By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The breathless call came in: Would you like to participate in a staged reading of Showgirls, the fabulous camp crap piece of backstage Vegas sleaze melodrama, at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre? Well, that's almost accurate. Actually, I called them. Showgirls happens to be my second-favorite movie (after The Tree of Wooden Clogs) and I was desperate for a part, even if it was the trampy bitch who's pushed down the stairs by the other gussied-up harlot. The show's co-conspirator, JACKIE CLARKE , bit the bait, but daringly wanted me to play a manTony, the sleazebag producer who sizes up the girls and snarls stuff like, "Jesus, take a look at these tits. What are these, watermelons? This is a stage, babe, it's not a patch. See ya." He's degrading and creepy and the human equivalent of bird flu, and I've always loved his every squalid syllable to death.
Anyway, I sucked, but the rest of the cast sparkled, and though there were hilarious asides and interjectionsthe framing device was a pseudo interview with JOE the blowhard ESZTERHASit's hard to top the real dialogue used like, "Must be weird not having anybody come on you" and "She misses us like I miss the lump on my twat I had taken off last weekend," not to mention actual stage directions like, "She is very fat. Unfuckably fat." Clarke told me she heard that Showgirls was O.J.'s alibihe swore he was watching it rather than killing two peoplebut it's so sick it might have been his motive.
I took my unfuckably fat watermelons to another upscale eventthe Man Whore contest at O.W. bar, which was not the least bit whore-ible. Between the quick changes and effusive lip-synch performances of the host, SHABOOMBOOM, the showboy contestants bent over and bared itfrom a hip-hop headspinner doing handstands to a dimpled masseuse with busy palms. The winner got $1,000, but I left before he was announced; I find sexual tension so much more alluring than the financial kind.
Regrouping and rerouting, I celebrated Halloween at a very adult dinner at the Central Park boathousean ANAND JONhosted benefit for the Stephanie Nicole Stiglich Cancer Research Center, where I spent some sincere moments with the late Stephanie's brave dad while dressed as a Big Mac. FREDA PAYNE sang her Vietnam-era hit "Bring the Boys Home," telling the crowd that the song's message is still relevant. (She was referring to Iraq, not Chelsea.) "Am I showing too much tits?" Freda asked, as her exposed cleavage attracted a phalanx of photographers looking for a patch of melons. Even the gays screamed, "No! More! More! Bring 'em home!"
The perfect Halloweeny apple with a razor blade in it, Sweeney Todd jolts you with a loud whistle and flashes of blood-red lighting to signal each barbaric bout of throat slashing. ("You, sir, want a shave?" Sweeney himself, MICHAEL CERVERIS, leered, looking right at my terrified-assed self in the audience.) The production is a scaled-down, claustro, distanced version that's powerful, chilly, and a tiny bit out there in a way that had the critics kvelling and orgasming when I saw it. It's even better than Showgirls. Diving into SONDHEIM's most elaborately Sondheimy score, PATTI LUPONE is a fine, sardonic Mrs. Lovett, while Cerveris haunts and thrills as the lead cleaver-wielder with an ax to grind.
In an interview last Wednesday, Cerveris greeted me by saying, "I think I offered you a shave last night," and I freaked, realizing he had been targeting me after all. But I felt pretty safe since the whistle wasn't sounding and besides, the guy was talking to me by phone.
Anyway, isn't Cerveris quite the Sondheim darling these days? "If that's true, I'd be very happy," he said. "That's the most exciting thing for mehaving his approval to do these shows." By "these shows," he meant Sweeney, Passion, Anyone Can Whistle, A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park With George, Assassins, and everything but the kindergarten musical little Stevie probably wrote based on Aristophanes' The Wasps. Sondheim likes Mike!
The juicy roles are dauntingly demanding, but Cerveris adores 'em, feeling, "I'm not good at just showing up and getting a paycheck. In this show, if you're not singing, you're moving furniture or playing an instrument." (Or playing furniture or moving an instrument.) To play the demon barber, Cerveris learned the glockenspiel, and I assume he's now available for Bavarian weddings. And LuPone tinkles around on her own kooky instruments, making Cerveris crack, "The sight of Evita on the tuba, you can't beat that!"
Cerveris said that he and the brass-outfitted LuPone click so serendipitously that sometimes during the song "A Little Priest," he forgets they're doing it for an audience. The customers aren't always so carefree, though. At one matinee, "People were literally gasping and shrieking. When I killed the beggar woman, they cried out, 'Oh, no!' It was like what happens when you see movies on 42nd Street." Will he take the blame for any matinee ladies keeling over into the afterlife? "I should check into the legal ramifications," he said, laughing.
The guy seemed so grounded for a recent Tony winner (for Assassinsanother killer role). Is he really still such a slice of humble pie? Yes, he swore, "In this business there are plenty of opportunities to be reminded of your place in the food chain. That's the beauty of Broadway." His biggest reminder was ages ago, when he was a collator and had to walk around a table with eight other unemployed actors, robotically taking a piece of paper off each stack. That's worse than moving furniture.
Walk around a table and over to the jukebox and you get Jersey Boys the "Rag Doll" to riches story of the '60s vocal group the Four Seasons, which may not be Sweeney Todd, but it's better than Good Vibrations, and you can quote me on that. The falsetto-laden show uses the expert singers the material deserves, ending up with some big Gaudio dynamite. But while the evening entertains when it's being sassy, it struggles to overcome its rote chronology and awkward segues like "Speaking of love, I guess it's time to talk about women." When it delves into the dark side of famethe FRANKIE VALLI of the dolls, as it wereit's like a Joisey version of Taboo minus the drag and the drugs (except for one tragic OD). That's the beauty of Broadway. "Isn't it fabulous?" cooed IVANA TRUMP at intermission. "What high notes! And 'Big Girls Don't Cry' I can relate to that." How about "Rag Doll"? I asked, interested. "No," she said, without pause.
Now take your titties outta here. This isn't a patch, it's a gossip column. See ya.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Absurd Person Singular's DEBORAH RUSH was seen asking the manager of a Times Square deli, "You don't have any more Slim-Fast?" before leaving . . . While we're weight-issuing on the Rialto, am I the only one who noticed that The Odd Couple features two schlubs ROB BARTLETT and LEE WILKOFwho've played Mr. Mushnik in Little Shop of Horrors? In fact, in the most recent major production, the former replaced the latter. Have I seen too many shows? . . . Or gone to too many parties? At one the other week, I saw adorable MARTHA PLIMPTON ask a food server for a scoop of ice cream in her coffee. (Try it with some Slim-Fast.) "Do you want ice cream in your coffee?" she asked her date, SNL's FRED ARMISEN. Rather than roll his eyes and say, "Ay, dios mio!" he politely declined . . . But I can't decline my new piles of Neurontin. Honey, everyone should try the stuff because Mama's on fire! . . . Back to The Odd Couple (the shit doesn't cure A.D.D.), I recently forgot to mention one line with gay subtext: "What am I gonna do with two women?" It often draws hoots.
Here's news about two men: Longtime rock historian DANNY FIELDS is doing a proverbial memoir. And decorator PETER SIBILIA is helping turn a shuttered downtown boutique into Kitchen Commune, a '30s-style place where they shake and bake right in front of you. (But they won't be serving Sweeney Toddstyle meat pies. Probably.) One last Broadway-queen query: What'll win the TonyThe Woman in White, the man in black, or The Color Purple? Color me intrigued.