By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
"It's up to you to keep the Lower East Side sleazy!" director Lola Rock 'N' Rolla told the converted at the Arlene's Grocery Picture Awards, generously providing me not only with a life's mission, but with a hook for my first few graphs.
Just a couple of days before that, we'd reveled in the gloriously sleazy Miss L.E.S. (As in Lower East Side) pageant at Fez, hosted by drag king extraordinaire Murray Hill and featuring a motley bunch of l.e.s.bians who battled it out in swim-wear, men's suits, and peerless diesel-dyke attitude. As an esteemed judge, I had to rate a saucy bunch that included Miss Bowery, who cracked a whip and lip-synched "Goldfinger" while donning plastic gloves and simulating a rather harsh gynecological exam; Miss Ludlow, whose platform was the very heartwarming "Jimmy Choo shoes for Jews"; and the rather wasted Miss Delancey, who pulled her mission statementa long strip of paperout of her exposed vagina and read it aloud, unsurprisingly admitting that some of the writing had gotten smeared. (But at least she wasn't menstruating.) We knew exactly where she would put her prize money if she won. Instead, Miss Bowery nabbed the top honors and raised her fist triumphantly as we ran in terror.
We landed downstairs at CBGB, where an equally guttery Lydia Lunch-hosted bash had the amusing Jonathan Ames reading a poem about cracking his nose when a woman sat on his face too hard. (Like Miss Delancey's privates, mercifully, it didn't bleed.) Bibbe Hansen, a/k/a Beck's mother, also read from a racy memoir, afterward telling me, "First I had to live my life, then I had to recover, and now I'm writing about it!" Me too, minus the recovery part!
Next we immersed our cracked noses in the aforementioned Arlene's Grocery awards, which gave cans of beansliterallyto 30 of the 149 films they'd screened in a two-day festival of sumptuously arty raunch. The clips shown involved water sports, genital torture, and a dog lusting for a woman's titties. The winners' names should have been pulled out of someone's vagina! Backstage, the mood was very Channel 35 meets E! True Hollywood Story. Presenter Bob Berkowitz told me he specializes in sex-related TV talk shows, "and I even do it once in a while." More quaintly, Soupy Sales's wife was trying out hubby's walker to see if it would fit onstage. And Jared Harriswho's in the play Humble Boytold me, "Movies are better pay, but theater is more immediate." I guess the optimum would be a combination where you get immediate pay.
As a presenteryes, I believe in participatory journalismI had to follow a dancing vagina, Hole's Melissa Auf der Maursinging "Sweet Child o' Mine," and Square Pegs' John Femia, who said, "Everyone wants to know if I'm alive or dead. Well, I'm here to announce that I'm dead!" Finally onstage, I screeched that I was not leaving till I saw the promised Ron Palillo (Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter) and out he came, as a female fan barreled up from the audience with her cleavage popping out of a hole in a Horshack shirt. "Her tits are in my forehead," Palillo exclaimed, and then they literally were; the banshee lifted the little schnook and spun him around as if in a Celebrity Deathmatch. It was all très fun, but later on, I gagged when I saw Palillo counting his remuneration for the evening. (Talk about immediate pay.) I had worked for just fruit salad!
That's it for the sleazy Lower East Side stuff. Let's move uptown to Broadway, where the stripper musical Gypsy is so familiar by now, it should be on TV Land with the sweat hogs, the professor, and Mary Ann. Based on the buzz surrounding the new revival, I was ready to paraphrase a line in the show and scream, "You ain't gettin' 88 bucks out of me, Sam Mendes!" But it turns out to be a competent, if surprisingly conventional production, considering it's from the man whose Cabaret still has me picking pubic hairs out of my mouth. (Of course Mendes apparently did have a darker vision, but everyone was outraged, so he was forced to mainstream it. Last week, glamorous sets were still being broken in, making for a few interesting ad-libs.)
As Mama Rose, that trooper Bernadette Peters may be reaching too hard, but her eternal Kewpie doll demeanor does allow you to see the eerie link between her and Baby June, and she sends chills during "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and when asking Herbie, "Why does everybody leave me?" At the opening-night partywhere everybody left mePeters had the whole world (and some trout salad) on a plate. "She pulled it out of her ass," said Hairspray composer Scott Wittman. "A brilliant performance!" (That's better than pulling it out of your . . . you know.) Linda Hart said she was desperate to take a night off from Hairspray to catch her pal Bernadette's performance, but was told that wouldn't be right. As for Gypsy's librettist, Arthur Laurents, when I asked if he was happy, he stonily replied, "It's too late for me to talk." He looked nauseous, but then turned his mood around and added, "I'm absolutely thrilledfor Bernadette!"