By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Theater queens felt a little extra regal this week. Once the seasons big openings started coming in, weI mean theydeveloped a burning sense of purpose and pride, even at the end of the TKTS line. Theres already a Broadway transfer worth kvelling aboutProof, which isnt your typical theater queens evening at all. Its dazzle isnt in flash or histrionics, but in thoughtfully exploring the psyche of a young womanagain, not mewho seems poised halfway between genius and insanity. Even if you'd rather watch Fosse, you'd have to be mentally challenged to not think Mary-Louise Parker isgenius in the role. And by the way, the show's easier than Copenhagen.
The cheers are more muted for Neil Simon's The Dinner Party, which has six characters wondering why they were invited. The night I saw it, a lot of the audience was feeling the same way. A strained attempt at dark-tinged French farce via Nick at Nite, it's at least uplifted by Simon's clever causticity and a cast that makes the soufflé rise higher than it should.
All that and a bag of chips, the one-night My Favorite Broadway: The Love Songs concert brought most of my favorite theater stars together, and it was all thanks to the allure of cheap merchandise. On sweeping in, I was told by a publicist, "This evening would not have been possible without . . . " My support? My fashion? "The sponsorship of Target!" she beamed. Oh yes, when I think great theater, I think Target. Inside, the discount store's reps took the stage to give money to AIDS charities and tell us they've had "a longtime love affair with Manhattan"but they have no store here! Oh hell, I love them anyway, and the show was fabulous, the highlights being Nathan Lane's doo-wop version of "Sue Me," Heather Headley's bossa nova-tinged "He Touched Me," and Julie Andrews singing two lines from "The Rain in Spain." I think she's got it!
Also without a store in Manhattan, Isaac Mizrahi has targeted performing with his LES MIZrahi show, and he's les happy about it. "Fashion was always something that really bugged me," the ex-designer told me during a rehearsal a few weeks ago, but being onstage never bothered him at all. Shedding inhibitions as if dropping last season's trousers, he tells stories, sketches celebrities, and sings lyrics like "Everyone hates me, yes, yes/Leaving them all so dressless/I was in fashion, but really my passion is stardom!"
"I'm not trying to be Ralph Fiennes or John Leguizamo or Sandra [Bernhard]," Isaac revealed, puffing away on a cig. "I'm trying to be me. It's a new form of entertainment to watch somebody sew. As you get older, it's harder to walk out of the house anyway, so I figure if this show is that terrible, then fineit'll be hard to walk out of the house and there'll actually be a reason."
The time it was most difficult to go out in public was probably when Isaac's relationship with Douglas Keevewho directed Unzipped, '95's zippy documentary about himwas dramatically unraveling. "I looked and it was not pretty," admitted Les Mizrahi. "I was a fat mess. You think, 'I've already got a man and he loves me. It doesn't matter if I'm a little fat.' And guess what? It does matter. It's sad but true." (Keeve refused to comment.)
The relationship was often tempestuous, added the slimmed-down diva, "but it was a big surprise that we were breaking up, because I thought no matter how down-and-dirty this gets, we're committed to each other. That's what my life is all about. I burn for change and I don't allow myself that basic desire." But now, of course, he allows it big-time, with fringes on. The clothier-turned-dramateuse has even found a new male accessory, though he laughed and said, "They all turn into monsters. You date them for a month or two and then it's like, 'Excuse me, you're such a monster!' " That's when I really fall in love.
Uptown at Feinstein's, audiences fell for Polly Bergen right from the second she said, "You thought I was dead, right?" Actually, I knew Bergen was breathing, but figured she was a slight presence known mainly for costarring with Doris Day and selling turtle oil, probably at Target stores. Wrong! It turns out she has a smoky, resonant voice, which she applied to a series of angsty songs in ways that went far beyond the usual cabaret fare. You wanted to kill yourself, which is a testament to her great talent.
Women survive and some even triumph in Venus Beauty Institute, an award-winning French film about salon workers' sex lives in the face of how men all turn into monsters. Who can resist any movie that begins with Nathalie Baye blurting, "He tore off my underwear. My ass began to blush"? I joined Bayealong with costar Audrey Tautou and writer-director Tonie Marshallfor a p.r. beauty day at Privé salon last week, and my facebegan to blush from all the girl talk. Over the whirring of hair dryers, the stunning Tautou told me she never goes to salons because "I get my hair cut on the film set. That's the limit of the salon." Marshall said she only went once and learned that "it's not about appearance, it's about deep intimacy. It's 'Suddenly I can be somethingmaybe dirty.' " (Gee, I usually go to a salon to clean off afterI've had that feeling.)