Broadway Star Makes AIDS and Jesus Funny!

The Limelight's born again, and so am I

They were in a gay panic over at the Chelsea bar Barracuda because on the same night as their scheduled appearance by New Jersey Housewife Danielle Staub, rival boîte Splash was celebrating one of the other Joisey broads. Da noive!

To help bail them out—I consider the gay bar scene to be a giant charity case—I swooped in to 'Cuda to interview Danielle onstage and gleefully take the figurative plastic off all her bizarrely moralistic co-stars.

When asked about Teresa's "pasta puttanesca" recipe in honor of her, Danielle responded, "She seems obsessed with my vagina, doesn't she?" Already this was becoming a menstrual show. Since the fiery floodgates were open, I wondered if Danielle herself had ever gone bi, and she said, "You can't shake me"—then urged me to wait for her imminent tell-all (which her illiterate co-stars will no doubt need a translator to get through).

Fun, fun, fun—but there was an awkward moment when a gay in the audience asked Danielle to autograph a copy of another book—the one written by her ex-husband, who dredged up stuff about her past and who she claims beat her mercilessly way back when. Danielle vehemently refused to dignify that request, but on drag star Peppermint's suggestion, she delightfully agreed to sign the gay's ass instead. When in Rome!

At the bar that night, I also met skate-tastic Johnny Weir, who was fully clothed and very pretty in person and whom I now love because he said he liked my bifocals. Johnny's thoughts on Staub? "She's got a full crimp going in her hair!"

Gods and Monsters

That's the end of the coiffure talk and the buttock signing. If I can aim a little higher here, the rest of the column will be strictly devoted to God—specifically, how He has been dissed and shitcanned in favor of all sorts of strip malls and Broadway musicals lately. This was most notable at the opening of Limelight Marketplace, the upscale-ish shopping center that has risen on the site of an old Chelsea place of worship. But, even more memorably, the space later became a church for Satan—i.e., the '80s debauchery palace the Limelight, where I stayed for 13 years, mostly on my knees right near where the confession booth used to be.

And now, as I perused the perfectly lovely shops, all cased in heavenly white and visited by well-dressed socialites, I was flooded with memories and contradictions: The fancy gelato stand happened to be the very same spot where promoter Michael Alig had secretly peed in the punch bowl! The nicely appointed nook where a woman was hawking expensive anti-aging cream was just where a male clubbie named Maxine Headroom had tried to yank out my noodle to play drug-addled games with! Dear God, help!

I looked for some heavenly guidance at the Tony nominees meet-and-greet at the Millennium last week, but all I found was my assigned table in the back, where hardly anyone came around, let alone met and greeted. I felt as lonely and abandoned as an Enron investor with a Spider-Man ticket. But on finally tracking down some talent, I found that God was still the top subject of conversation—and not just to keep my theme going.

Levi Kreiss, nominated for his spirited Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet, told me he's perfect for the role, "having been that kid with an internal struggle between my passion for God versus 'the devil music.' " Kreiss happens to be an openly gay gospel singer, but he said people don't throw things: "It's universal. We all hurt. We all want love. We all experience the same type of things." Like wanting a Tony Award!

Another devoutly talented nominee, Sherie René Scott, thanks the son of God in her Everyday Rapture show, singing the bittersweet "You Made Me Love You" as slides show Jesus in his various hottie looks through the ages. Some customers from the Deep South storm out, but they miss the real feeling Scott puts into the devil music. "It's that real feeling of love," she told me, "whether we're taught it or it comes naturally or it's ingrained in us. That feeling is a sad thing to let go of when you realize these organizations that he represents aren't worthy of the love."

Oh, well. Anyone who can't get the multiple textures of Sherie's show can just go to hell. As she smilingly told me, "We thought, 'How can we make AIDS and abortion and Jesus sexy and funny and entertaining?' And I think we have!"

Amazingly, Best Play nominee Next Fall makes a religiously discordant relationship believable, and playwright Geoffrey Nauffts told me that's exactly why producers rejected it for so long. Gay men were icked-out by the fundamentalist Christian character, said Nauffts, "though our world is so divided along religious lines that to try to understand a world where an atheist and a Christian have a relationship was an interesting polemic." For the record, Nauffts himself is an agnostic, admitting, "I do believe in something—I just don't know what the hell it is."

What he prays to these days is Showstopper, a movie he has written about a reunited family that puts on a Broadway show based on a Douglas Sirk women's-issues film. Ben Stiller will produce and co-star, and Next Fall co-producer Elton John is writing the music. And Nauffts said the show within the movie might make a real Broadway musical someday. Bring on Imitation of Life on Ice with Johnny Weir!

At the Drama Desk nominees' reception, this season's double-whammy directing deity, Michael Mayer, admitted that an American Idiot set piece—a large frame with lights on it—looked perfect for Everyday Rapture, so he simply had it moved to the other theater. (Sometimes, there is God so quickly.) "That's the great thing about working with the same design team," Mayer said, laughing. Gosh, how I wish Jack O'Brien had moved the giant hairspray can to The Coast of Utopia.

And along came the spiritually named Robin DeJesus, a lit-up frame unto himself and a nominee for his flamboyantly Hispanic maid in La Cage aux Folles. Did he base his characterization on Rosie Perez, by any chance? "No! It's based on friends," DeJesus told me. "If I try to sound like Rosie, I can't do it." But the character is basically a Nuyorican, right? "Yes," he replied. "The director, Terry Johnson, said he wanted La Cage to be a haven for all different types of people." As a result, St.-Tropez is now populated with a Brit, a German, a New York Hispanic, and a Republican from sitcoms.

And finally, a Southern boy with an accent on pizzazz, Bryan Batt, had a party for his delicious She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother: A Memoir, which details his upbeat life from the bayou to Broadway. Batt—best known from Mad Men—told me that before he came out, he had a nonsexual crush on his Starlight Express co-star Jane Krakowski, but he didn't pursue it. ("I knew better!" he said. "So did she," I added. A boxcar should never date a dining car.)

Batt was a tiny bit less enamored of being so Cats-associated for years and laughingly told me, "I was the biggest pussy on Broadway!" As for his mama, who's a pussycat: "She is strong, but graceful. The first thing she said after having had several surgeries was 'Where's my lipstick, honey?' " Definitive proof that New Orleans housewives have way better priorities than New Jersey ones.

musto@villagevoice.com

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