Self-Service Nightlife

Elvis sightings, ethnic humor, and tomcat cruising, plus a peek at Jodie Foster's panic room

Ever since they pulled the plug on my beloved Thursday nights at Arena, New York nightlife has rolled over and croaked like a diseased dog for the umpteenth time. There are no fresh performers, riveting DJs, mixed crowds, or crowds of any kind (though, as you can tell, there's still plenty of hyperbole). But I've soldiered on and found some fruits for the fruits, determined to at least dredge up enough camp appeal to rival that in Hollywoods California and Florida. Sure enough, at the Plumm on Monday, I found a whirling dervish doing some amazing spinning and contorting onstage, never getting anywhere near as dizzy as the audience did. But the real talent was required afterwards, when I made heads spin by trying to get the guy to admit he can suck his own dick.

Onstage at Pieces, three house favorites—Talulah de Bayous, Big Blanche, and Vodka Stinger—were less shameless in their entertaining self-servicing. All bejeweled and caftaned, the trio of queens gossiped, bitched, and sang confessional tidbits on the order of: "Like a midget retard amputee, we're too ugly for TV!" Even uglier, Vodka had been attacked by an angry karaoke patron a few nights earlier. (I've always felt karaoke was vicious and should be illegal. No, wait, that's dog fighting.) The guy resented having been told by Vodka that the Kelly Clarkson tune he wanted to sing had already been done, so he punched her in the rouged kisser, causing her wig to dislodge and fly into space. Vodka promptly beat the guy off with the microphone, then ran downstairs and re-emerged, Susan Hayward style, in a glamorous turban. And the nightlife was alive again! (So was Clarkson's hopes of a career; imagine two people wanting to do a song of hers these days.)

Over at Chi-Chiz, the richly atmospheric gay bar for men of color, Monday-night karaoke was far from vicious—in fact, it was a rewarding experience almost akin to a late-night gospel brunch. Uninhibited people gathered around the mic, going into Mariah-type registers as they wailed tunes like "Because of You"—I mean "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here"—a chorus forming around them to lend such heavenly support you knew they'd been rehearsing in the bathroom all week. I was so transfixed I even forgot to cruise for a second.

More ethnic cover versions were trotted out when the 30th anniversary of Elvis's death on the bowl led to the Ideal Glass Gallery's marathon tribute revue, led by Jelvis (the Jewish Elvis). Surprisingly, Jelvis didn't do "Blue Suede Jews" or "Hunka Hunka Burning Challah," though—wearing a Star of David to offset his chest hair—he did belt out such oy-vey classics as "Heartburn Hotel," "Are You Hungry Tonight?" and "Blue Suede Yarmulke." As the night went on, the acts got more surreally fascinating, from Drunken Goat, which did a Beat-poetry version of "Heartbreak Hotel," to the Goddess Perlman, who entered sporting cameltoe and singing "Clambake." Wackiest of all was an Argentine chanteuse who crooned "Fever" in Spanish while adding all kinds of yelps, scats, and high notes, and unrealistically asking us to sing along!

Yet more 1950s shellacking comes with the revival of the revival of Grease, that classic show about 40-year-olds cavorting around in high school. Thanks to this and that other throwback tuner, Xanadu, the biggest presence on Broadway right now is Olivia Newton-John, snatching the title right out of Vanessa Redgrave's elegant hands. (For the men, Frankie Valli now reigns royally over Frank Langella.) The ultimate tie-in, this production is the result of a reality show in which the leads were chosen by the American public—the same terrible system that led to the rise of President Bush! To compensate for the lack of star power, every single syllable is choreographed, and there's a succession of lavish sets to drape it all in. And while the result isn't exactly History Boys, there's enough goofy charm in the material to help you forget that this exercise in innocent nostalgia is more likely just a crass way for the producers to invest in more real estate.

The hand jive takes center stage in The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which is basically the Air Guitar Nation of Donkey Kong. The lively documentary amounts to a showdown between slick, shady Billy Mitchelland sincere, obsessive Steve Wiebe, both vying for Guinness World Records approval while never saying " No entiendo, Nintendo." At the premiere, director Seth Gordon told us: "There's a new game called p.r. . . . Billy Mitchell hasn't seen the film, but he hates it." He'd hate it if he saw it too. Its genesis? At first, said Gordon, Wiebe seemed too vanilla to film, "but he hadn't played drums in front of me yet. That changed everything." Then, when Gordon met Mitchell and noticed the guy would never actually say Wiebe's name, that was weird enough to cinch the project. The wigs were off!

Naturally, Kong is going to be remade as a Hollywood feature, and there's been idle talk of Steve Carell as the dweeby Wiebe. When asked about that casting idea, Wiebe's wife—who stayed in the theater as hubby typically hit the arcade, trying to break more records—said, "I don't really see it." Then he's perfect!

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