It was a striptacular evening on Sunday night when an army of Broadway and New York dancers — along with some special guests — took to the stage for the charity burlesque show Broadway Bares: Take Off.
Staged over two performances at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, Broadway Bares: Take Off raised a record $2 million-plus for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA), who also produces the show. That sum — the most ever raised by a Bares event — brings the total money raised by the 29 editions of Broadway Bares to $21.2 million. Last year’s show brought in $1.87 million.
Nearly 200 performers took the stage in Broadway Bares: Take Off, including Grammy and Tony winner Billy Porter, Grammy nominee and Billboard chart-topper Alex Newell, two-time Tony nominee Christopher Sieber, and Grammy and Tony nominee Ashley Park.
Every year, a new theme is chosen for Broadway Bares, and this year’s show was dubbed Broadway Bares: Take Off. The travel-minded theme enabled the show to take audiences on a sexy trip around the world. (Watch highlights of the show below.)
In the show, a Bares Air (get it?) flight captain (Park, formerly of Broadway’s Mean Girls) and flight attendant Nathan Lee Graham guided a pair of gay couples on an intercontinental adventure. The younger couple was played by Jay Armstrong Johnson (currently in The Phantom of the Opera) and Christian Dante White (My Fair Lady), while the elder duo was portrayed by Stephen DeRosa (of the just-concluded Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus) and Sieber (The Prom). All took part in a show-opening number, written by Troy Britton Johnson, with music by Lynne Shankel and lyrics by Tony nominee Amanda Greene.
Among the exotic stops during the Broadway Bares: Take Off show: A delay on the tarmac turned into (naturally) a sultry strip number by an all-male ground crew. (Watch video, below.) The number — titled Ground Crew — started with the gents using their brightly colored marshaling wands to guide a plane in to the gate, as an announcer boomed to the audience: “It feels like a tight squeeze, so please remain seated with your seat belts strapped, while our ground crew guides the entry.”
After some aggressively suggestive dance moves by the 12-man crew in atmospheric lighting, their supervisor, Adam Perry (Frozen), shows up to apparently get his workers in line. Perry is introduced with a showstopping entrance set to the Niko the Kid remix of Kelly Clarkson’s “Heat.” Soon enough, Perry and his squad find interesting ways to lose pieces of clothing (sleeves disappear! pants turn into shorts! a shirt was really a tear-away dickie!) until Perry is stripped down to nothing but a carefully placed piece of luggage.
“This was my fourth time doing Broadway Bares,” Perry tells Billboard via email, “and I’ve always wanted to be in the ‘boys’ number. (There is always a number in the show that’s all men being men.) So getting to perform in Ground Crew, choreographed by Andrew Turteltaub, was a dream come true! Leading those group of fine men on the runway was so damn fun. The song ‘Heat’ by Kelly Clarkson, combined with the sexy choreography, the lighting, and a lot of body grease made the number HOT AS HELL.”
As for why it’s important for Perry to take part in Broadway Bares, he says that it’s “an honor” and that “it feels so important to me to give back to our community here in NYC. I’m often shaken when I think how heavily hit our community was by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This event was [launched in 1992 as] a response to the shame and stigma surrounding sexuality and a way to utilize the raw talent of our Broadway community to raise money for those in need. To be a part of that legacy means the world to me!
“It’s one of the most freeing, satisfying, and thrilling moments to perform at Broadway Bares,” Perry adds. “The sheer love and energy that’s coming from the audience mixed with the passion and joy that’s coming from the performers is like nothing I’ve ever experienced!”
Other numbers in Broadway Bares: Take Off, aside from Ground Control, included an eye-popping, high-flying segment set at Burning Man, led by dancer Taurean Everett (The Cher Show); a cheeky mile-high club segment led by Steven Trumon Gray (My Fair Lady), an all-female rendezvous set in Amsterdam’s Red Light District starring Carleigh Bettiol (The Cher Show) and Jennifer Florentino (Moulin Rouge!); and a samurai warrior-inspired segment featuring Sabrina Imamura (Hamilton: An American Musical).
The around-the-world trip concluded with a performances set at the Stonewall Inn in New York. (This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, commonly cited as the beginning of the modern LGBTQ rights movement.) Singer Mila Jam and Gabriel Hyman (King Kong) led an uplifting celebratory number choreographed by John Alix, which was set to MUNA’s “I Know a Place.”
During the show, special guest Porter turned up in a Paris-set fashion show segment-turned-vogue ball battle, and then later returned for the show’s closing to perform his new single “Love Yourself.” Speaking to the audience, Porter said, “Broadway Bares is about the joy of community, the love we share and the care we show for each other. These are both glorious and difficult days. We have so much to celebrate and be proud of. But at the same time we are surely shaken, angry and saddened by the cruelty, inequality and torrent of lies that confront us on a daily basis. But as I look over this beautiful audience and see thousands standing together, unbowed, we will not be dismissed or demeaned. For we are empowered by love, determination and courage. We will not be stigmatized for the very things that make us beautiful, expressive beings.”
As for Newell, the singer and actor teamed up with Ryann Redmond (Frozen) for the show’s main finale to perform “When Love Takes Over,” as originally performed by David Guetta featuring Kelly Rowland. Newell and Redmond sang new lyrics adapted for the evening: “You have found your pride.”
Notably, of the $2 million-plus raised this year by Broadway Bares, just over $1 million was generated by the show’s cast and crew via its online Stripathon fundraiser in the lead-up to the show. It’s the first time the Stripathon’s earnings have ever surpassed $1 million. This year’s top Stripathon fundraising individual was Mark MacKillop (currently with the national tour of Anastasia), who raised $51,755 — the most ever by a Bares performer.
Broadway Bares: Take Off had an army of behind-the-scenes talent donating their time to the production of the show. Among them, 41 stage managers and 700 volunteers, including 70 MAC makeup artists. (MAC VIVA Glam was a presenting sponsor of the show and also donated $200,000 to BC/EFA at the event.) Broadway Bares: Take Off was directed by Laya Barak and executive produced by Nick Kenkel and Tony winner and Emmy nominee Jerry Mitchell (who created Broadway Bares in 1992).
Broadway Bares: Take Off is one of many charitable events produced by BC/EFA each year. According to BC/EFA, the organization has raised more than $300 million for essential services for people with AIDS and other critical illnesses across the United States since 1988.