By John Carroll
Originally published on Advocate.com July 02 2012 5:02 PM ET
Above: Carroll backstage
Each June the Broadway community gets a little leaner, a little hungrier (a lot more crabby), and somewhere on the pigment scale between "sun-kissed" and "oompa loompa." No, they are not casting for the new musical Charlie and the Vegan Carob Factory; it's simply time for Broadway Bares.
Before I go any further and describe the artistic skinfest that is the show, let me begin by telling you why Broadway artists feel so strongly about this event. Twenty-two years ago, choreographer Jerry Mitchell started doing this benefit in conjunction with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS to help raise money and awareness for HIV/AIDS.
Looking back, you can literally see a generation of artists wiped out by the epidemic. Many performers, designers, directors, choreographers, dressers, producers, crew members, ushers, agents — the magic makers in my field — were gone. In a time when so many in the community were getting sick and dying and those who were not sick were terrified of dating and physical contact, Broadway Bares was a retaliation against the debilitating fear that the HIV/AIDS epidemic was causing — a way to successfully raise funds, educate people, and celebrate life and sexuality.
I have very vivid memories of coming into the city from Long Island as a high school student and seeing Adonises on posters around town advertising Broadway Bares. Sultry images of dancers like Denis Jones and Sebastian LaCause really stuck with me (for a plethora of reasons!). Like many teenagers, I felt awkward and ugly. Seeing those men with their matinee-idol good looks and chiseled bodies gave me something to strive for. As time went on, I learned more about BC/EFA’s mission statement and it fueled my desire to be a part of the organization even further.
Well, now that that's out of the way, bring on parade of flesh! See, my husband is a lawyer, so I'm trying to be a little more PC. I'm not too sure it's working.
The theme this year was "Happy Endings," a sexy take on all our favorite fairy tales. When the director, Lee Wilkins, called me up to tell me there was a featured part in the show that he wanted me to play, I nearly fainted. When he told me my entrance would be coming up through the stage floor (like Velma Kelly in Chicago), I nearly shit my pants before I fainted. Yeah, it was pretty much that kind of day.
I was thrilled and excited because I usually play the role of "nonspeaking townsperson, second from the left" in the shows that I do, and now I was going to be onstage having lines with Broadway's leading man, Kyle Dean Massey. Time to step it up a notch, Carroll!
Because I wanted to immerse myself in the process, I asked Lee if I could shadow him, follow him around, and learn the ropes. I sat with him in technical meetings and in dance rehearsals and went with him to see props and costumes. It was overwhelming to see how many professionals, at the top of their field, were so giving and selfless. They wanted to do everything they could to put on the best show imaginable to raise money for this cause. There is an army of magnificent people behind the scenes who give their heart and soul to this benefit and never ask for the spotlight. They are the true stars. Without them, there would be no show.
The morning of the performance, I arrived at the theater and went straight to the huge space they had set up as a dressing room for all the dancers (227 to be exact). My ridiculously sweet and talented costume team told me that I would be getting ready in the "male stars' dressing room."
"Um, excuse me, what?”
I made a point to remind them that I am John Carroll, not Kyle Dean Massey, and braced myself for the hideous ego impact that was about to occur. However, they assured me it was not a colossal joke and escorted me to the dressing room that I would share with only two other people, Mr. Massey and, get this ... wait for it .. wait ... for ... it ... Lady Bunny.
Are you f-ing kidding me?
Lady Bunny is a comedy idol of mine, not to mention a guest judge on RuPaul's Drag Race and Drag U— two of my favorite TV shows. Next door, in the female stars’ dressing room, was Miriam Shor from GCB and Academy Award nominee (for my all-time favorite movie, Bullets Over Broadway) Jennifer Tilly. As if that weren't enough for my very own fairy tale, we had our own personal hair and makeup artists and, to top it all off, a mother-bleeping fruit plate!
