By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
During the intermission for day two of Carnegie Hall's Judy Garland tribute, I raced outside and was stunned by a loud thunderbolt and a blinding flash of lightning. Judy, was that you? I thought so. The event may not have been a total corpse-turner, but for every up note (Lea DeLaria's dyke jokes and scat singing, Elaine Stritch's boozing tales and ballads), there was a queasy one--like a chanteuse belting a song from Oliver! or Vikki Carr (whose bio says she's been called "the Callas of contemporary music") telling us that Judy's performances taught her to be real, then launching into a plastic, Vegasy version of "Rockabye Your Baby."
Everyone was sparkly and well-meaning, and Alan King was a riot, but overall it was too much like being at the Concord, and there was no Liza Minnelli, maybe because of another booking--or maybe another book(Lorna Luft's). Cohost Lorna never so much as uttered Liza's name, probably to preserve her anonymity. But she did sing, and when I closed my eyes, I could have sworn it was . . . Lorna. Still, the girl has ovaries to take on "The Man That Got Away," even if it was the song that got away. Sorry, Judy--I still love you.
A more coherent celebration--the Sweet Charity event at Avery Fisher Hall--featured everyone who's ever played Charity except for me (lip-synching in the mirror), Shirley MacLaine, and probably Vikki Carr. It was surreal--I've never seen so much Charity on one stage since the last batch of Jerry's kids. There were celebs galore, and like the title dance-hall hostess herself, I started thinking, "I'm the only one here I never heard of." And the material itself is irresistible fluff, a '66 Broadway-style reduction of Fellini's Nights of Cabiria, replete with mod trimmings and Fosse hands. The AmFar benefit had its over- and underactors (Marla Maples really stretched as a socialite yelling, "Get me a taxi--I'm going home!"), but mostly it was a love-in, a Broadway queen's full serving of choreographed chutzpah and all that jazz. Chita Rivera, Bebe Neuwirth, and the cameoing Gwen Verdon were spectacular, and Lillias Whiteand Pamela Isaacs--from Cy Coleman's othertuner about the longings of sex workers, The Life--really worked it on their plaintive hooker duet. But the biggest charge came outside during intermission, when I caught, not a lightning bolt courtesy of Shirley MacLaine, but one of the taxi dancers taking a breather--and up close, she was clearly a he! I loved her--and I don't pop my cork for every guy I see.
Even more sweetness beckoned for thislittle charity case. Dinah Was,the relocated musical about fiery Dinah Washington, feels incomplete, but it's still deep, dark, and loving--what a difference a play makes. And a quay: Basil Twist's Symphonie Fantastiqueat HERE has synchronized rags and fabrics swishing underwater to Berlioz tunes. The fluid show, which is very Koyaanisqatsimeets Fantasia, is like watching the spin cycle, but more technically impressive. And what I saw of the period revue As Thousands Cheer--damn those lying cabdrivers--was cute, especially the old man in the bathroom afterward who said, "It's every bit as fresh as when I first saw it." In 1933! That was even before Cats!
In the theater of the absurd, my sources swear that the ever kittenish Madonna--the Callas of contemporary music--ismoving into a four-story townhouse in the Village, replete with French doors overlooking the garden. "It's very Evita," notes an observer, but sans all those darned peasants. Meanwhile, Madonna's ex, Tony Ward, probably couldn't even nab a closet in the spiritual one's old hotel haunts with the proceeds of his latest venture. It's Sex/Life in L.A., a smallish documentary filled with, um, dance-hall hostesses, the highlight of which has Ward--fresh off Hustler White--casually j/o-ing and climaxing in a bathtub. Give the guy a hand.
It turns out that Madonna's brother Christopher Ciccone--if we can keep leafing through her family tree--is not ensconced with Wilson Cruz after all. Wilson wants me to know that he and Chris went on a couple of dates, but they're not "dating"--got that? Anyway, Chris and anotherdate were at the opening of Cafeteria, which had People eating Food without Air-Conditioning, but it was Fun--even if Calvin Klein ran for the Exit so quickly I didn't even get to say, "Hey, girlfriend!" The joint, conveniently close to the Barneys warehouse sale, attracted a thin, Hamptonsy bunch sampling the "reinvented Classic American" cuisine, which, for my grabbing hands, meant a fried chicken thigh and a mussel dotted with corn niblets. It's all very clean and minimal--a monument to eggshell whiteness, with only mirrors and tiny bits of blue and brown interrupting the adamant rejection of color. Downstairs, the inevitable lounge boasts white, Delano-style booths, where the lack of air-conditioning made meatloaf out of the question. The situation's been fixed.
A couple of blocks north, Gene DiNino, the man behind Nightclub--you know, the Roxy--is opening a supper club, probably called DiNino's, which makes perfect sense to me. And the Tribeca Screening Room is certainly a screening room in Tribeca and not a Hollywood meeting ground. Last week there, Neil LaBute, the writer-director of the hormonal talkathon Your Friends & Neighbors (a/k/a Guys Suck, But Women Won't), was about to unload his sexual issues to me, when a publicity droog tried to drag him away to talk to someone else. Does she know something?
Speaking of dragging away, I love how Eddie Murphy's hoping to downplay that driving-the-drag-'ho, I mean home, incident as he promotes various "family films," but in Mulan, a/k/a Yentl Chow Mein,he's the voice of the dragon (or is it draggin'?) whose main goal is to get the cross-dresser home!
The AFI's 100-greatest-movies list wasn't a total drag, but there are too many "family films" and I'm horrified to find that Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is supposedly better than the unranked Touch of Evil or Sullivan's Travels! And did no one gay vote on this? Where the fuck are The Women, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Funny Girl, A Star Is Born (I hear another thunderbolt), and Valley of the Dolls?
Finally, in the worst real-life movie of all time, Daniel Auster, the son of renowned author Paul Auster, was the other person in the apartment when Michael Aligand Freezeoffed Angel Melendez. He was never charged with any involvement, but there's more texture to this story. One insider alleged last year that Daniel told three versions of the murder, one in which he heard about what happened, another in which he saw it, and yet another in which it was premeditated and performed by the threesome (this last version had Angel being tied up in his sleep, followed by smothering, a hammer, and Drano). What's more, Alig's longtime cohort James St. Jamesnow tells me that the very first account Alig gave him of the killing had Alig, Freeze, and Auster alldoing the Drano stunt (though James isn't totally convinced of this version--and both Alig and Freeze have said that the fourth person in the apartment wasn't involved). Last time I wrote about Daniel, he and his dad didn't return calls, and two weeks ago, when St. James approached Daniel for a comment, he said maybe they could talk later at Mother (where he didn't show) and added that his parents were sending him away for the summer and he couldn't be reached. Take it away, Lorna: "The night gets bitter. . . . "