Black woman dancing by an ocean, I saw no African American man dressed as a white rabbit but I did see a (possible) Latino dressed as the rabbit in a POSTER. Great but what about the SHOW? Is it a fully diverse cast EVERY year or is it cast based on the shows that are running? Since there is a dearth of Black musicals, exactly how are they keeping it diverse?

    I am not knocking this show but why is it not open to criticism? Minorities are the ones that are dying of this disease at a greater rate than any other group. Yet there is so much separatism in the gay "community" that I rarely see any outreach to minorities. And that disparity gets magnified by the photojournalism of events like this.

    Posted by: Q | Jul 3, 2008 12:05:29 AM


  18. Sorry, that should have been "paper or online."

    Posted by: Q | Jul 3, 2008 12:07:42 AM


  19. Well of,course Jerry would be willing to give you an interview. Jerry is a very friendly Midwestener, hailing from the great state of Michigan. Jerry was raised with gracious manners.

    Posted by: Carl - Michigan | Jul 3, 2008 12:32:37 AM


  20. Q, if that's what you were saying then you should have made the negative comment about the REPORTING of the show, not the show itself. And no, I'm not saying I never make judgements--but I don't go posting my snap biased impressions on message boards and claiming they're accurate. And I think you should be very careful when you're accusing a charitable event of racial discrimination.

    Posted by: DanielM | Jul 4, 2008 1:19:50 PM


  21. And yes, it's been a fully diverse cast for at least the ten years I've seen it.

    Posted by: DanielM | Jul 4, 2008 1:22:27 PM


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