Like an old man with a new jockstrap, Atlantic City is totally on the rise again. À la Las Vegas, the Jersey resort's jazzed up casinos are not just for iron-lunged retirees anymorethough those people are delightful, mind youthey've also been attracting some further-from-extinction types and even a few locals inspired by Celebrity Poker Showdown. To sample the rebirth before it becomes the afterbirth, I was just sent down by the Tropicana's non-gambling expansion, the Quarter, which is a sprawling mass of boutiques, restaurants, an IMAX theater, a magic store, and more restaurants. In fact, the food-engorging there is so out of control that I now have a non-gambling expansion myself.
At P.F. Chang's, I competed with Mary Kay cosmetics salesladies to see who could down more wontons per minute. (Alas, as the hands-down winner, I didn't get a pink Cadillac.) The Sound of Philadelphia restaurant featured the sound of me inhaling crab cakes. And the STEVE LEWIS-designed Brûlée: The Dessert Experience served up a trio of desserts, one of which had three separate components of its own, making forlet's seefive oinky portions per capita.
Even the cultural events had a food angle, like the Soap Stud Spectacular at the Comedy Stop, which advertised a "light buffet"belchthough it was delicious enough just watching All My Children's CAMERON MATHISON, VINCENT IRIZARRY, and AIDEN TURNER chat up the fun crowd of frothing menopausal females. Over snacks, they covered the soap's greatest plot twists through the years, from Irizarry being confined in a basement to a way snazzy doctor wearing her Wonderbra to the O.R. "Will Bianca come back?" asked a devoted fan and one of the actors recognized her as a stage door regular. "I'm scared," he joked, but she turned out to be perfectly sane.
"I'm so straight you have no idea," Mathison assured the audience, "but there are a lot of attractive men on the show." Like angel-faced Turner, who revealed that on the side, he's a dessert chef whose specialty is spotted dick (probably in three components). "What's spotted dick?" wondered Mathison. "MICHAEL JACKSON," I muttered, and a few of the women were nice enough to giggle.
That night, BOYZ II MEN played the Tropicana Showroom, and though there are only three members left and no band whatsoever, their florid vocalizing was appealing, especially when they urged audience members to call their mamas on their cells, then proceeded to serenade the old broads! My Jersey experience ended with a late-night buffet stop at the high rollers' V.I.P. lounge Diamond Jim's, followed by an ice creamy roll down the boardwalk, where people swarmed me, assuming I was a new casino.
Deneuve of her
Back in town, I put the pig in Pigalle at the Brasserie LCB lunch for the Rendez-Vous With French Cinema film festival, where CATHERINE DENEUVE was clearly the main course. I asked CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG's director husband, YVAN ATTAL (My Wife Is an Actress, . . . And They Lived Happily Ever After), if he's ever had erotic dreams about the great Deneuve. "Yes!" he exclaimed. "Don't tell her! I had her picture from Le Sauvage in my room. She had the white shirt and I could see her breasts. Is that the word?" No, silly, it's bodacious pudding cups.
At Miscast, the MCC Theater benefit revue that had Broadway stars performing songs they'd normally never get hired to do, BRUCE VILANCH shook his orbs to "Dance: Ten, Looks: Three" ("Tits and ass/ Bought myself a fancy pair") and Glengarry Glen Ross's TOM WOPAT and Tony winner MICHAEL CERVERIS duetted on a coyly sweet "People Will Say We're in Love." At the next day's Glengarry press event, I had to ask Wopat if there's been any sex among the all-male cast. "Not yet," he said, grinning. "Everybody's watching his back, so to speak."
Ham, a lot
I spotted dickI mean I felt like a spotted dickat Monty Python's Spamalot, which teems with genital jokes, gay jokes, Jew jokes, and fart jokes, and is still more sophisticated than Brooklyn the Musical. The show mixes equal parts Oliver!, Gilbert and Sullivan, and "Springtime for Hitler" with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels-y fourth-wall breaking (and Frenchman-mocking) and a Spelling Bee-type audience drag-on, for a Monty Python jukebox musical that never says ni. The result is an eager-to-please hodgepodge of carefully calibrated silliness that, when it isn't revealing its basic hollowness or evaporating before your thighs, is tawdrily amusing, down to the "You've Got Grail" shirts they sell in the lobby. And you gotta love HANK AZARIA's coming-out song.
