NY Mirror

Chicago the movie is finally opening after years of speculation, revision, derision, and hope, and, as the ultimate Chicago queen, I have to say my whole life has been leading up to this moment. Baby, I've seen every production except for ones in prison, and—as proposed movie version after proposed movie version fell apart like Whitney Houston tours—I've continually reveled in the project's caustic wit and dazzling showmanship, praying for a big-screen transfer and a free screening. Well, despite all the delays, the flick turns out to be so stylishly faithful to the show, it puts the muse back in musical, the chic back in Chicago, and my ass back in the movie theater. Of course in the adaptation process, a few elements had to be lost, right? They cut the best song, "Class" (but they must have had a good reason), and they've also excised three other tunes, turned "Me and My Baby" into an instrumental, and trimmed out the drag queen's number and made her a woman—not that I noticed any of this, mind you. But they've kept everything else and have even added a few plot points, all of which are so right in tone and spirit it seems as if Bob Fosse directed the whole thing from a ballet barre in the great beyond.

Naturally, the characters don't just burst into song—modern audiences wouldn't swallow that without a condom—so they do their numbers as fantasy star turns, which is sort of the way it is in the show anyway. The flashily executed result proves its own point about the connection between crime and fame so well it has you cheering Richard Gere's sleazebag courtroom pyrotechnics and rooting for Renée Zellweger's cute but rotten-hearted Roxie Hart. (God, we're bad!) What you end up with is Moulin Rouge with a plot, Sweet Charity with a message, and a total whoopee spot where the gin is cold but the piano's sizzling.

So many other new epics du cinema aren't clinkers that this is shaping up as possibly the best Oscar season since '39—or at least since '99. (By the way, I'm not supposed to be reviewing any of these movies in advance, so kindly clip this column and read it in a month.) The Hours is especially profound, the kind of art-house triumph that lets you congratulate yourself for being so smart because you noticed the subtle links between the three stories about the pain behind celebration. Interestingly, Julianne Mooredoes Far From Heaven again, peering beneath the '50s gloss to find dark sexual truths. She's great, Meryl Streep's superb, and Nicole Kidman doesn't lose the battle with her fake nose.

And whatever you think of Gangs of New York, it's so beautifully art-directed it's no wonder Daniel Day-Lewis chews up all the scenery. The long-delayed flick is so much about the work ethic that tireless Marty Scorsese made no less than two speeches on premiere night, both referencing how long it took to make the movie. After the screening, I heard soundtrack singer Bonosay, "I have to find the Edge"—don't read anything into that—and by time the bash came, both rockers were on a platform earnestly crooning about Gotham's greatness. "I was profoundly affected by the movie. Sorry, I'm not good at quotes," Jack Black told me, looking dazed. "I have to get back to work!" said Harvey Weinstein, twinkling.

After that, they drummed me out of Hollywood, so I came crawling back to Broadway, where I found the snob ticket of the year. It's the cocky, self-mocking, and moderately annoying Medea, which is Euripides via Jerry Springer meets Roxie Hart by way of BAM, and looks like it's set at the Hudson Hotel. "She got laughs," Charles Buschsaid admiringly of leading lady Fiona Shaw.

To the unschooled, that other krazy klassic, La Bohème, is the opera that Rent was based on, like, OK? And since Baz Luhrmanndirected it, I assumed it would be filled with people dancing on their heads and singing Elton John ballads. But while the production is updated to the '50s and studded with Bazzy flourishes—there's even a Mini Moi—the meister has mostly demurred from Moulin Rouge-style frenetics and focused on the material in a way that combines stunning design with young, sexy Gap-commercial types who deliver gorgeously heartfelt singing. The result puts the hemline back in Bohème, and j'adoredit!

At the opening night party at the (real) Hudson, Rufus Wainwright told me, "It was so sad! My favorite part was when Mimi started coughing and the audience started coughing along with her. I thought, 'I gotta get a TB test after this.' " Nearby, James Lipton was gabbing with Hugh Grant, no doubt asking, "When you arrive in heaven, what would you like God to say?" But Grant had just tasted hell; Caroline Rhea told me she'd gone up to the actor and blurted, "You don't remember me. You were bombed!" Grant looked uncomfortable, so she added, "Um, everyone was bombed."

High on life, one of the alternating Mimis, Lisa Hopkins, told me how hard it is to hack and sing at the same time. "You have to find a balance between being physically ill and keeping it technically alive," she explained. Who was she most thrilled to be conscious to see that night? "My friends!" she said, sensibly. "I think it's all a bit pretentious."

Mentally ill yet technically alive, Dance of the Vampires(based on a Polanski movie that's not The Pianist) is a lavishly tacky real-life "Thriller" video culminating in an energetic ode to garlic that's the single weirdest song ever staged. Michael Crawford—dolled up to look like Walter Mercado, that horoscope guy on cable—screeches Jim Steinmantunes that only Meat Loafcould love, while competing with smoke machines, a set that sometimes makes farting noises, and a gay son who longs to sink his teeth into the male ingenue's "banana." It's the worst show I ever enjoyed. The finale, with ghouls prancing around Times Square singing, "Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young," is so bonkers I was thrilled to have seen it rather than shoot myself in 20 years, when it'll be legendary. Fittingly, the poor 70-year-old usherettes who say, "Here's your seat, dear," have to do so in tight-fitting Count von Krolock capes!

Also both spoofing and embracing vulgarity, Elaine May's Adult Entertainment seems like a porn companion to Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway, but it's really a complete rip-off of—I mean dazzling homage to—my own esteemed work. (References to Saving Ryan's Privates, "Heidi the 'ho," and "pubic access" can all be traced to my œuvre, thank you.) But it's Robin Byrdwho really should sue—I mean be flattered. A character is blatantly based on her, down to the bustier and the theme song about a box! Interestingly, I hear that May (along with a pre-GraduateLorraine Bracco) checked out The Donkey Show a while ago in order to study the TV host. "No comment," said Byrd after seeing May's play.

Finally, Imaginary Friends by Nora Ephron—who's not the same person as Elaine May—is a truly bizarre hybrid of musical, biography, and bitchfest, adding up to a literary answer to Roxie and Velma. Rather than start a whole new feud, I won't tell you which of the two leads I way prefer. Whatever happened to "Class"? It's obviously right here in my little noggin.

SPECIAL TO THE WEB: Tommy Tune is a lovable, fast-stepping con artist. The highlight of his new show, Tommy Tune: White Tie and Tails, has the entertainer extraordinaire doing a supposedly impromptu Q&A segment with the audience. Well, the other night, during this exchange, everyone gasped with glee when an audience member stood up and asked Tune, "Remember me?" It turned out the woman had studied dance with Tune at a university years back and was now married with children, but still willing to come onstage to banter with her old pal and do a little twirl. (She and Tune climaxed by enjoyably recreating their old "Under the Bamboo Tree" dance.) The bit was a smash, the audience thinking the woman winningly real, especially when she revealed she's now "a peach . . . a speech therapist." The problem is that when I saw Tune perform in Vegas two years ago, the very same lady came onstage to do the very same stammering, giggling shtick, down to the clumsy dance steps and the "peach" line. Some say she's a nightly attraction. Tune admits his show is "part vaudeville, part verisimilitude," but I guess it's mostly vaudeville. (A publicist for the show who said she was trying to reach Tune for comment never called me back.)


musto@villagevoice.com

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