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Broadway auction turns 25, offering unique items

It's a flea market like no other. For one thing, it takes place in Times Square. For another, it's a chance to come face-to-face with some of Broadway's biggest stars.
/ Source: The Associated Press

It's a flea market like no other. For one thing, it takes place in Times Square. For another, it's a chance to come face-to-face with some of Broadway's biggest stars.

The annual Broadway Flea Market and Grand Auction celebrates its 25th year on Sunday, offering items far from the typical knickknacks elsewhere: a meeting with Bernadette Peters backstage at "Follies"; the chance to see "The Book of Mormon" and meet the stars; being part of the wedding scene onstage at "Mamma Mia!"

"I'm looking forward to it," says Andrew Rannells, who plays Elder Kevin Price in "The Book of Mormon." He'll sign autographs for an hour and a half on Sunday and later greet a winning bidder with a backstage tour.

Bidders will be able to snap up memorabilia from more than a dozen Broadway shows, including "Sister Act," "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," "Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical," "Billy Elliot" and "Anything Goes."

Some of the prizes in a silent auction include a red Herve Leger dress worn by Christie Brinkley; a shoulder bag adorned with "The Normal Heart" logo; Hal Prince's "Fiddler on the Roof" framed platinum record signed by the legendary producer; and sheet music from the "Catch Me If You Can" song "Butter Outta Cream," signed by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. All proceeds go to charity.

The event traces its roots to 1986 when the original company of "A Chorus Line" put up a few card tables outside the Schubert Theatre stage door and sold items plundered from their dressing tables. It made a few thousand dollars and planted a seed.

The next year, more shows jumped aboard and the event was held in Shubert Alley, which became its usual home. "It raised $12,000, which we thought was a tremendous amount of money," says Tom Viola, executive director of Broadway Cares-Equity Fights AIDS, which produces the event. "It grew from there."

In 1989, a grand auction was added with one-of-a-kind experiences such as walk-on parts. In 1991, the event broke the $100,000 mark. Last year, it had over 70 tables, raised $476,917 and saw the introduction of Flash Auctions, in which people bid immediately for once-in-a-lifetime events, such as a duet with a star.

Susan Blackwell, the witty, tart-tongued star of Broadway's "title of show," helped the Flash Auction immeasurably when she offered one winner something very personal and definitely unusual.

"Before we knew it, basically she was auctioning, I guess, a lick. I'd like to call it a kiss, but, to be honest, it was a lick. It was hilarious," says Viola. "It sold for a thousand bucks and we sold it twice."

Last year, some of the big prizes at the grand auction included a chance to appear in "Wicked" that sold for a whopping $16,500 and a tank top worn by Daniel Craig in "A Steady Rain" and signed by Craig and co-star Hugh Jackman that fetched $6,500.

The auction and market, which cost about $60,000 to produce, plus three other Broadway Cares/Equity Fight AIDS events — the Easter Bonnet Competition, Gypsy of the Year and Broadway Bares — helped the group last year award some $10 million in grants to The Actors Fund and to more than 400 AIDS and family service organizations.

Some of the celebrities this year willing to sign autographs for a $25 donation — or pose for a photo for $10 — are Adam Godley, Nick Adams, Patina Miller, Sutton Foster, Tony Sheldon, Rory O'Malley, Alice Ripley, Annaleigh Ashford, Josh Gad, Joyce DeWitt, Nikki M. James, Patrick Page, Victoria Clark, Roger Rees, Adam Pascal, Montego Glover, Beth Leavel and Charles Busch.

Rannells says he'll get a kick out of meeting fellow Broadway stars as much as the fans. "It's always a nice opportunity to get to see people you don't normally get to see," he says. "I like these events where you get to hang out with folks who you've seen perform but not actually met."

One change this year is the location of the event. Due to construction of a parking garage near Shubert Alley, the auction and market are being moved to encompass all of 44th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues, and will stretch across Broadway into Times Square, filling the wide pedestrian plaza between 43rd and 44th streets.

Some of the estimated 25,000 shoppers who turn up will also likely spot some memorabilia beyond signed Playbills, sheet music or posters. Last year, "The Lion King," "Billy Elliot" and "The Addams Family" held bake sales, which included such items as "Fester's Moon Pies" and "Grandma Elliot's Sausage Rolls."

Among the more interesting offering this year are a walk-on spot in the "Shake Your Groove Thing" scene at "Priscilla Queen of the Desert"; meeting Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin backstage after their upcoming show; watching stunt rehearsals at "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"; conducting the orchestra during the exit music at "The Phantom of the Opera"; meeting John Lithgow and getting a signed copy of his soon-to-be-released memoir; and a chance to appear on stage in "Sister At" as a patron in a bar scene.

One of Viola's favorite prizes was when the show "Urinetown" sold lemonade and homemade toilet paper wrappers. "That's just an example of how funny and creative and generous these folks are," he says. "The whole community comes together to help us with this big sale."