One evening last week, just after a performance of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, I started a conversation in the Belasco lobby with a middle-aged woman who was teary-eyed after the curtain speech. Has the show, in this point in its run, you wonder, sprouted Shakespearean wings, with one of the actors sending home the audience with a Puckish "Give me your hands, if we be friends"?
No, the curtain speech had been given by Brian Stokes Mitchell, a principal cast member, and in it he had urged audience members to contribute to this year's "Gypsy of the Year" fundraising campaign. The effort is undertaken by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, one of the nation's leading nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations, which for two decades has been based in New York's theater community.
It turned out that the woman in the lobby, whose name was Eve, had had a brother, Edward, who had died of AIDS. Edward had come to New York in the late 1980s to be an actor. He had never made it to Broadway, but when he got sick he had been helped by one of BC/EFA's many programs. Eve told me she can never go to a Broadway show without thinking of Edward, and when she heard Mitchell's curtain speech that night it had touched her deeply. She said she was happy to put a contribution in one of the containers held by Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown actors after the show.
All the Verge actors are supportive in their ways of the "Gypsy" effort, which consists of six weeks of post-performance fundraising all along the Rialto and culminates in two performances this week by Broadway chorus members and a few stars at the New Amsterdam Theater.
Rolt Smith, the Verge production stage manager, told me that the Verge curtain-speech pitch has alternated between Mitchell, Danny Burstein, and Laura Benanti. Smith has been instrumental in supervising the show's "Gypsy" effort, but in typical self-effacing style he told me: "I wish I could take credit for how it all works smoothly, but it's really to the credit of the actors and their willingness to volunteer."
Let me not end this blog posting without stating that Smith, Andrea O. Saraffian, the 1st Assistant Stage Manager, and Jennifer Rae Moore, the 2nd Assistant Stage Manager, deserve credit for so much hard work over the past four months - "Gypsy"-related and otherwise - that their stockings should overflow with gifts this holiday season.
And I would be further remiss without mentioning the presentation that Women on the Verge cast members gave this week at the "Gypsy of the Year" performances. The mini-show, called "On the Verge," was written, created, directed, and choreographed by Mark Stuart. It was danced to the music "Secrets" by One Republic. It featured beautiful white costumes by Patrick Bevilaqua. The choreography was sleek and swift, and was danced beautifully by cast members John Carroll, Nikka Lanzarone, Yanira Marin, Vivian Nixon, Samantha Shafer, Luis Salgado, Charlie Sutton, Phillip Spaeth, and Matthew Steffens, plus friend-of-the-production Jessica Press.
Trust me: there was not a better-looking bunch in the entire "Gypsy of the Year" show.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.