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
The drag queen with the highest heels and voice in town, Shequida, has gone legit with Opera for Dummies, her Westbeth song-and-prance show that's the latest Sheq attack on cultural complacency. As the vibrato-serving divawho boasts a five-octave rangetold me, "I'm a male soprano. I'm not really considered a tenor because of the texture, color, and timbre of my voice." So why does it have such a distinctly female sound, girleen? "I don't know, honey," she said. "Maybe because I tucked too tight. Stop trying to figure it out and just enjoy it!"
More definitively, Shequida was born Gary Hall in Jamaica ("not Queens. We love them, but not Queens"), studied at Juilliard, and was an offbeat regular on One Life to Livefor a year. Says she, "I played Wendy Mercury, a woman with a secret. I'll let you figure out what the secret is, sugar. There were actually a bunch of themlike why she was a bartender with designer clothes, and why you could never mention music to her."
But the all-encompassing Shequidashe sings! she talks!is all too thrilled to apply her male soprano speaking voice to the topic. "I'd love to do Turandota princess, honey," she says. "But in the show, I do more familiar stuffstuff you might have heard in an elevator. And I duet with my brother, Hequida, which is actually me, of course, on video. Also, I talk about things like why Wagner operas are six hours long. It's beautiful music, but it's torture!"
Sugar, you want torture? All these recent pop musical tributes posing as theater pieces have me screeching like Callas, only without accompaniment. I was stupefied during George Gershwin Alone, that one-bore history lesson, but the audience tossed aside its walkers to stand and cheer. I was horrified during Love, Janiswhich stars two Joplin impersonators, one singing and one talking (I guess Shequida's one of the few divas who can do both)but the crowd went delirious like it was Woodstock with a cover charge. And most recently, as everyone lapped up the Laura Nyro homage, Eli's Comin', I just sat there wondering what I'd missed, or more aptly, what I'd seen. I worship Nyro's music, but this mishmash throws her quirky, personal songs into a hazy plot about a woman finding "the heart and soul of New York City." The spirited singing is a bit too Broadway soprano-ish (as opposed to drag queen soprano-ish) for the material, and the minimal staging makes Love, Janislook like 42nd Street. Eli may be comin', but not in mymouth.
Urinetown!, however, is well worth chugging down. The ingeniously staged Off-Broadway tunerabout a water-deficient town where you have to pay to use a bathroom (sounds like a $400,000 condo I just looked at)works as both a spoof of musical-theater clichés and an invigorating Cradle Will Rock-meets-Les Mizmusical in its own right. You'll piss your pants!
At the opening-night party at Ye Olde Tripple Inn, John Cullum, the Tony winner who stars as the corporate baddie, told me that when he first got the script, "I thought, 'What the hell is this? This is ridiculous!' " But Cullum later saw the light, now acknowledging, "The show takes advantage of what gets to people. Commercials have done that for yearsand I'd rather be sold on ecology than tampons." I didn't realize they were two different things!
Cullum left me with a pisser: "I heard that Hal Princeonce said, 'John Cullum is the dullest actor in musicals.' He later claimed he discovered my comic talents!" Welcome to Urinetown, honey.
I held it in during the Film Society of Lincoln Center tribute to Jane Fonda, a long but rewarding homage to the woman who went from sex kitten to artist to thigh-buster to Hollywood escapee, all with pretty admirable grace. She's a princess, honey. Her Oscar films are fab, but my top Fonda flick is. . . no, not Favorite Fat Burners, but Walk on the Wild Side, the trashy '62 sudser with Jane vamping as reckless prostie-slash-con artist Kitty Twist (though its real highlight has a legless man on a dolly rolling up to lesbian madam Barbara Stanwyck to say, "Am I still your husband?").
They showed a clip from thatand from practically every other Fonda flickinterspersed with neurotically gushy celebrity testimonials from the best of the weirdest. Sally Fieldbeamed, "She taught us the sheer joy of sweat!" Peter Fondasaid, "Timemagazine called me the little brother with the big mouth," then murmured to himself, "Remember, this is about Jane, not you." Debbie Reynoldstrashed Eddie Fisher, Vanessa Redgraveread some bizarre poem, and finally Fonda emerged, looking as if she'd just done that backflip out of Golden Pond. Even when tossing off deadpan revelations ("I come from a long line of bipolar manic-depressives"), Jane was so magnetic you expected Ted Turnerto roll onto the stage and say, "Am I still your husband?"
In other ambulatory news, Parker Poseywas approaching a recent opening-night party while talking on her cell phone, only to come across a battalion of hungry paparazzi and reporters. Ever resourceful, Posey played up the moment, booming into the phone, "Oh, I got the job? Six million dollars? Wow, that's great!"