The drag queen with the highest heels and voice in town, Shequida, has gone legit with Opera for Dummies, her Westbeth song-and-prance show that’s the latest Sheq attack on cultural complacency. As the vibrato-serving diva — who boasts a five-octave range — told me, “I’m a male soprano. I’m not really considered a tenor because of the texture, color, and timbre of my voice.” So why does it have such a distinctly female sound, girleen? “I don’t know, honey,” she said. “Maybe because I tucked too tight. Stop trying to figure it out and just enjoy it!”
More definitively, Shequida was born Gary Hall in Jamaica (“not Queens. We love them, but not Queens”), studied at Juilliard, and was an offbeat regular on One Life to Live for a year. Says she, “I played Wendy Mercury, a woman with a secret. I’ll let you figure out what the secret is, sugar. There were actually a bunch of them — like why she was a bartender with designer clothes, and why you could never mention music to her.”
But the all-encompassing Shequida — she sings! she talks! — is all too thrilled to apply her male soprano speaking voice to the topic. “I’d love to do Turandot — a princess, honey,” she says. “But in the show, I do more familiar stuff — stuff you might have heard in an elevator. And I duet with my brother, Hequida, which is actually me, of course, on video. Also, I talk about things like why Wagner operas are six hours long. It’s beautiful music, but it’s torture!”
Sugar, you want torture? All these recent pop musical tributes posing as theater pieces have me screeching like Callas, only without accompaniment. I was stupefied during George Gershwin Alone, that one-bore history lesson, but the audience tossed aside its walkers to stand and cheer. I was horrified during Love, Janis — which stars two Joplin impersonators, one singing and one talking (I guess Shequida’s one of the few divas who can do both) — but the crowd went delirious like it was Woodstock with a cover charge. And most recently, as everyone lapped up the Laura Nyro homage, Eli’s Comin’, I just sat there wondering what I’d missed, or more aptly, what I’d seen. I worship Nyro’s music, but this mishmash throws her quirky, personal songs into a hazy plot about a woman finding “the heart and soul of New York City.” The spirited singing is a bit too Broadway soprano-ish (as opposed to drag queen soprano-ish) for the material, and the minimal staging makes Love, Janis look like 42nd Street. Eli may be comin’, but not in my mouth.
Urinetown!, however, is well worth chugging down. The ingeniously staged Off-Broadway tuner — about a water-deficient town where you have to pay to use a bathroom (sounds like a $400,000 condo I just looked at) — works as both a spoof of musical-theater clichés and an invigorating Cradle Will Rock-meets-Les Miz musical in its own right. You’ll piss your pants!
At the opening-night party at Ye Olde Tripple Inn, John Cullum, the Tony winner who stars as the corporate baddie, told me that when he first got the script, “I thought, ‘What the hell is this? This is ridiculous!'” But Cullum later saw the light, now acknowledging, “The show takes advantage of what gets to people. Commercials have done that for years — and I’d rather be sold on ecology than tampons.” I didn’t realize they were two different things!
Cullum left me with a pisser: “I heard that Hal Prince once said, ‘John Cullum is the dullest actor in musicals.’ He later claimed he discovered my comic talents!” Welcome to Urinetown, honey.
I held it in during the Film Society of Lincoln Center tribute to Jane Fonda, a long but rewarding homage to the woman who went from sex kitten to artist to thigh-buster to Hollywood escapee, all with pretty admirable grace. She’s a princess, honey. Her Oscar films are fab, but my top Fonda flick is… no, not Favorite Fat Burners, but Walk on the Wild Side, the trashy ’62 sudser with Jane vamping as reckless prostie-slash-con artist Kitty Twist (though its real highlight has a legless man on a dolly rolling up to lesbian madam Barbara Stanwyck to say, “Am I still your husband?”).
They showed a clip from that — and from practically every other Fonda flick — interspersed with neurotically gushy celebrity testimonials from the best of the weirdest. Sally Field beamed, “She taught us the sheer joy of sweat!” Peter Fonda said, “Time magazine called me the little brother with the big mouth,” then murmured to himself, “Remember, this is about Jane, not you.” Debbie Reynolds trashed Eddie Fisher, Vanessa Redgrave read some bizarre poem, and finally Fonda emerged, looking as if she’d just done that backflip out of Golden Pond. Even when tossing off deadpan revelations (“I come from a long line of bipolar manic-depressives”), Jane was so magnetic you expected Ted Turner to roll onto the stage and say, “Am I still your husband?”
In other ambulatory news, Parker Posey was approaching a recent opening-night party while talking on her cell phone, only to come across a battalion of hungry paparazzi and reporters. Ever resourceful, Posey played up the moment, booming into the phone, “Oh, I got the job? Six million dollars? Wow, that’s great!”
I just got six cents‘ worth of gossip and will gleefully scream it into my cell (though I may wait till 8 p.m., when I get more free minutes). Everyone’s been buzzing about how Tina Brown pulled her Talk cover at the last minute to put The Producers on instead. Well, hello! Miramax happens to back the hit musical! (But that’s not the real reason — Tina adored the show.)
Meanwhile, put this on your cover and read it: Gay pundit Andrew Sullivan is being criticized for reportedly blaring about his voracious lust for swapping “loads” on an encounter Web site for barebackers (though at least he’s openly poz). This attack may seem rough — we all have our little secrets and scandals — but Sullivan haters feel he’s being deeply hypocritical, considering he’s the dude who preaches “Christian ethics,” decries “libidinal pathology,” and lectures the gay community for being too sex-obsessed, polygamous, and irresponsible. Sullivan didn’t return a call for comment.
In other risky business, Dancing Queens, the upcoming double-CD of drag queen anthems, has caused even more of a stir than Shequida’s arias. As you’ve read, the record company wants Giuliani to approve its promotional attempt to put drag statues around the city, à la last year’s cows. (They could just reuse the cows for some of the queens I know.) Well, here’s a new (Kitty) twist: The commercial for the CD — which has three large drag queens dancing their heinies off — was just turned down by a trio of supposedly gay-friendly stations: Ovation, Oxygen, and the Food Channel! Oh, well, at least the project’s gotten the support of Donald Trump, who said he’d dress up as Veronica Lake to model for a statue. Or maybe they can just use Ivanka.
And now, can I get some support through this Tom Cruise mess? That porn star says he never even met Cruise and doesn’t know how this “disgusting” rumor started. But, excuse me, he’d told the story to at least three journalists on the record. Someone explain — now, sugar!