By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
Forget the Latin music explosion-as of two minutes ago, it's all about the drag record boom. No less than three feather boa-ed Downtown divas have new records out, simultaneously urging us to bailamos with heels on. Richie (who's being promoted as 'the last club kid') has come out with the dancey Collision, impressionist Jimmy James is pushing The One & Many Voices of Jimmy James, and Kevin Aviance makes rhythm his bitch on Box of Chocolates. On the surface, these three are as diverse as Macaulay Culkin, Judy Garland, and Grace Jones, but they have more in common than you'd think since not one of them thanked me in their liner notes. Plus, when I asked them to rate each other's asses, they were all magnificently diplomatic.Said Aviance, "The Downtown children are beyond lip-synching now. Jimmy and Richie are leading them to a new kind of club performance." Enthused Richie, "Jimmy and Kevin break the barriers of the public's perception of freakism and drag." Talk about shattering perception-everyone expects drag queens to flog each other out of the spotlight with torpedo bras.
The downside of drag? Now that it's in our bedrooms, toilets, bingo parlors, and mirrors, it has all the shock value of abortion. But if that makes you tremble in fear that Dame Edna Everage's new show might come off as quaint as a family of nine, you're so wrong, possums. In her own Vegasy way, Edna-the glitzy, meddlesome Australian housewife played by Barry Humphries-is still a scream, and she's updated her material to include put-downs of Monica Lewinsky, innuendo about Kathie Lee Gifford's son, and a trèsgay reference to Sam Champion. She even mentions Moomba and works in a song that name-drops Tina Brown ("I just gave Tina/My old pashmina"). Most of the riotous evening has Edna-who will no doubt be understudied by Ally Sheedy-dressing down audience members and at the end dressing up a bunch of them like the royal family. I was mercifully spared her barbs and makeovers all night, but almost got my eye poked out when one of the "gladdies" (gladioli) she flings at the crowd hit me like a meteor. It reactivated that Catsscratch from some years ago-"but in a lovely, caring way," as Edna would say.
Saturday Night Feverhasn't held up quite so well in its stage reincarnation - in fact, it's the worst show I ever enjoyed. The main problem is that, just like in Footloose, songs that were mere background in the movie version now stop the plot dead and take center stage as the characters belt them out, hands outstretched to the audience. The tunes are forced into the story like ill-fitting jigsaw pieces, and if that's not enough, they've added "Disco Duck," a Streisand song, and a Stomphommage. None of it makes the least bit of sense, though the dancing is vigorous and I did enjoy seeing Orfeh-who used to work the guest list for club promoter Mykul Tronn-passionately belt out her tunes of regret. Oh, and they don't throw things at the audience.
In its only upscale move, the critic-proof show has landed in the windows of Bloomingdale's (a feat Death of a Salesmannever managed). In another kooky coup, it's succeeded in dredging back my memories of living in Brooklyn at a time when polyester leisure suits were almost as terrifying as the Son of Sam scare. While I chewed on that during halftime, Tony winner Kristen Chenoweth-in the row in front of me-chatted up a chorus boy from Ragtime, telling him about her current vehicle, Epic Proportions, "It's 90 minutes without an intermission." "We have to do twicewhat you do!" the Ragtime queen sniffed-but one could only sympathize if the show's so long because they've added "Disco Duck" and a Stomphommage.
Remnants of old-style dance are stayin' alive at the Roxy, where, last week, the DJ was actually playing a song with vocals-not just computerized, whiny, moany, alienated vocals, mind you, but real, big, juicy hot-mama type vocals. This sounded like the closing of a giant K hole, though insiders warned that it was probably just a fluke thrown at the crowd like some kind of wayward flower.
Maybe not, though, because Arista head honcho Clive Davis continues to make trillions while selling big, juicy vocalists to the masses. Davis is earning major props for the resurgence of the originalLatin music explosion king, Carlos Santana. In fact, the mogul himself beams, "It's becoming the story of the year" (though he may be slightly biased). In a statistic-laden phoner, Davis told me that it was after Santana went into meditation that the generation-crossing icon realized it was time for him to make a record with Davis for the first time in 24 years. Well, Davis did some deep thinking of his own and helped the guy devise a CD mixing vintage-style Santana with some contempo guest stars who worship him. The single, Davis said, "was a huge reactive call-out record on Top 40." He talks like that.
And he's humble too, insisting, "Carlos was kind enough to tell people I was the architect of his album, but I was no such thing. And in the case of the Artist [Formerly, etc., who has an upcoming record on Arista], all of the creativity comes from him. He turned to the most successful producer he ever had, which was Prince, in order to do it." (That must have been a beautiful moment: Artist, meet Prince.) The result, said Davis, will be "funky, edgy," and no doubt a huge reactive call-out record. As for Whitney Houston, "We just certified her album triple platinum in the U.S., and it's sold 4.8 million abroad. She's at about 8 million worldwide." Yeah, but didn't she look and sound a bit like Lauryn Hill in her last video? "She's had a different look with every video," Davis explained. "Well, whoever Whitney is, she's certainly one of the best live performers out there," I groveled. "That was recent," said Davis, meaning her development in stage presence. Obviously-or I wouldn't have remembered it.