On a bare stage in midtown Manhattan, five of the Great White Way's hottest male stars competed in the 2nd Annual Broadway Beauty Pageant, an evening of lighthearted fun and serious talent. Strutting onstage in top hats and T-shirts bearing the logos of their respective shows, the quintet of chorus boys set the tone for the evening with the very first song, the cheesy but fun number "Mr. Broadway."
Hosted by Rent's Anthony Rapp, the show was a fund-raiser for the Ali Forney Center, which provides shelter and services for homeless LGBT youths. Judging the competition were ubiquitous show queen Seth Rudetsky and performers Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell of the musical [title of show]. In choosing a winner, Blackwell said they were looking for "super hotness, super well-hung-ness."
Following the format of traditional beauty pageants a la Miss America, the contestants were critiqued in three categories: talent, interview, and swimwear. Joe Komara (Grease) kicked off the talent portion, backed by a flock of flaming chorus boys, with "Gonna Act Straight on Broadway" (from the upcoming indie film A Big Gay Musical). Hairspray's hunky Daniel Robinson followed, performing a shirtless rodeo-style lasso routine, but he was upstaged by his dancing partner, the fiery drag sensation Britney Houston.
The dreamy Tommy Berklund (A Chorus Line) sang "Take Me Seriously," a song in which he boasts about his hotness and his intelligence, while tearing his clothes off, ultimately stripping down to the tiniest blue 2(x)ist undies known to mankind. Faced with a tough act to follow, Xanadu's Marty Thomas (who once beat out a young Britney Spears on Star Search) came on strong with "Proud Marty," his own take on "Proud Mary." This was the showstopper of the evening -- a sexy, sizzling explosion of energy. "You are a white male?" Rapp queried the performer. "My mom always says there's a little coffee in my cream," Thomas replied.
Not to be outdone, Austin Eyers (Curtains), whom the judges noted had "excellent pageant flair," gave a high-energy performance of "I Don't Want to Show Off," in which he played spoons, twirled a ribbon, played the saw, and deep-throated a banana, all while singing and dancing up a storm. He then gave the judges homemade cookies in what was deemed by them an obvious play for points.
Rapp and the judging panel kept things loose and fun, although Rudetsky came off as a bit bored and restless, bordering on smug. Ms. Blackwell in particular was quite entertaining -- when the competition was compared to American Idol, she declared, "I'm on prescription medications, so I'm Paula." She aimed her good-natured venom at the contestants, the audience, and at Rapp. After the host compared her to Simon Cowell she calmly responded, "Anthony Rapp, I will kill you after the show if you turn this audience against me. I'm not afraid of you."
The hopeful contestants returned to the stage, now in sexy suits and ties for the interview portion. Some of the questions lobbed at them by the judges were about Broadway and their own performing careers, though the majority were hysterical non sequiturs. "Are you wearing a dance belt, or are you guys going commando?" "Were you mad when you went to see Wonderful Town and it was Linda Muggleston and not Donna Murphy?" "Why was Indiana so resistant to daylight savings time?" "A Chorus Line: The Movie--why?"
Ali Forney Center executive director Carl Siciliano then took the stage to address the crowd (and, incidentally, got his share of wolf whistles from the audience). In explaining the history and mission of the center (named in honor of a homeless gay teenager who was murdered in 1997), Siciliano outlined some of the bleak realities faced by gay youths. "Teenagers are facing the brunt of homophobia in our society," he said, at one point referencing the recent murder of gay teen Lawrence King. Homelessness affects gay youths in disproportionate numbers; by deciding to come out, countless LGBT youths are disowned and shunned by their families at a time when they are most vulnerable.
After that somber dose of reality, it was on to the evening's big draw, the swimsuit competition, with these Broadway beefcakes parading onstage in fantasy swimwear. Komara was up first in a 1920s-style black and red number; Robinson sported little trunks, construction boots, and a hard hat; Berklund followed in a very Chorus Line-esqe gold Speedo with sequined silver top hat; Thomas paid homage to Xanadu by accessorizing his little black swimsuit with roller skates, headband, and shades; and Eyers worked the stage in a full scuba outfit complete with mask and flippers. There was plenty of dancer-perfect male flesh on view. Commenting on the contestants' overwhelming hairlessness, Bell quipped, "There's no wax left in the city of New York -- not a votive, not a candle."
The judges' commentary notwithstanding, it was the audience who decided which hunk would get to wear the sparkly crown. By written ballot, they selected Marty Thomas -- but with the event having raised approximately $10,000, the real winners were the kids of the Ali Forney Center.