A big ball of self-deprecating charm, Craig Bierko is playing Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, but over lunch at Sant Ambroeus the other day, he told me he’s not at all imitating Brando’s performance in the movie. “I’m actually doing it like Shirley Jones,” Bierko deadpanned.
More seriously, the Tony nominee (for The Music Man) told me what’s new about this revival, from the mid-to-late-’30s flavor that director Des McAnuff is restoring to it, to the “nastier drive” of the music, which now aims for a sort of big-band, “Sing, Sing, Sing” feeling.
And Bierko’s Sky isn’t just falling—for the uptight mission lady—but he’ll also show other vulnerabilities, too. “He refers to his father at the very beginning,” Bierko explained, “and Des said, ‘I think there’s a throughline there.’ It informs ever so delicately that there’s something there other than a shark who’s looking for an angle and falls in love—which is moving enough.”
But McAnuff is not trying to reinvent what’s already perfect, insisted Bierko. According to the actor, “I’m glad Des didn’t say, ‘I did Jersey Boys. We don’t need Adelaide and Sarah. Let’s make it two other guys in white jackets doing synchronized moves!’ He actually is doing Guys and Dolls.” Yay—I love Guys and Dolls!
Unfortunately, I also appreciate all the shows Bierko almost starred in, so I sadistically forced him to revel in these near-misses between courses. Turns out he was up for the lead in Broadway’s Shrek, though he may have actually dodged a green bullet there. Said Bierko: “I hear they got the makeup down to two hours. I can’t do things I enjoy for two hours. To sit there taping an eraser to my head, I don’t think I could do it. But Brian d’Arcy James [who got the part] is one of the most talented people out there.” And one of the most splotchy, too.
Bierko did get cast in the patchy revival of To Be or Not To Be, but it was not “to be”; he split because the writer didn’t want to take the eraser off his head and change things. Respecting that, Bierko thought, “If I leave today, I’ll feel like an asshole, and if I leave tomorrow, I’ll actually be an asshole, so I left.”
But he wasn’t an asshole in turning down the part of Chandler in a little TV offering called Friends long ago. I mean, who knew? “You know what show I took instead?” Bierko challenged me, eyes flaring. “Best Friends! If there had been a Super Mega Friends, I would have taken that.”
Alas, Best Friends didn’t get picked up, “and Friends replaced Christianity. For a year, I’d walk into restaurants, and people would look at me as though I had a ball of cancer and was eating it like an apple. It was a big lesson for me—in humility, and also if you’re doing this to get the $40 million prize, you’re fucked. You have to do it because you like it.”
The added irony is that Bierko clinched the part by auditioning with an imitation of Matthew Perry, who’s a longtime super mega friend!
But I saved the sauciest career moves for last. Wikipedia insists that Bierko has dated hot catches like Meg Ryan, Charlize Theron, Gretchen Mol, and Janeane Garofalo. All true? “That was one crazy night,” he replied, his eyebrow climbing toward his hairline. “Life went immediately downhill, starting at 5 a.m. Do not drink the Robitussin-‘tinis at the Golden Globes, my friend!”
We toasted one to Garofalo, recalling my historic item saying she and Bierko might have been bearding for each other. Bierko said that while he does love showtunes so much that Garofalo’s mouth hangs open in disbelief, and though he does call her “he” and she calls him “she,” my contention was off-base. “But we enjoyed it thoroughly,” said Bierko. “It became an endless source of material for us.
“We were hoping the story would take root,” he went on, grinning. “It didn’t. No one gave a shit. Most people look at me and think, ‘Brendan Fraser‘s put on weight.’ ” Again with that self-deprecating charm! This guy is a doll.
Could This Be Magic?
Another lil’ leg of honey lamb is Barry Manilow, the ’70s crooner who went from accompanying Bette Midler at a gay bath house to singing love songs to “Mandy” and Lola the showgirl. Barry was recently inducted into the no-holds-barred Friars Club, and when I heard the event was being hosted by comedy’s “queen of mean,” Lisa Lampanelli, I had to be there to check out her outrageous comments, which would surely draw blood from my eardrums. “You’ll go to that gay place, of course,” I said to Lampanelli before the presentation. “No,” she replied, surprisingly, “because I’m a lot like him in many ways.” “Huh? You both take it up the ass?” I cracked. “No,” Lampanelli responded. “We appeal to ages young and old. I have no proof that Barry’s a homosexual, and if he is, I wouldn’t want to break the hearts of all the old ladies who think he’s straight.” Oh, come on, no proof? Isn’t that what they said about Clay Aiken? “How would I know?” said Lampanelli. “Barry hasn’t tried to fuck me, but I did try to hump his black bassist and got cockblocked by a friend. I have to get rid of my hot friends!”
The bassist and I snuggled up for Lampanelli’s speech, and it turned out she did use the Q-word. She started misting up with appreciation over Manilow’s cultural achievements, then said, “I’m such a queer!”
Off-Broadway, I caught up with the smash hetero romp Becky Shaw, which is strident sitcom until the second half, when it develops more interest and texture—and I loved one character’s idea that “no good deed goes unpunished”!
As proof of that, a nice gesture called The Story of My Life opened last week and was effortlessly stepped on until it closed. It was the earnest story of a corpse who helps his blocked (and cockblocked) writer friend relive their relationship to music—lots of music. Every imaginable thought was set to song (“Did I do the nudging when his life careened?”), and when you added white sets, angel references, and the de rigueur gay twist, you got a well-meaning piece that was thoughtful, intelligent, and bo-ring!
But Hedda Gabler carries on, and leading lady Mary-Louise Parker got musical about that at a Rouge Tomate party for her Gotham magazine cover last week. When I asked Parker whether she’d next like to star in a musical version called Hello, Hedda, she admitted, “Michael [Cerveris] and I do that sometimes backstage to amuse ourselves.” To illustrate this, Parker started singing a refrain of “Hedda, you had to have this house,” and I was stunned and appalled! Because it sounded really good!
There are no production numbers in Irena’s Vow, the upcoming drama starring four-time Tony nominee Tovah Feldshuh as the real-life goyishe housekeeper who saved the lives of 12 Jews. The play fits in perfectly with the current mania for finding inspiring Holocaust stories—and there won’t be too much overhead, either; at a meet-and-greet last week, we were told that “three Jews in the basement represent the 12 Jews that were there.” That’s better than four of them doing synchronized moves. Anyway, Feldshuh gave such an impassioned speech at the event that I slipped out, rather than torture her with my usual flippant questions. I thought, “If I leave today, I’ll feel like an asshole . . .”