By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Despite the seeming contradiction of the term "casino culture," Atlantic City has long overflowed with everything I've ever needed, from inexpensive buffets to elaborate diva concerts, from 99-cent stores hawking breast mugs to a boutique pier dotted with high-end merch to drape on your spa-waxed body. For extra pleasure, I relish the chance to watch people in iron lungs routinely throw their life's fortunes away at the crap tables as I glide by, feeling oh-so-wealthy and superior.
But the one thing the place has never had was anything overtly gay (aside from an occasional Carol Channing show). Much as I enjoy visiting the West Side Club—the David Lynchian hangout in the shadowy part of town, where the bar nuts are not on the bar—I've always been astounded that the casinos never catered to the lavender dollar, obviously cowing in terror of the family-values folks who thump Bibles in between playing card games and hiring hookers.
Well, all of that changed last week—for a few days, anyway—when Harrah's Entertainment sent us for a "Weekend OUT" hosted by rapper Cazwell, inflatable toy Amanda Lepore, and various stars from canceled TV shows and boy bands. The group they sent down include a blogger who billed himself as "a positive Perez" (though he was understandably thrilled when Mischa Barton's show got canceled) and promoter Daniel Nardicio, fresh from Fire Island, where the Grove Hotel burst into flames, someone claimed to have been raped, and a plane crash-landed on the beach. ("I put that on Facebook before I called 911, shamefully enough," admitted Nardicio, cutely).
No such disasters took place in Atlantic City, thankfully enough. First came an LGBT bash at Showboat's Club Worship, MC'd by one of the town's four drag queens, who blared, "We spend money, too—am I right?" (And not just on blush—we also buy shadow.) Just then, the expensively cosmeticized Lepore took the stage, slyly working some of her songs together ("I know what boys like . . . My pussy, my pussy . . ."), and though some of the crowd looked a little dazed, that shows they were paying attention.
The next night, the gals really came out for the The L Word reunion at House of Blues' Foundation Room, which drew hard-core fans of the show from lipstick to pantsuit to prison matron. I cared only about Pam Grier, the '70s blaxploitation goddess who brightened the show as the bi-curious Kit Porter. Pam told me she just finished her memoirs, "and I'm still in therapy from that. Several cases of wine later . . ." An example of some insight from the book? "When I was dating Richard Pryor," she remembered, "his horse was attacked by the dog. I put the horse in the car, and we took him to get help. I thought we'd be arrested: 'There are two black people in a Jaguar with a horse in the back seat!' "
So Pam Grier is actually a gentle, loving soul, not the kickass character she rose to fame as? "I'm kickass right now," she replied, mercilessly tickling my tummy. "I had a military upbringing and was taught martial arts. And I have a rural background." Pam's so comfy with the great outdoors, in fact, that she often sleeps on her back on her Colorado grounds, with nothing but a thong and a down comforter. To summon one of her old movie taglines, "Coffy, she'll cream you!"
Several cases of wine later, the weekend brought a Lance Bass party and a Jai Rodriguez–hosted bingo game, but by then, I had cashed in my potato chips and gone back to my natural habitat of Times Square. There, the gays were lining up to drool over Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig in A Steady Rain, even though a poster on a Broadway chat board called it "nothing more than a long synopsis for a movie on Spike TV." I tend to agree—I never cared for the "And then I said" genre of confessional drama, even with twists—but it's definitely the event piece of the season (meaning, people break their necks running to the stage door the second the show's over) and Jackman is particularly fine. (I mean his acting. Hush.)
Cute—and super-talented—Cheyenne Jackson was very present for last week's meet-and-greet promoting the revival of Finian's Rainbow, just another musical about sharecroppers, a leprechaun, and a dancing mute named Susan the Silent. ("When you see her leaping around like a crazy person," the choreographer told us, "she's speaking!") It's all very relevant, we were reminded, because Obama is president and because the show is a parody of the excesses of capitalism and the absurdity of over-borrowing. And one thing this production won't borrow from previous ones: blackface! When the bigoted character changes colors, it paves the way for a whole new actor to gain employment.
(Speaking of job ops, I hear Cheyenne tried out for Carl Magnus in A Little Night Music, but was told they didn't want to go the conventionally-good-looking route. Don't tell that to the guy who got it.)