NY Mirror

I'm torn between joy and suicide now that they're planning to remake the inside-showbiz cautionary tale Valley of the Dolls, which has long been the ultimate camp classic. (Road to Perdition runs a distant second.) And I'm not sure if it adds disinfectant or salt to the wound to hear, as I reported last week, that director Betty Thomas wants Julia Roberts to play the over-the-hill but kind of likable barracuda Helen Lawson (overacted to perfection in the original by Susan Hayward, who stepped in when Judy Garland proved too messy to star even in a drug epic). That could either be a shockingly bad stroke or a wildly novel touch, but while we're wondering, I have some spot-on casting ideas to offer Thomas for free: Britney Spears should play Jennifer, the busty, doomed showgirl who ends up doing "nudies." Reese Witherspoon has to be Neely, the spunky upstart with a talent—for self-destruction. And Jordana Brewstermust be Anne, the sultry New England space cadet who's a model—of bland beauty—and a real pill.

Also, put Ricky Martin in a wheelchair as the nasal but cute (but, again, doomed) lounge singer Tony; Catherine Keener in a wig as the all-knowing Miriam; and Ben Stiller in a suit as the two-timing bore Lyon, and you've got a complete gonzo smash filled with "booze and dope." Just don't let any of the actors patronize the material, Betty; make sure they play it straight, with brio, like they did in the first version, which works on every level—musical, fashion show, horror flick—and it'll be big-haired Grand Guignol heaven. But Julia Roberts?

An even raunchier classic—Debbie Does Dallas—gets reworked, with smirks, in a stage musical that the more lubed and licentious among us have received with open legs. Yes, the thin show (a/k/a Triple D) throws in too many verbal quote marks and mediocre songs, but for the most part it's zippy, dippy fun and a real clit-ique of American values. Besides, it drips with same-sex innuendo, which must bug the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders to no end; they're the ones, Kate Hudsontold me, who wouldn't let her wear their costume for a movie because she was playing a lesbian! (And yes, I'm aware Debbie is nominally about "the Texas Cowgirls," OK?)

Recovering from the girl orgy scene?: Debbie Does Dallas's Sherie Rene Scott with Brooke Shields at the show's opening-night party
photo: Miles Ladin
Recovering from the girl orgy scene?: Debbie Does Dallas's Sherie Rene Scott with Brooke Shields at the show's opening-night party

At the show's opening-night party in the basement of an Italian restaurant, I asked musical-theater fave Sherie Rene Scott(from I Eat Her, I mean Aida) if she had to be coerced to play Debbie, the Chekhovian cheerleader who longs to 'ho herself to Dallas. "I try not to do anything I have to be coerced to do," she said, "unless it's in the privacy of my home. Then I can be coerced." Me too—though naturally my home comes equipped with a live studio audience. "I thought the girl orgy scene would be hard," great Scott added, "but I didn't have a problem with it. With these girls, you wouldn't either," she assured, probably referring to the fact that they wield bananas and large candles.

As the party peaked with the arrival of Brooke Shields and five new trays of mozzarella sticks, Scott concluded that "pornography is very sad. The girls in those movies are working really hard actingand trying to be taken seriously. No one's telling them that no one values that in porn. Believe me, I understand what it's like to be valued for superficial reasons." God, if only we all did. People only love me for my talent! "But I'm evolving to appreciate being valued for my tits and ass," said Scott, laughing.

In other educational-theater news, Hollywood Arms teaches you that a guy sticks his "Roger" into a girl's "Suzy," and though that'll get you to Dallas, it shouldn't have gotten this heartfelt dud—an unwieldy memory play—to Broadway, where Arms' chance at legs was amputated by most of the critics.

A few blocks away, a Flower Drum Song character is bitched out for only welcoming white guys into her Hollywood limbs. Well, whether it's white or Wong, the show's star, Lea Salonga, told Newsday that she'd only marry someone absolutely Asian. She won't wed outside her race! Thankfully, Lea's found someone to fit her prerequisite, and they're legally conjoining next year. (A hundred million miracles!)

Meanwhile, you've heard that Carol Channing— Broadway's answer to Madeleine Albright—just remembered her father was black. Well, in her memoir, Carol adds that, according to Mom, Dad made sure to indulge in extra-good hygiene because "all Negroes smell." Mercifully, Carol takes time to dispel the stereotype. . . . In more toe-tapping genealogy dish, rumor has it that Hairspray's Matthew Morrison is John Wayne's grandson, though he's never actually said so, pilgrim. (A publicist didn't call back for comment.)

And though she's definitely Elvis's daughter, Lisa Marie Presley's blue suede shoes can't always be swayed. To wit, my spies at a Virginia Film Festival party say the DJ started playing old Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson records and the crowd went wild, but student organizers silenced that faster than "ABC." Why? Because Lisa Marie was there with her new hubby, Nicolas Cage, and the party throwers didn't want them to "Beat It."

My own hubby named Nick—you know, Carter—is poignantly angling for a part-time solo career now that the Backstreet Boys' audience has moved from retainers to diaphragms (and those are the guys). But his me-minus-them record party at a pool hall across from g (the gay cruise bar) was so blah—especially when he dissed a reporter friend of mine and disappeared into the night—that I really have to wonder if it's totally over between Nick and me, girl. In fact, now that *NSync's Joey Fatone is doing half-drag at parties, I half want to go back to him.

Most directors "want it that way"—how's that for a segue?—but Far From Heaven star Julianne Moore doesn't appreciate that attitude. The acclaimed Moore recently told me, "The best directors have said very little to me. I don't think you should confuse a director with an acting coach. If I have to be twisted into a pretzel to get a performance, they probably should have hired somebody else." Maybe that chick from Debbie Does Dallas?

Saltier than a pretzel—oh no, you dih-int—Disco Bloodbath author James St. James has not only finished Killer Grampa (a book about his own grandfather, long story), he's also written an epic about his brief, brave spell as a trannie hooker in '91. It's called Freakshow, and as soon as James finds a new illustrator for it—yes, it's a picture book—it'll be ready to be picked up.

Finally, hoping to be valued for my (rented) tits and ass, I hit the clubs for Halloween and found that the folks who dress in outlandish getups every night of the year had to try even harder—a nastier Roger, a bigger Suzy—to look like they didn't just roll out of bed. And they managed it. The drag queen in a burka at Spa has never looked better. And at Susanne Bartsch's circuslike Copacabana party, the standout was the red-gowned guy with a sign that said, "Don't Worry, Children. I'm Not a Real Cardinal." By the way, Bartsch—a real star—is being filmed for an HBO reality pilot, and when I asked her why "dirty" Christina Aguilera got into the shot with her at Beige two nights earlier, she said, "We're having an affair!" They want Julia Roberts for the movie version.


musto@villagevoice.com

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