But let's sober up with VANESSA CARLTON, the earnest singer-songwriter with a piano, a dream, and probably tickets to Julius Caesar. At her reception at Pure Food and Wine, talented Vanessa told me, "I'm still in the process of defining who I am. What keeps me going is playing livethat's the most organic, authentic version of me." But the press, she said, has misconstrued her as glossier than she really is. "You become a two-sentence biography," she balked, "whereas something organic and natural about me can be squashed." The woman's sweet, but I had probably surpassed my daily quota of organic talk, especially since the waitserver had just informed me, "We don't serve soda here, but we do have coconut water." Eeew! (Is that the word?)
My nerves were truly jangled when, at a screening of The Ring Two, a fidgety nelly sitting near me admitted, "I might jump on you. I'm a mess during scary movies. I was under the seat during Jurassic Park." It was Phantom of the Opera's EMMY ROSSUM! Fortunately, she fully behaved herself, later telling me certain sequences didn't scare her at all ("I've worked with animatronic wolves, so I know animatronic caribou"), though the way the girl in the video scenes moved like a bug "creeped me out." Even her fancy pair begged for a squirt of Raid.
But I'm buggin' since ALEXANDER PAYNE and SANDRA OH went kaput mere moments after his Oscar win, confirming my theory that the cursed award almost always unbalances relationships. (One of the few surviving Oscar-discordant couples, HILARY and CHAD, breaks all the rules.)
Meanwhile, ASHTON may have impregnated DEMI? Greatfinally there'll be someone closer to his own age to play with.
And here's another sign of new life: As American Idol's MARIO VAZQUEZ heads back to the bar scene, the show's CONSTANTINE MAROULIS has elegantly risen from it. They just shot an Idol segment at Apocalypse Lounge, the East Village haunt where Constantine used to work. (He served me once, with large doses of swagger and charm.) As Apocalypse's head honcho, FRED ROTHBELL-MISTA, told me, "I was always firing Constantine. He once spotted a woman in the club and asked if he could get her number. I said, 'But she's older, she's married, she has two children, she lives in Florida, and she's my niece!' He said, 'So can I have her number?' " But the guy kept getting his job back and went from barback to all-purpose helper, even doing occasional toilet work without bitching. "He's not stuck up at all," said Fred. "He's like a homely guy in a nice-looking guy's body." I can so relate.
Gay-entertainment writer-reviewer DAMON KRUEZER recently sent out an angry mass e-mail complaining about the state of gay porn star MATTHEW RUSH's website. "Why is Rush doing a three-hour live sex show tonight," fumed Kruezer, "but he hasn't been performing or appearing on his own website since December, contrary to what paying members were promised when they signed up? Some of them are contemplating legal action." Falcon Studios rep TROY PRICKETT (who didn't return my call for comment) replied to Kruezer, "You are a disreputable person in my view by daring to question Matthew Rush, who is so admired and respected. Your several interviews with Matthew did not properly represent what he said, according to what he told us." Prickett even threatened a cease and desist order if Kruezer didn't shut his facial hole. Imagine daring to question the great and powerful Matthew Rush!
But another Falcon star, MARCUS IRON, is doing quite well, without any question. Careful viewers of HGTV's Curb Appeal recently recognized him as landscaper MICHAEL LOFTIS. No, the show isn't turning into Gutter Appeal. It's just that the multi-talented Iron is striking while he's hot hot hot.
Web extra: According to an insider on the "All That Chat" message board on talkinbroadway.com, Scarlett Johansson will play Maria in Trevor Nunn's London production of The Sound of Music in fall '06. I hope she gets a lot of do-re-mi.
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