Elton John Cries His Way to the Bank

Open bars, closed bars, quickies on Broadway (See also these blind items)

I hate it when, even though the invite said "open bar," the bartender demands $5 for a Diet Coke. Huh? Isn't it open bar? "Yeah," he replies, "but only for Craptastic Cocky-Doody Potato Famine–brand vodka. They're sponsoring the event—and only from 9 to 9:15." Hmm, suddenly I'm craving bathroom tap water!

I hate even more the fact that the Oscar nominations will be announced two days later than usual next year so as not to coincide with the presidential inauguration. Move the date of the inauguration!

What I wish could be pushed back—segue, segue—is the closing of Florent, the long-running meatpacking-district restaurant that helped create the neighborhood, then became doomed by its hideous success. (I hear the place's monthly rent just went from $6,000 to $50,000! How much Craptastic vodka can you sell?) I dropped by last week to pay my respects, and while sucking in the ambience with a last-chance desperation, I became fascinated by the "Florent timeline" posted on an information-crammed board looming on the wall. It lists the restaurateur's career highlights in full detail, like "discovered 'ludes—summer '83; diagnosed positive—fall '87; rehab—May 21, '02." Gosh, all I wanted to know were the specials of the day.

Sob story: Elton John with three Billy Elliotts
Willie Davis
Sob story: Elton John with three Billy Elliotts

Despite Florent's closing, there are still drag queens all over the place—at night, anyway. (By day, they generally live in the outer boroughs, where it's not $50,000 a month.) Some old standbys are getting back into fishnets, too. As of press time, Misstress Formika was going to do drag for the first time in ages for the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of SqueezeBox!, the documentary about the '90s gay rock party at Don Hill's. "I'm getting older," Formika recently told me, sounding like Stevie Nicks. "I can't stand wearing those seven-inch heels anymore. And to wear four and a half inches is embarrassing." Honey, anything four and a half inches is embarrassing, rim shot, hello!

Let's move uptown a few yards or so for some Broadway quickies, with tap shoes on. First of all, have you realized that there was not one freakin' jukebox musical this year? Not a single tired, lazy assemblage of old hits crammed into a forced plot about a girl, a rebel, or a vocal group seeking validation! Can I get a "Happy days are here again"? (And don't try to turn it into a Streisand jukebox musical either.)

Of course, there was a Disney show (and yes, there is a difference). But have you ever noticed that "Part of Your World" is basically a loose rewrite of the very same team's "Somewhere That's Green"? (I can just picture every theater queen in town now furiously typing me a list of all the subtle differences. Fine, shut up, that's the end of the Broadway quickies anyway.)

No, wait! Cry-Baby just opened, and though it has a "You Gotta Get a Gimmick"–style number in which three tramps teach the ingenue that you have to commit petty crimes to be truly bad,it's more of an unconscious homage than a Xerox. (For gays in the theater, Gypsy is as much a reflex as entrance applause.) The show—the latest in the line of wise-ass movie-to-stage transfers—may virtually be an extended variety-show sketch that continues John Waters's unexpected trajectory into family entertainment, but it moves along with swiveling hips and smart humor. I especially liked the line, "I'm not the type who suffers from some tiny little prick," even if it was ostensibly about polio injections.

One more film gets musicalized with Billy Elliot, the earnest crowd-pleaser about the kid who dances ballet but isn't a poofter, directed by the guy who was a poofter but is now married to a woman. (Relax, he says he's still gay, though he also has sex with his wife. Got it?) The show may well be remembered as the first to combine singing miners (you know, coal workers with hardhats) and dancing minors (you know, jailbait with bad teeth). To taste the multigenerational mix, we were assembled in a school auditorium last week and served champagne, brownies, and composer Elton John, the cantankerous gay genius whose own marriage to a woman is mercifully long forgotten. Wearing rose-colored glasses—literally—Elton told us that when he first saw the movie, "I had to be helped out, sobbing. It mirrored my personal and professional journey, because my father never approved of what I was going to do, and I have the letters to prove it—'Who do you think you are?' "

Elton's boyfriend, David Furnish, is way more supportive and, in fact, came up with the idea of the stage musical. The result is a cash cow in London that is, inevitably enough, headed to Broadway, where three boys will alternate in the punishing title role to minimize any suggestion of child abuse. At the event, Elton belted the kid ballad about the freedom that dance gives him, and then the three boys, performing together just this once, flew into acrobatic moves that stunned the audience into cheers. I had to be helped out, sobbing. But the most moving moment of all came when Colin Bates, London's first American Billy Elliot, came out to announce, with a Menudo-ish tear in his eye: "Sadly, I'm too big for Broadway!" Not me—I'll never be too big for Broadway!

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