NY Mirror

Always in the market for kooky new thrills, I started jonesing when I heard that a Cuban drag magician was making the club rounds, giving the jaded after-hours bunch a fresh rabbit to pull out of their Patricia Field hats. Instantly, I pictured all sorts of tricks involving disappearing penises, gerbils, and Cuban sandwiches, and though the (gender) illusionist in question didn’t end up going there, her act had its own kinky charms. The setting was Queen Bee, the Friday-night drag hangout (hosted by Sweetie, Randella, Chitah, and Sharon), which is a taste of both the old Times Square and the recent Meat Market courtesy of the new East Village. The smoky, atmospheric place looks like the dressing room of a burlesque house jointly run by Christopher Isherwood and Tennessee Williams, replete with a glitter ball and semiforgiving mirror. Trannies mixed with chasers, studs, and a few rowdies who looked like they wandered in from guidebook listings—though DJs Michael T and Joe II soothed nerves with their lilting selections by Britney Spears and other pop queens of the modern age.

The star attraction, sure enough, was Miss Brandall, "Queen of Magical Illusions," a diva from Havana in silver sequins and a knowing half-smile that makes her the Hormona Lisa of lower Broadway. The lady is straight out of Las Vegas via Edelweiss in a way that brings to mind Lance Burton meeting Walter Mercado on the way to Celia Cruz's house on Halloween. Brandall, who's been performing for 30 years, told me she wished I had a Voice on me because she does a newspaper trick. (So do I—I've conned them into letting me write this column.) Alas, alI I had to offer was good luck, but she didn't need it as she bounded onto the stage to make cigarettes disappear, find a bird in a balloon, and pour water into a copy of the Post, only to have the liquid mystically come out bloodlike (thank God I didn't have a Voice). In between stunts, Brandall danced a few pert cha-cha steps and ritualistically pointed to her eye, making this the most surreal and inexplicable club experience since I couldn't get into Chaos. Brandall's is even more of a drag magic act than Siegfried and Roy or David Copperfield. I'm not necessarily telling you to see it, but be jealous that I did.

From one sparkly reality-bender to another—pouff!—Quentin Crisp's memorial at Cooper Union was such an all-encompassing dissection of the Brit wit's work, pinched face, and refined manners that it's a shame the big drag queen in the sky made him disappear; Quentin might have liked it. The analyses and tributes kept coming for two and a half hours—I was one of 22 speakers—and though one memorializer finally conceded that Quentin felt homosexuality was abnormal, he added, "But he didn't exactly have the highest regard for normalcy." The second the event was over, imperturbable rocker Dean Johnson cornered me to offer his own heartfelt sentiments: "You haven't mentioned my band in four years! You're on the list tonight." Oy.

Among the living, every single queen I know has been getting drunk, sleeping with their female best friend, and then fighting to keep custody of the resultant baby. Oh, wait a minute—that's not real life, that's the plot of the new Madonna movie, The Next Best Thing! Well, anyway, I finally saw it after having been dissed from screenings, and though at first I wished I'd brought along a deck of cards like I did for Shanghai Surprise, this Thing grew on me like a fungus, strained plot—pansy, don't preach, I'm keeping my baby—and all. Maybe I'm just reacting to the rock-bottom expectations, but it's a perfectly watchable, trashy Doris Day?and?Rock Hudson?type romp (with Rupert Everett as Doris), at least until it gets to the courtoom histrionics and phony ending. (Sidebar: Rupert tells Empire magazine—the new upscale offshoot of HX—that iconwise, he prefers Whitney Houston to Mariah Carey because "Mariah's a bossy old bitch." I thought he liked that sort of thing.)

Divas got better treatment at Nothing Like a Dame 2000—"the thinking woman's vaudeville show" at the Richard Rodgers, to benefit the Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative of the Actors' Fund of America. The one-nighter trotted out acrobats, Rockettes, majorettes, and everything but Madonna doing sex tricks with gays. Of the many star turns, the juiciest came from the mesmerizing Elaine Stritch and the sensational Heather Headley—plus grande dame Uta Hagen, who said, "I would tell funny stories about my mastectomy, but I've run out of stories!" The camp peak was Florence Henderson singing her imaginary musical version of The Vagina Monologues, which someone should snatch up, as it were, and produce. "I love my vagina!" crooned the onetime Brady mom. "And my adorable labia too. . . . There's nothing we cunt do." Especially with some Wesson oil.

Having seen the week's other big shows, I cunt tell you how glad I am to be a lonely only child. Nicky Silver's The Altruists serves up wildly dysfunctional siblings, while Sam Shepard's True West has two brothers viciously conning each other out of screenplay deals. The play's lost a lot of its menace in the current production, which punches up the laughs, though the audience was nervously tittering even at parts that weren't intended to be funny. You wonder why they didn't stay home and watch Just Shoot Me.

Meanwhile, Matt Drudge clearly believes in just shooting the messenger. After I wrote that a new book outs him, the gonzo journalist dropped my column as a direct link from his Web site—but he left the author of the book up as a link! Days later, he finally dumped her too—and now we've both been punished by the guy who'll seemingly throw any story against the wall to see if it'll stick.

Another lovable kook, Bijou Phillips, once told me I should try relaxing on TV, which is like Drew Barrymore instructing you to be monogamous. But I adore the woman, who doesn't bother to censor her feelings, especially if they'll make hot copy. At her Centro-Fly party, Bijou was surprisingly calm and even told me her favorite shot in her Playboy spread is the one where her business is all covered up. But as I left, she started vehemently grabbing for a plate of hors d'oeuvres being carried a whole level below. That's my Bijou!

Finally, I grabbed for some drag brilliance at Bar d'O's fifth-anniversary bash, a mini-Wigstock held at the cozy Village bistro that's the home of raunchy wit and fake tits. "They can't kill us," Holly Woodlawn told me, referring to her Trash revival, as the show— Nothing Like a Dame 2000, but without labia—started and proved her point. In this magical drag act, Sade Pendavis sang sublimely, Flotilla DeBarge ripped into the blues while sitting on audience crotches, Sherry Vine turned Natalie Imbruglia's big song into a lament about finding corn in your poo, Lady Bunny similarly retooled pop hits into riotously filthy anthems ("Plowing me roughly with his dong"), and MC Raven-O commented, "Is Madonna here? She said after that movie, she was gonna do coat check." Naturally, Madonna never made it—she was home taking care of our baby.

 

musto@villagevoice.com

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