Folks, the last time I did this event I was in a large room with well over 200 other sweaty, hungry dancers all fighting for the space in front of one three-speed fan. Needless to say, I called my husband and literally started to weep over my embarrassment of riches.
Throughout the evening, some of the best dancers on Broadway graced the stage. Performers including Marty Lawson, Reed Kelly, Charlie Sutton, Candice Monet McCall, Andy Mills, Brandon Rubendall, Matthew Skrincosky, Grasan Kingsberry, and Nikka Graff Lanzarone inspired me beyond words. To see these people dance is worth the price of admission alone; to see them “drop trou,” well, that’s just a gift from above.
In my scene, Kyle Dean plays a boy looking for love and I appear as his Prince Charming (I can already hear you snickering, so just stop it!). The entrance through the floor went off perfectly, though I had to reprogram every gay bone in my body not to break into "All That Jazz" on my way up. Our scene went great as well, and though I am hearing impaired, I do believe I heard at least two people (out of a crowd of thousands, mind you) laugh at my lines. Those two lonely souls were probably drunk and laughing at me, but I'm going to suggest otherwise.
In the finale, Kyle Dean and I got "married" onstage while Evita’s Rachel Potter sang her ever-loving face off with Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” Lee staged an absolutely beautiful, moving number. I stood there holding hands with a man I had met only a few days before, in a faux wedding where I was about to say "I do" and kiss him in front of thousands of people. I started to get all choked up. I asked Kyle Dean if he too felt "something." I'm sure he felt absolute disgust toward me but was kind enough to not say anything.
Oh, and on a side note, I saw a video of “the kiss." In my memory, it was very touching and very hot. In reality, it looks like I was reenacting a scene from The Silence of the Lambs. My apologies to the Massey family.
At the end of the show, the 200-plus performers gathered on the stage. The energy between the performers and the audience was electric. Lee came out to the roaring crowd to say his thank-yous and acknowledge the cause. I sat at the end of the runway, a “newlywed” (my real-life husband just rolled his eyes at me) and listened as Lee thanked the stars of the evening. Judith Light, Jennifer Tilly, Miriam Shor, Kyle Dean Massey, Rachel Potter, and somehow tucked in with those well-known theater names was mine, John Carroll.
“Huh? Come again?”
Hearing my name in the midst of such incredible talent, in front of the Broadway community and the entire audience was a “pinch me” moment. I sat there on the stage, the usual “nonspeaking townsperson, second from the left,” dressed in a bejeweled crown and a jockstrap and, once again, began to cry.
Now, I want you to know, I do not bring any of this up to brag. I was the kid who was bullied so badly for being gay, I was literally run out of school. I was the kid who stayed home every Friday and Saturday night, binged on deviled eggs and watched Golden Girls all by myself because I didn’t have any friends. There were more days in my childhood when I wanted it all to end than I wanted it to continue. One of the few things that kept me going was the belief that my future would be better and that I would one day be on Broadway. Someone might think Broadway Bares is just a benefit, just an entrance, just a dressing room with a freaking fruit plate and just a mention of a name. But for me, it’s a childhood dream come true.
That evening, we raised a record-breaking $1,254,176.
Oh, and just in case you thought I was getting used to the star treatment:
I woke up the next day to the sound of birds singing and had a spring in my step. I felt like the sun was shining just for me. Later that same day, when I was hanging out with a friend, he introduced me to someone who was in the audience the night before. "This is John, he played Prince Charming in the finale." Now, I'm thinking that since in my scene, there were only two people onstage, two people who were speaking to each other through microphones that amplify sound, and I was the one who had just risen like a phoenix through a trap door dressed in a whorish version of royalty that I might be memorable. No, not so much. Instead, what I got from this man was the blankest stare I have ever seen on a human being. So much so, I literally waved my hand in front of his face to see if he would blink and made the sound effect of crickets chirping. Finally, he broke his rigor mortis-like freeze and said, "Were you were in the show? Sorry, I don’t remember you."
Ah yes, humble pie is a dish best served cold.
For more information go to TheJohnCarroll.com