Theater Collectibles from the Source
By Lane Beauchamp, Director of Communications for Broadway Cares
For one Sunday each September, the heart of New York City’s theater district pulses with the energy of thousands of theater fans as they gather for the Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction. One of the most highly anticipated days of the season, the event offers fans the chance to find one-of-a-kind showbiz treasures.
“I love everything about this day,” said Tracy Danoff, who traveled from Maryland last September and picked up a Fiddler on the Roof poster signed by the entire 2016 revival cast. “For people who love finding cool Broadway collectibles, there’s no place like it.”
The biggest day for Broadway fans started simply in 1987 when the final cast of the original production of A Chorus Line put up a few tables outside the stage door of the Shubert Theatre in Shubert Alley. They sold props, old costumes and years worth of “swag,” along with gifts that had lined their dressing rooms during their run. The cast members were looking to do what they could to help raise money for their friends and colleagues during the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic.
“I look forward to the Broadway Flea Market every year,” says two-time Tony Award nominee Laura Osnes. “Not only are we all still coming together to support important work, but it’s like a giant reunion. I love getting to see so many of my friends and colleagues in the biz and interacting with the devoted theater fans.”
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is one of the nation’s leading HIV/AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. By drawing upon the talents, resources, and generosity of the American theater community, since 1988 Broadway Cares has raised more than $300 million for essential services for people living with HIV/AIDS and other critical illnesses across the United States.
The money helps provide life-saving medication, nutritious meals, healthcare, and emergency financial assistance. Through its National Grants Program, Broadway Cares supports more than 450 social service organizations in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC.
That first edition of the flea market, casually offered to passers-by before the Saturday matinee and between the afternoon and evening performances, raised $6,000. The 2017 edition of the Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction blew past previous grand totals and raised a record-breaking $1,023,309 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. It was the first time the event passed the million-dollar mark. The 31 editions of the Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction have collectively raised $13.6 million.
“I’m absolutely thrilled by the jaw-dropping total,” Broadway Cares Executive Director Tom Viola said. “To raise more than a million dollars for the most vulnerable among us reminds us once again of how strong the heart and humanity are of everyone in theater – onstage, backstage and in the audience. Every dollar raised means that men, women, and children in our theater community and across the country will see a tomorrow that’s better than their today.”
“I can’t believe I got the cast!” Ison said, excitedly jumping up and down on West 45th Street while clutching her prized memorabilia.
Throughout the flea market, fans like Ison added pieces to their ever-growing theatrical
collections by stopping at 56 tables representing Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, theatre owners and producing organizations, unions, guilds, marketing groups, ticket agencies, concessionaires and fan clubs. The shows and organizations donate their time and the items for sale, so all purchases benefit Broadway Cares.
Among the wide range of items fans could add to their theatrical treasure chests: vintage Playbills and show posters, CDs and collectible records, set design sketches and even bracelets made of beads and pendants rescued from retired costumes.
Simultaneously with the tables, an all-day silent auction features autographed posters, Playbills, props, and costumes. Attendees have walked home with everything from Glinda’s bedspread from Wicked to an original “Under the Sea” costume from The Little Mermaid.
Other unique theater gems that were available for collectors included complete conductor’s scores used in the pit of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats and Starlight Express, sketches drawn onstage by Jake Gyllenhaal during Sunday in the Park with George, and costumes and props from shows like Amélie, Hair, Les Misérables, Sister Act and more.
In 2017, the silent auction alone raised a record-shattering $127,297. The top-selling lot was a sheet of lyrics to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?,” handwritten and signed by the legendary Carole King, who is represented on Broadway with the hit Beautiful – The Carole King Musical. Other popular items included a signed poster and CD from the recently closed Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 for $5,700 and a Dear Evan Hansen “Only Us” musical phrase, sketched and signed by Oscar and Tony winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, for $4,250.
The auction includes a handful of exclusive memorabilia, from one-of-a-kind hand-drawn musical phrases by the composers of Frozen and Hamilton to custom-built set pieces and even an original cast album of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music.
The most popular lot of the day was a coveted spot as a judge for Broadway Cares’ Gypsy of the Year and Easter Bonnet Competition, which went for a staggering $14,000. The second-most popular auction lot was seats at a taping of the much-anticipated return of TV’s Will & Grace, including photos with the iconic cast, at $13,500. A stunning chandelier from the set of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 went for $13,200, and VIP house seats to Ben Platt’s final performance in Dear Evan Hansen sold for an impressive $11,000.
Two tickets to the opening night of Frozen on Broadway with invitations to its exclusive
after-party raised $9,500. In all, 19 opening night packages, which included passes to the star-studded VIP celebrations after each, raised $66,000.
At the live auction, stars of currently running Broadway shows will also appear to offer the unique chance to join the cast onstage in a special walk-on role. Previous experiences have included the chance to play an Ozian in Broadway’s Wicked, a shoe factory worker in Kinky Boots or a band member in School of Rock – The Musical.
“The way this community comes together every year for this important day never ceases to amaze me,” said Jackie Burns, whose Broadway credits include playing Elphaba in Wicked. “The outpouring of love, passion, and excitement throughout the streets is unmistakable.”
Throughout the day, more than 70 Broadway actors appear at the Autograph Table and Photo Booth. When Kimiko Glenn, an original cast member of the hit musical Waitress and star of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, made her flea market debut last year, she was taken aback by the kindness and generosity of the fans and her fellow stars.
Frequent attendees at the autograph table include Broadway stalwarts Danny Burstein, Joel Grey, Bebe Neuwirth, Bernadette Peters, among many others.
“I was so honored to be part of the entire day,” said Taylor Louderman, star of the new Broadway musical Mean Girls. “We get to give back to the community that supports us and donate our time for a good cause. It felt amazing on every level. There wasn’t a frown on the street – all smiles.”
Javier Muñoz, who starred in the titular role in Hamilton on Broadway, told the crowd: “The number of people Broadway Cares supports across the country is astonishing. I know you’re here for bargains and Broadway, but you’re also making a difference in someone’s life.”
In addition to awarding annual grants to agencies across the country, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is the largest single financial supporter of the social service programs at The Actors Fund, including the HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative and the Samuel J. Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts.
Already, theater stars and fans alike are making plans to attend the 2018 edition of the Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction, set for Sunday, September 23.
“It’s an incredible feeling of joyous energy being with Broadway fans as they search for one-of-a-kind treasures for such an awesome cause,” says Sierra Boggess of Broadway’s The Phantom of the Opera and School of Rock – The Musical. “It’s really special that Broadway Cares brings us together in such a meaningful way.”