By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
'Will the gays travel all the way uptown to Lips' new East 56th Street location?" was the familiar chant when the drag restaurant moved there about a month ago.
But it turned out to be a moot point since the crowd mostly consists of teen girls eating birthday cake through their braces and bachelorettes celebrating their last encounters with tucked penises before locking themselves up in Long Island for all time.
And they seem to be cottoning to the new space, which is like a glitzy jewel box bedecked with glitter balls, chandeliers, shiny statues, and strobe effects that are not for monastics or epileptics. "We were like caged animals in the basement that were let upstairs," drag queen All Beef Patty told last Wednesday night's crowd about the transition. "Michael Vick was beating us just a few months ago."
Patty MC'd the dinner show, engaging in confrontational banter with the audience, like telling one girl after a song, "Bitch, you could have put down your phone and clapped" and instructing others, "The more you drink, the better we look!" She gamely introduced the performers, including a spot-on Madonna impersonator, and after much lip-synching and high-kicking, and she herself singing in full voice, she brought up eight birthday girls and two bachelorettes to be photographed, feted, and mocked at the same time. "Blow," Patty told one girl turning 16 while handing her cake with a candle on it. "You're gonna have to learn how to do that."
Hot Flashes With Adam's Apples
Union drag queens fill La Cage aux Folles, which came up at the slightly more sedate Sardi's when the Drama Desk hosted a panel discussion there about the appeal of topical musicals. Co-star Christine Andreas said audiences weren't totally open for business when the show first came around in the AIDS-shocked '80s. But now, she said, people are sobbing after seeing "this little sugar-coated show with more reprises of songs than I've ever heard in my life. Between Kelsey Grammer and Douglas Hodge, there is this incredible love affair. Douglas comes off as a menopausal woman, then a drag queen, then a mother, then just a guy. You look at him at the end as a human. This little healing happens, and it all happens completely Jerry Herman–esquely. It's not a revival, it's a revelation. The third time, it lands!" Whether I agree or not, that's certainly one of the most delightfully detailed reviews of any show I've ever heard. No wonder critics are becoming obsolete.
Second best was Memphis's Chad Kimball talking about his own musical's appeal, relating how married men come to him and gush, "I usually get dragged by my wife and I usually fall asleep, but I had a great time!" About his own role—a progressive radio jock who not only breaks black artists, he sleeps with them—Kimball offered, "He's so not your average leading man. He's quirky and annoying at times—I said it—not unlike me." And the Best Musical Tony might help hush the naysayers who claim it's complete schlock-a-doo.
Over at the Cherry Lane, the 25th anniversary production of the smash Nunsense has a hard-working cast trying to sell lines like, "Hello, Dalai Lama—get it?" while staging a faux-fundraiser to bury four nuns in the freezer. As the proceedings get less self-conscious, they grow on you a bit—and it's certainly a good time when the Mother Superior opens a bottle of poppers—but all these years later, it feels like this particular habit is not that hard to break. In fact, the show seems to be having the opposite trajectory of La Cage's.
On a higher plane, I went to the opening-night gala for Shakespeare in the Park's The Merchant of Venice, the one about the moneylender accused of charging outlandish interest rates. "They force him to convert to Christianity at the end," someone told me, conspiratorially, and I replied, "We should do that to Bernie Madoff!" But a young gentleman in the crowd gave me the most cogent explanation of the varying arguments in the play and whether it ends up being anti-Semitic or balanced. He turned out to be the Dell dude! Again, goodbye, critics.
Caution—and clothes—were thrown to the wind at Roseland for Broadway Bares, which is like a circuit party for theater queens, the ribald revue featuring a colorful onslaught of production numbers, celebrity drop-ins, reality stars, and more production numbers. The slow-mo Jersey Shore number was a hoot and the "Orient Avenue" aerial routines had real artistry, but the "Waterworks" number of hot, shirtless guys faux-peeing on each other was the one people are still talking about, even if the official press release sent out after the event failed to allude to it. I just wish they had aimed their stuff at the audience to cool us off a bit.
A sweltering spectacle, the Mermaid parade in Coney Island was so wildly attended that I ended up stuck on the boardwalk in a mass of people, unable to see anything or to move to safety for scary chunks of time. Looming next to me all day was a crazed man who kept muttering, "I hope I don't get violent," but thankfully, he didn't, and fortunately, whatever I did see—including groups of people dressed like mermaids and singing Lady Gaga songs—was fun enough to make me wish I had fins. For all the bitching about how New York has lost its edge, there were enough bohemians there to fill all the holes in Sarah Palin's reasoning.