By Albert Samaha
By Darwin BondGraham
By Keegan Hamilton
By Anna Merlan
By Anna Merlan
By Tessa Stuart
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
The trapdoor of the party scene just opened up, and, in desperation, I'm finding myself at corporate dinners, upscale cinema festivals, and even museums, but at least the stretching has been good for what's left of my soul.
I weirdly landed at the Broadcasters Foundation of America's gala at the Waldorf-Astoria, which involved a lengthy tribute to someone I hadn't quite heard of, though we got some lovely marshmallows that turned out to be gnocchi in cream sauce and a powerful performance by Melba Moore, who remembered replacing Diane Keaton as Sheila in the original production of Hair. "Isn't that creative casting?" asked the big-lunged blactress.
Still stretching, I went to a screening of an art film about immigration and noticed that Giuliani's ex, Donna Hanover, was there, complaining to a friend about the limited opportunities for her in TV news these days. Maybe it's time for all of us to drag out one more production of The Vagina Monologues!
I even buckled up and went to see Robert Blecker Wants Me Dead, a death-penalty documentary that is not at all my usual Abba jukebox musical. The film has the pro-capital-punishment prof of the title engaging in banter with a death-row inmate, with the result, as Blecker says, making for "bad polemics" but "a good movie." As Blecker confessed at the premiere, "A year after the filming, I came to admit that on one level, he was my friend, and that appalls me. So it's OK to be friends with Hitler if he's a good golfing partner?" Sure, as long as he's not swinging at your balls.
Crazed for even more stimulation du cinema, I went all the way to Lincoln Center, but only to see a revival of that old bull-dyke melodrama The Killing of Sister George. (I can only stretch so much.) Bad polemics, bad movie? Well, it's as screechy and corrosive as ever, but perversely fun, especially when the evil lesbo makes her arrested-child girlfriend chew cigar butts. At the screening, critic Melissa Anderson reminded us that the screenwriter's daughter wrote Notes on a Scandal, so the whole family is clearly obsessed with "deranged lesbians."
Leaving my home on deranged, I would have gone to San Francisco in ermine and pearls for a screening of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Elvis Mitchell's The Black List: Volume 2, but the last time I was there, the p.c. brigade practically gathered to administer a lethal injection. I'm told that at the Black List event, an audience member commented to interviewee Angela Davis, "I supported you many years ago, picketed on your behalf, and sent you money. Did you ever get it?" Replied the legendary civil rights activist: "I sure hope so."
And that was it for the stretching, which is so not me anyway. I spent the rest of the week at comfortingly low-brow palaces like K-Mart, where Jaclyn Smith's line of shmattes has reached a whole new level of giddy gorgeousness—and you can return them—and the Hotel Grace, where clothes aren't needed at all because their Drip pool party proves that when the economy takes a dive, so do the cute go-go boys.
You can wet your whistle while whistling a happy tune at Marie's Crisis piano bar, though the other night there, the hills were alive with a drunken blonde who was disruptively trying to play the hanging lights as if they were an instrument. When she finally stumbled out the door, everyone cheered—at Marie's, the alkies get exit applause—but the mess found her way back in and acted up again, punching the bouncer in the face when he gently asked her to go elsewhere. That prompted him to lift her like a sack of shit and deposit her on the street as another drunken customer held up his middle finger and called the bouncer a "fat fuck," thereby getting himself 86'd. All this as the lilting strains of West Side Story were being played.
I heard those notes again at a SAGE reception for the West Side Story revival, where the original Anita, Chita Rivera, didn't stick to her own kind—she even mingled with non-theater people. I got to ask Chita if the show was really underappreciated in its original incarnation. "The Music Man won Best Musical that year," fabulous Chita said, as aghast as if it had just happened. "I ask you not to laugh! I love The Music Man, but you can't compare!" It's apples and Valencia oranges.
Chita also talked to me about the Spanish lyrics added to the new version ("I don't pass judgment, but . . ."), as well as the unrelated topic of Patti LuPone's Gypsy tantrum in English when someone took her photo. (Chita didn't think that was such a gran idea either.) At this point, producer Marty Richards piped in that Chita's Chicago co-star, Gwen Verdon, had a similar fit when he took her photo during that '70s production. "She started yelling at me," he said, reliving his terror. "She screamed, 'Give me that film! You can get arrested for that!' And I was only taking them for Chita to give Gwen as a gift because she was leaving the show!" Whatever Lola wants . . .
That other resuscitated musical, Guys and Dolls, gets a slick but patchy revival that pales next to the 1992 Nathan Lane–Faith Prince version, which would still be running if there was a God and he gave a shit about theater. In this one, people talk with overdone accents and purposely emphasize the wrong syll-AB-les, the result being that a lot of the actors come off mentally challenged. With all the distancing and underlining effects, so many surefire laughs and heartfelt moments fall into the pothole that you start to wonder if the director is a complete no-goodnik.
But the slowed-down version of "Adelaide's Lament" is as lovely as the first version is lamentable, and the crab from The Little Mermaid—or was he the donkey in Shrek?—gets to wail away, albeit with popping eyes, a weird accent, and a Xanadu lady getting down with her bad self. So nu?
The most bizarre scene of all came during intermission, when a man barreled up to me and said, "What happened here?" He was implying that I was sitting in his seat! Without saying, "Excuse me," he lifted part of my coat off the chair to see what row it was. Again with no apology, he realized my tush was in the right place, and he tottered off to find his destiny. A real crass act. By the way, it was Broadway producer Barry Weissler! Possessed by Verdon, I could have seized the chance yell at another Chicago producer, but I blithely bit my tongue.
But let me un-bite it right now and spew out some queries about some queeries, just for your devilish delectation: Who was The Reader director Stephen Daldry—who's gay, but married to a woman—sitting with at the Oscars? It was his twentysomething designer boyfriend Tyrone! Which American Idol star is a big, old, cigar-butt-chomping lesbo? (In fact, when a cable biography show was being done about her, her people wouldn't let them use early footage that strongly suggested sapphism.) Similarly, which married superstar with multiple Oscar nominations went on a cruise with his boy toy, during which time they ordered up every movie the actor has ever been in and cozily watched them in their cabin? I guess to this guy, porn is basically himself. If the trapdoor to his ego ever opens up, he might finally end up stretching his soul like I did this week. To great applause!