Idols Friendly and Faux

My tour of modern Grease. Plus a celebulecture and a swashbuckled queen or two or three.

The winners of the Broadway star search on TV's Grease . . . You're the One That I Want met me at Sardi's to discuss their upcoming revival's nostalgia for the '70s show about the '50s that was first revived in the '90s. They swore director/choreographer KATHLEEN MARSHALLwill have a fresh take on the whole shebang-bang. "She wants to make it more about real teenagers of the '50s and how they really lived and their imaginations," said MAX CRUMM, who was chosen to play Danny by the TV audience. (And Lord knows they may well take over all Broadway casting eventually, including some less appropriate titles. How about MARIO LOPEZ in The Coast of Utopia? HEATHER MILLS as JOAN DIDION?)

But even if it's not reinvented, Grease is always going to be a candy-colored cash cow for producers hopelessly devoted to hits. "You need to make money?" said Crumm, laughing. "You do Grease, The Wizard of Oz, or Annie." And he's been in all of those shows—though I was right in presuming he's never done Dreamgirls. "But I hope to play Effie one day," he deadpanned, gamely playing along. Well, get in line, kid. I've had my beady eyes and fat ass on that part for years!

LAURA OSNES—Crumm's chosen costar—was already playing Sandy in a dinner theater in Minnesota when she sashayed onto the TV show, conveniently enough. Osnes said the audiences there ate before the curtain, though occasionally you'd still hear them clanking around with their fettuccine . (I guess grease is the word.) As for her own big imminent buffet—her wedding—I asked Osnes if her new pals OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHNand ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER will be bridesmaids, but she said no, it'll be a simple affair back home. The woman has no pretensions; she's a squeaky clean ingenue who doesn't even drink Shirley Temples. And though I heard her exult to another reporter, "You put me on, America!," she's apparently not putting us on.

Joined at the unhip: Osnes and Crumm in Times Square
Cary Conover
Joined at the unhip: Osnes and Crumm in Times Square

My most urgent question: How painful is it do the show's immortal hand job, I mean hand-jive number, which has even more digit-related pyrotechnics than Mary Poppins's voguing routine? Everyone in the room bust a gut, but the answer turned out to be very. As Crumm related, "At rehearsal, Kathleen said, 'Let's up the tempo because that will make it crazy, like we're cracked out.' After five or six times, your thighs have had a workout and your knuckles are bleeding." "And your hands are red," added Osnes. Pause. "But in a good way."

A new and serious play, The Year of Magical Thinking, belongs to my least favorite stage genre: the celebulecture, where a star sits there pretending to be another famous person and telling us at length about various dramatic situations from the past in carefully worded bouts of poetic recall. At least in this case, she stands up halfway through. And at least she happens to be VANESSA REDGRAVE—not Heather Mills—who could read the small print on a pizza takeout menu ("free can of soda with two large pies . . .") and have the audience rapt. 'Nessy holds you captive with her eyes and inflections—I heard no coughing from the audience and only one cell phone ringing—making this only moderately illuminating double-decker death trip the highbrow hit of the season for the CAT scan crowd.

The Pirate Queen—that '80s-style indulgence in musical nostalgia for the 16th century—is basically a two-and-a-half-hour Irish Spring commercial as if reimagined by American Idol. Heather Mills could easily have stretched and played Captain Hook, but it turns out the show is not about the first gay pirate after all. It's about the first female one, who's portrayed as sort of SANDRA BULLOCK meets CELINE DION en route to GLORIA STEINEM, with a sprinkling of both MAUREEN O'HARA and some Lucky Charms. The result? Lyrics like "She's confused about gender/She's been too long at sea" truly stink, as do the stagnantly staged stretches of boring screeching and mushy recitative. But alas, this is no classic nuclear weapon like Carrieor Dance of the Vampires; occasional enjoyable scenes and cotton-candy tunes take the sting out of what could otherwise have been called When Irish Eyes are Sleeping.

Moving on to skating queens, Blades of Glory—which intersperses brilliantly funny ice routines with labored plot mechanics—used to have actual gay material, not just all that gay panic stuff. I hear they cut the scenes between the coach and the choreographer, perhaps having become afraid of the homosex. Does that mean there's no gay content left in the film? Hardly—a few real-life male skaters do cameos.

Skating on thin ice, con man CLIFFORD IRVING put out a fake biography of Howard Hughes in the '70s and at least eventually (if inadvertently) got a movie out of it. It's The Hoax, which is easily the better of the two con-man movies out now. (The other one, Color Me Kubrick, cons the viewer by withholding any serious info about its lead character and by presenting most of the victims as easily sold buffoons who deserved to be duped, as if wanting to be famous automatically makes you a moron.) The Hoax is less nudge-nudge and more fact-drenched, with RICHARD GERE once again finding his niche as a sly con man. (I'm talking about Chicago, not his marriage to CINDY CRAWFORD.)

Another '70s survivor, DIANA ROSS, wrote a follow-up memoir, Upside Down: Wrong Turns, Right Turns, and the Road Ahead, which was announced four whole years ago for an '04 release. But it was wait-listed by JUDITH REGAN (official reason: Miss Ross keeps adding to it) and it's now sitting on Amazon soliciting pre-orders. Might it just be too hot to handle? I hear that compared to Di's last memoir, Secrets of a Sparrow, this one is more like Shriekings of a Hawk. She vehemently trashes GENE SIMMONS, RYAN O'NEAL, an ex-husband, and a whole bunch of other people who aren't going to want to reach out and touch her ever again. Maybe Vanessa Redgrave can do the audio book.

The '90s came back when Roxy promoter JOHN BLAIRlaunched his Saturday gay night at Avalon, the church-turned-dance temple that I seem to recall used to have a John Blair Sunday gay night. After 10 or so cavity searches, I got in and found that the club seems the same but different, with promoter MICHAEL FORMIKA JONES aiming to make the chapel area sexy again. ("Remember when they made the place look like an upscale restaurant?" he told me, horrified. "I said, 'I want it dirty! I want it to look like a church!' ") Upstairs, in a very clean white room out of A Clockwork Orange, a guy sidled up to me and stirringly announced, "I'm a Mormon and I'm having a lot of trouble drinking this cocktail." Three minutes later, I had to pick him off the floor. In a good way.

At the Cuckoo Club at the Maritime's Hiro ballroom on Sunday, there was a drag queen who looked like AMY WINEHOUSE, or maybe it was Amy Winehouse looking like a drag queen. At Kino 41, Thursdays at Arena, a guy dressed as an s&m rabbi danced with his boyfriend—a German porn star with his butt exposed—with female drag queen LADYFAGin the middle, getting some faux-munching action on her rare night off from the Cock.

While we're in private places, I've noticed that in clubland, guys with long locks are no longer burned at the stake, and a hint of body hair has actually become unpunishable too—welcome to the '70s, but with condoms this time! (And without Clifford Irving.) Most shockingly of all, the Ugly Betty look has actually caught on with clubbies of both genders, whether wittingly or not. Guys and gals with ratty hair, clunky glasses, and nervous facial expressions stud the dance floor, but one doesn't dare run up to them and shriek, "I love your Ugly Betty look" or they might respond, "What? I was doing ANGELINA JOLIE."

And now I'm off to rehearse Grease's most illustrious role—Doody. You put me on, America!

musto@villagevoice.com

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