Broadway Buff Fights AIDS

Performers ready to bare sinews in annual fundraiser

The selfless chorus girls and boys from Broadway musicals should still be sleeping, or taking a dance class, but instead they’re in a stifling rehearsal space above City Center before noon running through the silver screen-inspired installment of an annual rite of very late Spring.

In less than two weeks time, these performers will all be wearing considerably less, when they strip down to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the nation’s leading industry-based, non-profit AIDS fund-raising organization.

“And we’re back,” assistant director Tim Albrecht announces at the end of the last break. “Let’s try the towel set.”

The dancers move towards the center of the room, facing a mirror that runs the length of the rehearsal space.

“Sorry,” Jodi Moccia apologizes, returning from a cigarette break during a lighting meeting. “I was outside being naughty. But I got my lighting.”

All dancers seem to smoke.

Moccia is like a tornado in skinny, black Fosse pants, a wiry bundle of energy guiding the dancers through a piece that derives its movement from the world of boxing. Albrecht cues up the music from a boom box on the floor. The dance is set to the disco version of the “Rocky” theme, a piece that hasn’t improved with age, but perfectly conveys camp. The dancers form a chorus line in the back of the room and one of them comes down the row with his hands making tight circles. It’s either boxing or the hustle, but it takes out the entire line of dancers. They fall gracefully and soon jump ropes appear and are used to form a makeshift ring. Two dancers find themselves inside the squared circle and soon there’s a TKO. As the downed dancer struggles to pull himself up on the ropes, the victor comes up from behind and suddenly boxing turns to butt fucking. Everyone breaks.

The victor says to Moccia, “So I’m just….” and starts throwing punches in the air. The rhythm of his jabs soon gets his pelvis bucking.

“Thank you, now we can all see it clearly,” Moccia assures him and the rest of the company dissolves into laughter.

Before they can even finish laughing, Moccia is back up on her folding chair and the dancers are running another section. Moccia is teetering above, looking down and in.

“I’m VIPs,” she announces banging her hand on top of her chest. And she continues to watch the dancers rehearse from the vantage point the VIP audience will have from the balcony of Roseland. The dancers are spinning in a loose circle that tightens. If the move is executed correctly, one of them will suddenly emerge sans boxing shorts. As it’s working now, there’s not enough coverage in front and the audience will see the shorts come off. Albrecht kills the music, again stopping the rehearsal. Moccia is down off her chair and walking towards the dancers.

“The problem is everybody is joining in the back by the stairs and you’re not covering the front to block the shorts coming off,” she says. There are nods of agreement. Everyone stares at the back stairs, which only exist in tape marks on the floor. Moccia breaks the silence.

“Okay,” she announces, “we’re not going to resolve this today.” She chalks it up to the next rehearsal and is ready to take it from the top.

Even though she keeps it jovial, the pressure is on for Moccia who is debuting as the director of the annual event. The work she’s shown today speaks directly to the fight against AIDS. As the jump ropes demonstrate, she makes the most of a minimum of props. And, most importantly, she gets the dancers out of their clothes.

Moccia takes over as director from Jerry Mitchell, who started Broadway Bares back in 1992 raising $8,000 by shaking his moneymaker on the bar at Splash. Since that time, the show has grown into one of the slickest productions in town and Mitchell—the choreographer on shows like “Hairspray” and “Gypsy”—has gone on to become the show’s executive producer. He handpicked Moccia, his longtime associate, whom audiences will know from her work on “All Shook Up” and “Adult Entertainment.”

Still, in just a handful of rehearsals like this one, Moccia has to nail it.

“We’re in good shape,” she says, planning to lock down all the steps at the next rehearsal in a week’s time. In addition to “Rocky,” the “Now Showing” edition of Broadway Bares will take on “Flash Dance,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and James Bond music. Special guests including Jai Rodriquez from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” John Tartaglia from “Avenue Q” and Chris Seiber from “Chicago” will complement an already stellar cast of stage professionals culled from shows like “Aida,” “Hairspray,” “The Producers” and “The Boy from Oz.”

Moccia releases the dancers by telling them, “Great job guys.”

They all give themselves a round of applause and then slowly wander off toward the edges of the room where dance bags are stowed.

Off in a not-so-secluded corner, one dancer quickly strips out of his rehearsal clothes and begins picking through his street garb. Moccia screams, “Keith! We can see you! Don’t you dare go naked!”

We also publish:

More from Around NYC