By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
I'm mad for Milk, and not just because I've already gotten three free meals off it.
The last one was a low-key lunch at the Oak Room, where we were given a copy of the screenplay—to act it out with friends, I guess—complete with Gus Van Sant's intro in which he remembers that when he first met screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, "he was a young, blond, good-looking boy."
"That sounds like porno," I told Van Sant, giggling, and he replied, "There's a speech that I say, which is, 'It was easy to do the movie with Lance because I had a crush on him.' " As for the recent Post gossip item insisting they're altar-bound, the director informed me, "We're not getting married!" Especially in California.
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But back to Milk: Did Van Sant purposely put some gays (Denis O'Hare, Victor Garber) in key straight roles? "We tried to cast as many gay actors as we could," he told me. "But for Harvey Milk, there weren't big leading actors to choose from. If we'd gone with Alan Cumming, the money people wouldn't have said, 'Put it in production.' I'm trying to think of a gay actor who would have worked." "Tom Cruise?" I suggested, and he generously laughed.
By the way, if Milk doesn't win the Best Picture Oscar, will there be a public outcry similar to when Brokeback Mountain got fucked up the ass? Maybe, especially since Milk is about out gays—and it doesn't obsessively revel in the lead character's victimhood either. But there are other feisty little Oscar dramas going on. It's truly bizarre that Philip Seymour Hoffman is being pushed in the supporting category for Doubt (a/k/a The Devil Wears Habits). That leaves Best Actor open to the possibility of two war-crazy Republican presidents (Josh Brolin and Frank Langella) battling it out, along with gay politico Sean Penn. It's Election Day all over again. And it's Holocaust time again, too; as you've heard, no fewer than five holiday films plumb relatively uplifting themes in that dramatic gold mine of an awful period. Mel Gibson and Mel Brooks must be kvelling.
But—shades of Hoffman—Kate Winslet is getting a supporting push for The Reader, so she won't have to compete with her Revolutionary Road performance for lead. (Ah, the problems of Hollywood stars.) Of course, Valkyrie and Brideshead Revisited apparently aren't getting much of a push at all, so say goodbye to the chances of Emma Thompson and sympathetic Nazis!
But one sure thing—if I may keep blathering here—is that Anne Hathaway will battle her old screen boss, Meryl Streep, for Best Actress (along with Kate Winslet for whatever). Not since their high-tension Runway magazine edit sessions has there been such a fashionable struggle for power!
My award for the most enchanting cabaret act in ages goes to Chita Rivera's recent gig, which got me above 59th Street without regrets. An unstoppable force of nature, the singer-dancer riveted with talent and personality, my fave segment being a shattering version of Jacques Brel's "Carousel," which Chita followed with a twinkly "Did you get scared?"
Among her pattery highlights, Chita said she objected to the recent Sweet Charity revival, which made the title character more explicitly illicit. ("Charity was not a hooker. She was a dance-hall hostess!") She singled out Bebe Neuwirth in the audience and, glancing around the tiny stage, said, "I would never put her on the spot—or on this stage!" And she conceded that Catherine Zeta-Jones was brilliant in Chicago, but as for the intro to "All That Jazz," "That's not her vamp. It's my vamp. I told her, 'Catherine, you can keep the Oscar. I'll keep my vamp!' " Fine—as long as Michael Douglas gets to keep his vamp.
Chita's chum Liza Minnelli somehow survived Rosie Live and made it to the Palace, where—even though she's rather raspy, breathy, and sibilant—she's turning out old-school fierceness with all the vocal savvy and arm gestures you'd expect from her. After a cute turn-off-your-phones announcement (" 'Ring Them Bells' is not going to be performed tonight, on or off the stage"), Liza expertly dives into a selection of standards, including no fewer than two songs about killing your husband! (Fantasy sequences, I guess.)
After a musical tribute to her godmother, Kay Thompson—which she does strictly as Liza—she honors her actual mother by crooning the wonderfully depressing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Close your eyes and it's Judy up there. Honey, open your eyes and it's Judy up there.
A real drag queen, Linda Simpson has a show at LaMaMa called The Bad Hostess, which is a delectable romp about the roles that religion and family play in one's holiday psyche. Breaking up the occasional serious talk, Flloyd plays a cross-dresser who announces things like, "I wouldn't trade my artistic integrity for all the kabbalah water in Malawi!"
From Russia with love, Slava's Snowshow is a haunting, existential sliver of an interactive mime-a-thon, and the second Broadway spectacle in a row that hits you with simulated snowflakes (made of confetti, not kabbalah water). At a party for the other snow-thrower—White Christmas—Vanessa Williams took off her furry-looking coat and left it on the floor as she perched at a table—the sign of a true star. "Is it real fur?" I asked, mock-putting the Ugly Betty co-star on the spot. "It's some knitted thing," Williams swore, smiling. "As if I care!" I replied, running off to eat some dead chickens.