The ultimate prefab boy band, O-Town—the one they created Frankenstein-style on Making the Band—was truly monstrous when they performed on some beauty pageant recently; they got about as close to their notes as I got to Harvard. But at Planet Hollywood the other night, either the tape was pumped up or they’d been replaced by ‘N Sync pods, because the ‘band’ sounded almost musical, and I, like, totally succumbed to their liquid dreams. For the record, my favorite O member is the one with the spiky hair, the cluster of moles on his left cheek, the exceptional spelling ability, and the wicked Austin Powers impression, not that I really care.
I’m much more passionate about exploring self-consciously experimental works by Pulitzer Prize winners, none of them addressed to “you, girl,” thank you. Like Edward Albee‘s The Play About the Baby, which combines the hysterical pregnancy from Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with the we’re-all-parts-of-the-same-bleak-person motif from his Three Tall Women to put a goofy spin on perception versus reality, the shattering of innocence, and other themes so old they’re almost new. (We all want “a bigger dick, a more muscular vagina, a baby perhaps,” we learn—and who’s going to argue except for well-hung hermaphrodites?) The symbolism is laid on with a trowel—”You’d think it was Eden, wouldn’t you?”—but by Act II, the mixture of giddiness and despair clicks like a teenie concert at Planet Hollywood. When Marian Seldes acts out the crucifixion in sign language, you stop wondering if there ever was a baby and are thrilled that there finally is a play.
Seldes MC’d last week’s Theater Hall of Fame ceremony, where older queens cheered when June Havoc was inducted. (Straight and/or young people might not know this, but she was the basis for Baby June in Gypsy—a/k/a The Play About the Baby June.) I asked the twinkly survivor if her mother wasn’t even rougher than she was portrayed in that towering tuner. “She wasn’t rough at all,” Havoc said, “just different from us. She was delicate and tiny, with curly brown hair and violet eyes. She never wore silk stockings or high heels. But she had her own rules and a pipeline to God. She knew everything. That’s how you lived or you didn’t live with her.” Well, I can’t live without her in Gypsy.
But when I asked Havoc who her favorite Baby June was in all the versions of that show, she looked mortified and said, “None, because that’s not me. That was a playwright’s conceit.” So she was never that cutesy? “I hope not!” she said, grimacing. But at 88, the woman’s definitely cute, and I won’t hear another word about it.
A future Hall of Famer, the adorable Ann Magnuson, is in career high gear, having done everything from the very muscular The Vagina Monologues to a bunch of upcoming movies that have given her a pipeline to Hollywood. Ann’s in The Caveman’s Valentine as “the free-spirited bohemian sister of an artist suspected of murder,” as she told me by phone from L.A. “Samuel L. Jackson, who’s great, plays a homeless schizophrenic who’s a onetime piano prodigy schooled at Juilliard. There’s a fair amount of suspension of disbelief here.” And some suspension of trousers too. Explained Ann, “Samuel and I have a black-and-white rolling in the hay—literally in black and white. Roger Ebert calls it ‘the most unexpected sex scene of the season.’ ” I guess he hasn’t read about Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg.
Ann replaced Farrah Fawcett in an unexpected flick called Night at the Golden Eagle as “a skanky crack whore with a heart of gold.” And in the Mariah Carey vehicle All That Glitters, “I play a crazed publicist. Is there any other kind? Mariah was fine. She’s very committed to having a movie career, so she took it very seriously.” So does Ann, though she’s also finding time to workshop a one-woman show called Rave Mom—a midlife-crisis romp—at P.S. 122 in April. “I had quite a wild ride in 1999,” she told me. “I learned a lot about my serotonin level.” She also learned that though she’d auditioned to play the MC in Cabaret, for once she didn’t get the part. I always thought she should play the glitter ball anyway.
Rather than revisit the glitzy Seussical the Musical and catch the Dyke in the Hat (kidding—I hear she’s actually booked a gay couple for her February 12 show), I dropped in on Time and Again, the time-travel floperetta at the Manhattan Theatre Club, which is sweet and thoughtful but so deadly earnest that you vow to not schlepp back to 1882 for a long time. The theme—”then is just a different now”—might explain why Time seems like such an amalgam of Ragtime, Contact, James Joyce’s The Dead, and even Jekyll & Hyde, which is weird, since it was first presented in ’93. But though it’s no Gypsy, it’s nice to see a show that at least reaches for exquisiteness.
You want a musical trip into the future by way of the past? Well, Edelweiss—that Eleventh Avenue rendezvous for cross-dressers and the guys who love them—has reopened, and I’m happy to report that it’s still fabulously filled with people who’ve gotten themselves more muscular vaginas. All types of gender benders slink around the joint wearing silk stockings and high heels, whether or not they have a pipeline, as it were. On weekends, the place is dotted with your everyday transsexuals (those who’ve permanently changed their names and genitals), your basic drag queens (downtown boys who don dresses at midnight and suddenly develop personalities), and your garden-variety kinkos (men with thick glasses, hairy ears, and bald spots who sneak out with the wife’s gown and jewelry for “a night with the boys”). Of course the picture wouldn’t be complete without the admirers—emphatically alone-looking guys with a glint in their eyes who come to get beauty tips, or just to get beauties, convinced that they’re simply very specialized straight people.
The mix makes for one of the few surprising things left in New York, and despite the “Hey, big spender!” quality of the place, there’s a real kooky sweetness there and an alluring sense that nothing’s quite what it seems. Most fascinatingly, the downstairs level is all mirrored, so a lot of the trannies spend the night immersed in the reflection of their hormonal breasts. I do the same thing—look at their breasts, that is. (Mine are in the mail.) It’s ‘ho town!
But the biggest ‘ho has to be Elton John, who, despite all his wonderful visibility and his work for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, made excuses for Eminem‘s biases in a gushy article last year and now, according to a report, might even perform with the angry superstar at the Grammys. Elton’s validation of Eminem sells us all down the river, allowing the homophobic rapper to get the last laugh by gloating, “Fuck, even the fags like me!” The Grammys certainly like him, and I have a problem with that, too. Eminem is undeniably charismatic and clever, but that only makes his hate messages that much more seductive, and, crazy me, I think the lyrics should be assessed as part of the overall package. If Hitler had put out a really danceable record called “Death to Jews,” I wouldn’t have handed it that many awards, would you? But let’s nominate O-Town—pleeease.