By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
With the legit theater season as over as my mojo, the only cultural events left to attend are gaudy circuses, live reality shows, and Borscht Belt–style tributes to faded figures—and I'm there, honey.
First up is My Big Gay Italian Wedding, in which Bay Ridge types with big hair carry on and screech about two altar-bound homosexuals—and that describes the audience, too. Is it good? Well, the only thing you need to know is that Amazing Race–star-turned–Lance Bass's-ex Reichen Lehmkuhl walks around in just his underwear in one scene. And he's insecure about it!
"That's a tough scene for me," the comely Reichen confided at the after-party. "You know those dreams you have where you're in your underwear in the middle of class, and everyone's staring?" Yes! I love them! "I do a lot of pushups backstage, and I try to get more confidence about doing it in front of 250 people," he added, poignantly. Please! Bring on the straitjacket!
The show's co-producer, Dina Manzo from The Real Housewives of New Jersey, thinks Reichen looks just fine, thank you. As she told me, "I said to my daughter, 'Take a look at his face because that's your next father.' I want to change him! I want to marry him!" It could be a Big Ex-Gay Italian Wedding. But when I asked author/star Anthony Wilkinson if writing a play where he marries Reichen every night is a case of serious wish-fulfillment, he admitted, "I didn't know who he was. They said, 'We're putting you with Reichen Lehmkuhl.' I said, 'That's great' because I didn't want to sound ignorant. Then I Google-imaged him and said, 'Oh, that works.' "
A straight event with clothes on, David Dinkins's Friars Club tribute wasn't exactly explosive since it's hard to find anything that incendiary to say about the easygoing ex-mayor. Over the course of the evening, we learned that he got Nelson Mandela to wear a Yankees outfit, people call him "Coach," and he loves his son a lot. But when the Friars comics break from the assigned topic and go into their shtick, it's always worth staying awake for. MC Freddie Roman was funny, claiming he takes Viagra every night "so I won't roll off the bed." But Roman pointed out the absurdity of those commercials that warn old people to call a doctor if their erection lasts for many hours. On the very off-chance that happens, Roman said, "I'm not calling a doctor, I'm calling Angelina Jolie!"
A human aphrodisiac from the 1950s, Mitzi Gaynor doesn't dance much at Feinstein's at the Loews Regency's ballroom except for a few careful twirls, and her singing voice is not necessarily ready for Technicolor these days. But the one-time wowapalooza still charmed the opening-night crowd last week by performing in her very best cute mode while telling highly detailed stories from her career as a belter/spinner/shimmier.
Mitzi's a natural raconteur, talking in rat-tat-tat phrases, complete with asides (and gay slang like "Please, Mary!") as if you were sitting in a sunken couch in her living room. She tells how she turned down Howard Hughes's marriage proposal when she realized he'd also asked about 47 other girls. How the Duke of Windsor "hummed and nestled" while coming up to her cinched breasts as they danced on his birthday. How Marilyn was needy, whereas Ethel Merman, who talked like a truckdriver, was anything but boring, especially after a bottle in a limo.
The "shayna Gaynor" enters in her South Pacific sailor suit, confesses to being a "Catholic Hungarian Virgo," and proceeds from there, and though the result could never be mistaken for Everyday Rapture, you feel eerily comfortable, especially since she changes costumes literally every five minutes.
"I loved her!" Tommy Tune told me the next night at the opening of Claudia Shear's Restoration. "That's the end of that. There's her and Debbie Reynolds, and that's it!" And let's not forget Abe Vigoda.
Restoration, by the way, has Shear as a devoted conservator of Michelangelo's David—though not so devoted that she won't stop for long discussions with the Italian security guard and saucy remarks aimed at David's butt like, "I wish I could lick you clean with my acidic, sulphurous tongue, my David." Shear is a treasure, but I feel she did way better with her homage to that other sexy statue, Mae West.
A monument to vaudeville, Cirque du Soleil's Banana Shpeel is their first show with an actual throughline, as the artistic director told me at the opening-night reception. "It's not Chekhov," he said, "but there's a plot that enables the performances. It's the biggest script we've ever worked with." "Is it closer to Tennessee Williams?" I cracked, and another member of the creative team chimed in, "It's happier than that."
Well, it's nice to have the Cirque folk playing humans and talking in complete sentences rather than dressed like insects and speaking multilingual gibberish. But emerging from a badly received Chicago run, what was planned as Cirque's first Broadway-style book musical presents itself as a giddily uneven mishmash of shtick, story, and spectacle. There's the basic thread of a nasty circus impresario who turns nice, but that's underdeveloped and is put on hold every time he brings out circusy entertainers, from a woman who spins pillowcases on her feet to a gal who stands on her partner's head and doesn't get nauseous.
To add to the anything-goes feel, the cast bounces out for group tapdances at odd moments, but then it's back to the hat-tossing and awkward dialogue. Fortunately, the triple-jointed gravity defiers and shameless clowns are fun company, and Banana Shpeel ends up being the Addams Family of circus shows. Its most subversive achievement might be that, out of the colorful mess created by its original ambitions, it manages to be bizarrely enjoyable at times.
Shows with throughlines were honored at the Drama Desk Awards, my personal throughline being straight to the food at the after-party. There, I heard that the high point of the awards was presenter Martha Plimpton gushing that backstage, my old friend from a previous paragraph, Mitzi Gaynor, said she liked her shoes. ("Who needs drugs?" added Plimpton.) That became the running gag of the night, leading up to Jim Brochu gushing, "Mitzi Gaynor told me to go fuck myself!"
And finally, Courtney Love doesn't need drugs when she can get off just by venting about a theater camp. In Mickey Rapkin's book Theater Geek, about Stagedoor Manor, where future stars and basket cases are created, Courtney remembers the time she went to see Frances Bean Cobain appear in Leader of the Pack there four years ago. "They gave my daughter a shit part," fumes Courtney. "She was in, like, some tertiary chorus line. It really pissed me off. The girls at camp called her horrible names. I had to have Drew Barrymore—her godmother—call her at camp. I asked her to have them say over the PA system, 'Frances, you have a phone call from Drew Barrymore,' so the kids would stop making fun of her.
"But it was a character-building experience," adds Courtney. In fact, Frances couldn't wait to go back the next year! And now she's an unwitting part of a tabloid circus and a living reality show. Bring on the awards.