NY Mirror

Theater queens felt a little extra regal this week. Once the season’s big openings started coming in, we—I mean they—developed a burning sense of purpose and pride, even at the end of the TKTS line. There’s already a Broadway transfer worth kvelling about—Proof, which isn’t your typical theater queen’s evening at all. Its dazzle isn’t in flash or histrionics, but in thoughtfully exploring the psyche of a young woman—again, not me—who 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 fine—it'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 Keeve—who directed Unzipped, '95's zippy documentary about him—was 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 Baye—along with costar Audrey Tautou and writer-director Tonie Marshall—for 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 something—maybe dirty.' " (Gee, I usually go to a salon to clean off afterI've had that feeling.)

In France, they love the idea of the 50-plus woman—played by Baye—sleeping around and nailing hot young himbos, but I told the Venus gang this happens in Hollywood movies about as often as gay characters get the sex they want. "It's a pity!" said Baye. "America is puritanical." "It's different in France," chimed in Marshall. "I never think I am 48 years old. I think I am still a girl." I'm going to have to move to Paris, honey, because so do I!

A more literary salon—and one with its own ideas of beauty—the House of Xavier's nearly four-hour Glam Slam poetry ball at Nuyorican Poets Cafe was riveting in an extremely nonpuritanical way. I enjoyed judging the thing, even when the contestants who urged us to spread peace and love then launched into poems like "Pack up your shit and get the hell out of my house, you mangy motherfucker!" There were two especially dramatic moments that made my ass blush—a featured performer fainted and was carried out for food and air (this starving artist ultimately came back to recite, "I stuck a finger in my cooch . . . "), and later, a woman who'd done a poem that went "My pussy has a name . . . " started demanding that anyone taping her performance had better not show it on TV. "I don't want to be on a subway and have some asshole say, 'What's your pussy's name?' " she warned. I have no such problem—my pussy carries photo ID.

Meanwhile, Brian Belovitch considers himself lucky that hispussy's still in the mail. Brian, a longtime friend of mine, spent the '80s as Tish, but didn't cut his member off, allowing his eventual and grateful return to Brian. It's all there in his eye-opening one-man (yes, man) show Boys Don't Wear Lipstick, and theater queens can rejoice.

Finally, a very real-looking picture of Danny from The Real World is being circulated on the Internet, with the gay icon lying naked and extremely aroused. Not only wasn't his member cut off, it's positively transcendent. Danny's publicist insists the photo is a fake, which is too bad for Danny.

musto@villagevoice.com

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