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 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?”
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.