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Legiters bring auds into charity act

Shows support Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS' fund-raiser

“I will hug you, sir!” Daniel Radcliffe declared to an audience member last month on the stage of Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld theater after a performance of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

Radcliffe was assuring a prospective bidder that he would do whatever it took to get the maximum amount of money for the prop he was auctioning off to the audience.

Scenes like this are commonplace around 10:45 p.m. on Broadway in the spring as many shows on the Great White Way take part in Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ annual Easter Bonnet fund-raising competition. This year’s contest raised $3.7 million.

“There’s a very brief appeal that’s done at the end of the shows,” explains Tom Viola, the program’s exec director. “They can be very straightforward and heartfelt, and sometimes they’re funny and include some extraordinary auctions” in which the actors sell a prop or a favor to the highest bidder. “Daniel Radcliffe was auctioning the blue bow tie he was wearing, as well,” Viola recalls. “Robin Williams was auctioning off meet-and-greets.”

As with any audience-participation stunt, sometimes the actors have to roll with the punches. Williams began ad-libbing as if he were possessed by the devil when a playgoer bid $666 for a photo op with him after a perf of “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.”

This year, “How to Succeed” led the pack of Rialto shows in raising $271,000, while the overall winner was touring production “Wicked” with $360,000.

The effort is all for a good cause, but it definitely brings out the competitive nature of some legiters.

“We’re competing against the other Broadway shows,” one notably frank “Book of Mormon” thesp told the crowd after the April 14 perf. “If ‘Mamma Mia!’ beats us, we’re gonna look like douchebags.”