Octogenarian Showstopper Rules New York!


With nightclubs at a sickening standstill and Broadway getting downright dangerous, the cabaret revival couldn’t be better timed. I always resented the inherent complacence in planting your entitled ass down in a fancy boîte and letting someone else do all the entertaining, but the moment is right and there are really good people willing to do it.

For example, I finally decided to check in on the hoopla around 82-year-old Marilyn Maye, an old-style jazz/standards singer who’s been the toast of the cabaret scene since she was only in her late 70s. But she dates back way before that. In the 1960s, she was the go-to lady for recording brassy Broadway hit songs before the shows even opened, scoring extra spending money when she sang “Step to the Rear” from How Now, Dow Jones for a Lincoln-Mercury commercial. Today, she only sells herself, and with a whole mess of fiery gusto that’s ripened with age.

Maye’s “Her Kind of Broadway” show at the Metropolitan Room was a love-in, filled with showstopping 11 o’clock numbers no matter what time it was. She looks like your Aunt Bluebell all dolled up for a Saturday night, and while you could describe her sound as Margaret Whiting crossed with Elaine Stritch, she’s singularly gifted in the way she dives into a song, mining it for emotional heat and zingy rhythm.

Even when she did achingly familiar material (songs from Hello, Dolly! and My Fair Lady), Maye brought a depth and pizzazz that made them sound newer than my love of cabaret. She flubbed some lines in the Frank Loesser section, but she kept going, undeterred, like a bell that couldn’t stop ringing. It was Maye day in the best sense—and she even sprinkled in some girl talk, telling us that when James Lipton saw the show, he promised her, ” ‘If you tell me your favorite curse word, I’ll buy a drink for the house.’ Well, I did, and he didn’t.” Fuck!

Same place, another survivor, when 73-year-old Sally Kellerman did an informal but engaging act consisting of her favorite songs of love, sex, and regret. As electric as Maye’s concert was, this one was so relaxed they should probably bottle the woman and sell her to everyone within a mile of an airport. Kellerman (the original Hot Lips Houlihan from M*A*S*H) is all angles and smiles, coming off feline and self-assured, even when pausing to look in a yellow notebook for her song cues.

At one point, she slinked through the audience, singing “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” urging us to hum along. Later, she ran in place all during a song, then dropped to the ground and joked, “I’ll just stay here on my back for the rest of the show. You’ve seen me already.” But she got up and slinked some more, even praising us New Yorkers for being indomitable creatures who bravely bundle up in the winter and hail cabs! What a kook!

I bundled up, but rode a bike to revisit some more classics on the snowy road to high-mindedness. From a filmed Royal Ballet performance of The Nutcracker, shown at Symphony Space, to some vibrant new Alvin Ailey productions at City Center, I felt incredibly enriched, except for the less than elegant slush-covered plastic bags on my twinkly feet.

Aiming for some sort of grace of movement, Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has been described as “snuff theater” by just the kind of hardboiled cynics I adore. People seem to actually be buying tickets to see if someone will fall and die—hopefully not on top of them. It’s sort of like that old Joan Crawford circus movie, Berserk, but with higher production values.

The most poignant incident related to the show so far has to be the woman with the concussion frantically tweeting that we should pray for the guy who smashed his ribs. (Perhaps luckily for them, they’re both out of the show.)

But I feel the producers have a right to not have their musical reviewed before the official opening, as long as that night comes at a reasonable time. The critics diving into the fray and writing premature reviews in order to feed off the show’s explosive p.r. frenzy are basically just more stunt performers who’ve sadly missed their cues.

Off-Broadway, Dracula has a crazed character descending the façade of a building without even remotely hitting his head. Bravo! By the way, that part happens to be played by Norman Mailer‘s son, who co-stars with Lucille Ball‘s granddaughter and Jeff Bridges‘s niece, though the daughter of two porn stars—Thora Birch—was axed during rehearsals when her dad/manager didn’t want someone touching her. (“What a train wreck,” says a source from the production, wishing the younger Birch well.)

Still playing Van Helsing is George Hearn, who’s the son of Mr. and Mrs. Hearn and a two-time Tony winner. At a rehearsal, Hearn joked to me that he would be trotting out his all-purpose accent for the play. (“I only have one accent—it’s Spanish, Yiddish, German . . .”) But in plain English: Why all the interest in vampires lately? “During Sunset Boulevard,” Hearn related, “Trevor Nunn said to us, ‘This is a rage against mortality.’ And certainly this is, too. It’s also fear of the other, and it’s erotic—about dominance and surrender. It’s very sexy.” Hey, maybe Glenn Close should play Dracula someday? “That’d be too scary,” Hearn said, laughing. “Cruella de Vil as a vampire!”

Meanwhile, I’m the one who sucks for having implied that the clubs are all dead. The gay lounges of Hell’s Kitchen happen to have lines around the block—there’s obviously no end to the HK twink parade. And Van Dam, the Sunday bash at Greenhouse thrown by the otherworldly Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny, is still poppin’ fresh and punchy. The two floors of zanies, cute guys, and other types make for one of the few truly mixed crowds in New York. And they’re opening a performance room/art gallery to make the place an even more aesthetically eclectic exercise in dominance and surrender.

The New Year’s Eve party at the East 20s lounge Vig 27 brought out some of the local loonies, including a transsexual in a high-fashion chin strap who’s always popping up on Facebook with a whole new name and identity. By any name, she’s the scary mess of my dreams.

Last Thursday, something called The New York Times had no fewer than three articles that either were about drag or referenced it heavily. “The Gray Lady” has officially become “The Tucked Gay Man,” and that’s OK with my newly plucked eyebrows.

Need to sit down again? Well, on Wednesdays, Lyle Derek and Miss Guy throw a salon-like dinner hosted by a different celebrity every week, at the Royalton’s Mon Chouchou restaurant. One time, the host was approached by someone gushing, “You look a lot like Debbie Harry.” “I get that a lot,” she replied, wryly. It was Debbie Harry.

Another belting blonde, Lourdes Lane, tells me her Chix 6 rock opera has been signed by the Nederlanders, with an eye to Broadway. No one will fall on your head.

Meanwhile, here’s your ticket to the latest gossip: I hear Gayle King‘s son has been dating Vanessa Williams‘s daughter. They need to be in Dracula!

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