NY Mirror

John Waters's "Change of Life" opening at the New Museum of Contemporary Art was a scene right out of Pecker, the hotsy-totsy art crowd getting off on the disarming droppings of a true trash visionary. Brilliantly sick fusions of glamour and grotesqueness filled the joint, and it was all about jaunty juxtaposition as you took in the doll of Jackie Kennedy in Divine's Pink Flamingos drag, the celebs' portraits with Farrah Fawcett 'dos added on, and the glossy montage of various anuses (no, not jerky people; I'm talking about actual orifices). Veteran star Polly Bergen, who was in Waters's Cry-Baby, told me, "You should have seen John trying to steer his parents away from that one. 'We have to try to get them past the asshole picture!'" It's so sweet that the folks still don't get just what they've created (and it's so gorgeous that I got to hear Polly Bergen say asshole).

Next up, I was swept past all sorts of exposed body parts and ended up at a screening of Collusion, a sleek Brit art-heist film by Richard Burridge, in which snarfy people outsmart each other as a chanteuse sings, "You don't know what love is." Afterward, Burridge didn't consider me an anus for remarking that his country's leader, Tony Blair, seems a tad more articulate than our fella (who, by the way, has appointed his own panel to see what went wrong with that weapons thing. Gee, I bet they won't find him culpable—but hey, in case they do, the results won't come out till March 2005). "But what is Blair articulating?" Burridge shot back. "A huge set of defenses which nobody believes! He enjoys a big reputation as a folk hero here, but back home, people can't stand him and see him as lying, spinning, and self-justifying." But kinda cute in an ex-male-model-with-too-much-kidney-pie-on-the-plate way, no?

It was right back to the exposed body parts with the self-justifying Grammy awards show, which was quite entertaining, partly because Janet Jackson's boob gave it a subtext, looming over the proceedings like the proverbial elephant in the room. Everyone was so frigging well behaved, even though, to replace Justin and Janet, they somehow recruited Prince and Beyoncé, those two one-named, double-breasted people who are respectively known for singing "Head" and ritualistically humping the stage. (But this night, snatchurally, a feathered dress trim kept Beyoncé's naughty bits safely under wraps and Prince only sang about the weather!)

That straitjacketed yet pleasing spectacle was followed by plus-sized moralist Queen Latifah announcing, "Sometimes it's not about controversy. Sometimes it's just about music," and introducing Christina Aguilera, the "Dirrty" strumpet who's been a half-dressed, woozily walking gossip-column item since birth! But even she was covered up—for a while anyway. (After her number, Tina, a slave to her primal desires, couldn't help quick-changing into a boob-tease shimmy dress. So much for the music.)

Basically, all the stars who are derogatorily called sluts and whores proved they really are whores by minding their p's and q's on command, to the point where the wildest the show got was Sting wearing, oh wow, a kilt as he dredged up "Roxanne" again without stopping at the red light. About the worst it got was the usually superb Alicia Keys's wobbly version of "A House Is Not a Home"; she sounded like she actually thought it was a song about furniture. (And that whole Luther Vandross section was extra weird because Janet's name was mentioned, but she never materialized, refusing to grovel one more time. Too bad God got back at CBS by taking it out on poor Celine Dion's microphone.)

But there were lots of touching tributes to dead people, and overall not one person who's ever created music in the past, present, or future was left out of the proceedings. With nods to "Disorder in the House," "Busted," and Get Rich or Die Tryin', they even included the music Martha Stewart must have been hearing on hold when she flew into a rage! By the end, everyone was so delirious they didn't even notice that OutKast's Andre 3000 was baring both breasts. (By the way, isn't OutKast the group that sang, "I'm sorry, Ms. Jackson"? Discuss.)

The chastity belts were certainly lifted at BAR d'O's 10th anniversary party, celebrating the long run of Jean Marc Houmard's snazzy cabaret-lounge for big-voiced drag queens. House organs Joey Arias and Raven-O took a break from starring in Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity show in Las Vegas to flounce back to their home base and be lovingly wicked again. "I hate fucking Las Vegas," Raven sang to the crowd, "but we gotta pay the bills." "There's a list of things we're not allowed to say onstage there," he told me at the bash. "It's challenging." Fucking challenging, actually. Joey agreed, adding, "Tonight, I feel like I'm back in the embryonic sac. Las Vegas is all million-dollar hookers, pimps, high rollers, and Midwestern big butts." Sounds exactly like the Grammy awards.

Moving on, I'll drag my giant Northeastern rear to Broadway anytime, especially when the divoon Julie Halston is arching her wry eyebrow onstage. The longtime actor-raconteur has found her niche as a saucy staple of madcap '30s revivals they wouldn't understand at Bally's. In fact, these shows need her so badly that in Ken Ludwig's upcoming revision of the old screwball comedy Twentieth Century, they've even given her a male role! In the original, the character was Oliver Webb, the droll manager of faded Broadway producer Oscar (played now by Alec Baldwin), but to suit Halston, they've lopped off the Justin, added two Janets, and made it Ida Webb. And simply Halston.

"The rhythms of the character were so Eve Arden and Roz Russell," Halston told me last week, "and our director, Walter Bobbie, felt we needed another woman anyway. The estate said, 'Yeah, go for it.' " Fortunately, they're aware of Halston's period flair and her aversion to paraphrasing, techniques she partly learned working with " '30s expert gender-bending illusionist" Charles Busch (who went on to work with '80s gender-bending etc. Boy George).

Her co-stars? "They're riots," she said, not paraphrasing. "Alec and I have that Long Island thing, which means you're kind of a thug. And Anne Heche is a lovely porcelain doll who happens to be a mighty actor." Any more ecstasy and speaking in tongues going on there? "No!" Halston exclaimed. "Apparently Celestia is underground. We're all meeting only Anne Heche and we're loving her!"

Ever since playing two roles in Gypsylast year, Halston's also been a convert to the shrine of moppet master Bernadette Peters. "I never quite understood her goddess status," she admitted, "but now I kneel and bow and scrape before her." The good feelings—and Tiffany earrings Peters gave Halston when she left the show—help make up for the fact that Halston's still seeing a chiropractor because of the "Ferris wheel on my head" and three huge batteries she wore (to hilarious effect) in the electrifying ecdysiast role.

Freed of the wheel, Halston is ready to learn more interactional performing skills, which Bobbie is encouraging. "I haven't looked at an actor onstage in 15 years, so why should I start now?" she deadpanned, though she's liking the change. And in playing Oliver-turned-Ida, she's certainly stretching gender-wise too. "I always knew I was sort of a gay man," Halston admitted. "Well, now I'm a straight man!" Heck—she's the first ex-gay that I've ever applauded.

As for the rest of them, excuse me, people, but you don't know what love is.


Web Exclusive: By now, we know David Gest's MO—zero in on a faded superstar besotted with booze and scandal, drill them back into shape so they can scare up some money and glory, and then—when they stop producing—run screaming, claiming he was hit by flying pieces of Halston furniture. Well, his next target may be all lined up, and it's his most fabulous and tempestuous one yet—Diana Ross. I hear Extra will report that David and Diana are currently "romancing" in hopes of a comeback for both of them. Honey, ain't no superstar high enough. (P.S. Diana's rep denies that she's dating Gest.)


musto@villagevoice.com

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