Jerry Mitchell in Broadway Bares 2010 | Photo by Gary J. Cooper
He's used milk, whipped cream, shaving cream, and a number of other sensual products — whatever works is fair game. "I just keep dreaming about new ways to get people to take their clothes off," Jerry Mitchell says. The award-winning director and choreographer isn't being sly, as the creator of the annual Broadway Bares spectacle that has Broadway dancers stripping for charity, he's been getting boys to strip (and stripping himself over the years) for 25 years now. This year's show, titled Top Bottoms of Burlesque, which takes place June 21 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, is sure to titillate. But don't forget that it's also for a great cause: Last year, the event generated a jaw-dropping $1.4 million, and over the past two decades has raised more than $12.6 million for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the organization dedicated to funding HIV/AIDS-related causes.
Mitchell has been in Chicago where he's directing On Your Feet, the Gloria Estefan bio-musical, and choroegrapher Sergio Trujillo is perfecting the authentic Latin moves. "They are singing along with it, dancing int he aisles and crying," Mitchell explains. "We still have a lot of work to do to make it tighter, cleaner, sharper — the best show it can be." But Mitchell returns this weekend to put the finishing touches on the event that has been near and dear to him for over two decades, since the first time he stripped for it.
"When I first stripped 25 years ago, I was nervous as hell," Mitchell admits. "I learned from the experience as an actor, that if I put myself out there, I learned I could control and audience. It's partially how you're in control as a performer: You learn quickly about confidence and the art of the tease. And how you can manipulate an audience with your body."
Brandon Rubendall & Company in 2014
But has it gotten easier over the years to find willing participants to take it all off?
"Maybe Broadway Bares is partially responsible for that freedom the dancers feel; that celebration of their bodies," Mitchell says. "Or maybe it's gotten sexier because people are so damn sexy! Nobody has a bad body! It's a requirement to take your shirt off and look fabulous these days, so everyone has a gorgeous body."
Mitchell says that he does have one bit of advice for anyone who is getting up on stage for the big night. "I've always said to the actors, they have to be confident and comfortable taking their clothes off. If you're confident and comfortable when stripping, then the audience will enjoy it. But if you're uncomfortable then the audience will sniff it out. No one is more daring than a Broadway dancer."
The benefit takes place Sunday, June 21, 2015, with shows at 9:30 p.m. and midnight. Tickets available here.