Bernie Madoff Mocked at Party!

Fortunately, lots of people—well, gay people—still care about Broadway.

Most Americans are eating cat food out of garbage cans these days, so the last thing they want to read about is whether Paris Hilton was wearing patchouli oil—and someone else's boyfriend—as she went shopping for a new garment bag.

That kind of giddy voyeurism suddenly seems completely tasteless and trivial—even more so than usual! Similarly, Lindsay Lohan's dabbling with Judaism has the world going "Oy" and even Jacko's faceless comeback isn't anywhere near as exciting as the fact that I just found a CD with a 2.5 percent interest rate! And you only have to lock it in for five years!

As gawker.com recently noted, gossip has lost much of its luster because it generally works best when you feel comfortable enough to immerse yourself in grand-scale silliness and luxury. Now that things have changed so dramatically, the only dish that captivates the masses is pitch-dark stuff like the Rihanna saga or the Bernie Madoff scandal, our pervy side liking to see celebs in crisis while our compassionate half wants them back on their feet, regardless of the footwear. Depression-era gossip gets even more darkly riveting with Octomom—or, as I like to call her, Octopussy—because she's just like us, except totally crazy!

But don't worry, dear reader. As the tides change, I'll be at the forefront of covering the freaks, the grim stories, and the wavering bank rates. In fact, I'm writing this from the decimated halls of Washington Mutual, where I'm taking everything out as we speak!

Fortunately, lots of people—well, gay people—still care about Broadway, where 20-plus shows are opening by the end of the season and swarms of Oscar winners will get wackily crowded out of Tony categories. Sneaking in between the trophy holders, the hard-rock jukebox musical Rock of Ages is moving to the Brooks Atkinson while boasting the lowest top prices and tightest T-shirts on the main strip.

At an open rehearsal last week, we learned that, on some level, the show is "a celebration of the stupidity of rock," complete with a love story, a flushing toilet, and the guy who had to drop out of Xanadu. It also stars Constantine Maroulis, the nice Greek-American who belted his way into the top six on American Idol's season four. "In this climate, this is the perfect show," Maroulis assured me at the event. "You get a great time—we were called a 'legitimate artistic achievement' by the press. We might have some trouble convincing the highbrow peeps, but that's not our crowd anyway!"

The show's '80s arena rock, said Maroulis, involves big songs and chords and some very large hair. And you can eventually watch it from arena seating; New Line just bought it for the movies. Will he be in the film? "Let's hope so," the rocker said, laughing. "At least I can maybe sing the tracks for Zac Efron or whoever gets the part instead of me." (Nuh-uh. If anyone gets to force something into Zac's lips, it's me!)

Being a twisted sister, I couldn't leave without asking about his reality-show swan song, Nickelback's "How You Remind Me." "I love Nickelback!" Maroulis swore. "But you were booted off," I shrieked. "Don't you want to Poison their asses?" "I think that was an unfortunate part of my journey on American Idol," he admitted. (Hey, I love Journey!) "I was set to do another song—something by U2 or Maroon 5—but they couldn't get the rights that fast. That was then. Nowadays, it's like, 'Sing it! Even if it sucks, our catalog will go through the roof!' " Oh, really? In that case, I'll promptly be pitching them numbers from my new Rush Limbaugh musical, Crock of Ages.

Up at the Triad, a revue with shorter hair and looser outfits called Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? is a well-timed assemblage of gloomy material from the last Depression, with far more gravitas than, say, Confessions of a Shopaholic. In fact, I wanted to shoot myself by the end of it—and that's a very good review.

But 33 Variations feels like the '80s again: It turns out to be a muddy mixture of pseudo-highbrow problem play and Lifetime movie, aiming to be both cute and profound. The plot parallels stricken musicologist Jane Fonda ("So, eventually she won't be able to speak anymore?") and the deaf Beethoven ("Your ears are bothering you, Ludwig. Is it the ringing?"), who apparently not only loved the everyday joys of beer hall dancing, he was a Borscht Belt comic on the side. Still, I liked the three children of famous people who star in it, especially the riveting Fonda—and when a cell phone's musical tones rang out from the audience, I was thrilled she didn't break character and say, "Is that the 34th variation?"

I recently ran into another Oscar winner who's on the boards—Estelle Parsons—and she was moaning, "It used to be treated like a much bigger deal when you were on Broadway!" It's true, people didn't watch you while texting with one hand and eating onion rings with the other. Well, Parsons was honored at the Women's Project fancy gala at the Pierre last week, and she seemed far more duly appreciated. "I feel calm and spacious," she said, quoting Ian McEwan. "Fully qualified to exist."

Qualified but duped, singer Cynthia Crane was one of those people screwed over by Bernie Madoff (you care about him, remember?), as I learned at the same event. Crane and her hubby had to sell their house to pay off debts, so they had a party where an effigy of Madoff forlornly hung from the ceiling. I hear one Palm Beach publication thought a photo of the faux-corpse was too tasteless to run, but Vanity Fair will go with it. Honey, even if it was a shot of the real Madoff hanging, I don't think it would be all that tasteless!

People might not give a shit about Paris Hilton right now, but they might care about Paris 36, the period musical with medium hair that just opened the "Rendez-vous With French Cinema" series. Its star, 20-year-old beauty Nora Arnezeder, was delightfully self-effacing at the premiere, telling me that the film hasn't made her a household name in France, where "Sophie Marceau and Marion Cotillard are stars, but I'm not. People don't recognize me on the streets." Still, Arnezeder showed amazing confidence in brazenly wielding a champagne glass before my eyes, even though she's not legal here. "Police!" I mock-screamed. "Shhh!" she urged, laughing.

Champers flowed at the Skinny, a Thursday-night event via promoters Michael Formika Jones and Mark Nelson, which is the latest attempt to make gay magic happen at Touch. This time, they really took the club's name to heart: On opening night, a massage table was set up where you could sprawl out and let a half-naked man rub oil into your pores. Everyone ended up feeling like a salad, and that was fantastic: cheap eats!

For dessert, here's some totally free gossip: I hear Sarah Jessica Parker won't be doing print publicity for Spinning Into Butter, which she produced and stars in; insiders guess that she doesn't want to be asked any marital questions. Is that a ringing in her ears? And speaking of the sanctity of straight wedlock, Jerry Lewis has always professed husbandly fidelity, but in an upcoming book called Confessions of a Rat Pack Party Girl, the title libertine claims she had sex with the goofball comic, and his idea of staying true to his wedding vows involved making sure to not come inside her—even though she was calm and spacious! Is that dark enough for you?

musto@villagevoice.com

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