No Big Whoop
BY Brandon Voss
March 30 2009 12:00 AM ET
But from the energy of the largely gay crowd outside the theater, I sensed something was amiss the moment my boyfriend Nick and I arrived on the scene. As we got closer, we spotted sheets of crisp white paper taped to the front doors with the following notice: "Due to illness, the part of Aretha, played by Whoopi Goldberg, will be performed by Lisa Estridge."
"I was dreading that," groaned Nick, who knew that Goldberg had been out sick from The View that morning. "Dreading. That works on two levels because Whoopi has dreadlocks. See what I did there?" But with the immediate threat of rioting on West 43rd Street, there was no time to congratulate him on his wordplay. Then, all of a sudden, the crowd's mood seemed to shift, thanks to the close proximity of other celebrities. Just moments before the show began, Parker Posey breezed past Michael Kors and Law & Order: SVU's Richard Belzer. It was a veritable who's who of local notables that regularly attend one-night theatrical benefits.
As luck would have it, the seats behind ours were occupied by Statler and Waldorf, the elderly hecklers from The Muppet Show — if Statler and Waldorf were gay, horny, and wore turquoise jewelry. There were actually many such Muppets scattered throughout the audience, but the two behind me were the only ones I could hear. And smell, thanks to liberal applications of Aramis for Men.
Currently appearing in Broadway's Blithe Spirit alongside Angela Lansbury and Rupert Everett, Tony-winner Christine Ebersole took the stage first to make a formal announcement about Goldberg's absence. Quieting those who had neglected to read the door signage, Ebersole encouraged the crowd to be supportive of Estridge, who had been Goldberg's rehearsal stand-in. "Isn't this how it starts?" she asked. "Shirley MacLaine and all that?" Ebersole knew her audience; it was one of the few rooms in town where you could kill with a Pajama Game reference.
Lesbian author Fran Lebowitz appeared next and positioned herself on a stool to fulfill the show's narration duties with her signature dry, deliberate delivery. Mad Men's Bryan Batt soon entered to much applause as smarmy theater producer Martin Klemmer. We learned that Martin hoped to bring Sylvia and Leatrice together in Legends! the play-within-a-play, with the financial backing of — Brad Pitt? Yes, it immediately became apparent that Epperson's idea of an "adaptation" actually meant "drastic pop-cultural update." Therefore, those hoping to hear what 1986 audiences heard were out of luck; instead, the new script contained wisecracks about the likes of Ann Coulter, Anna Nicole Smith, and Sally Field's Boniva commercials.