No Big Whoop
BY Brandon Voss
March 30 2009 12:00 AM ET
Before the reading resumed, show queens got a tasty treat when Roma Torre and Donna Karger, television reporters from local cable channel NY1's theater-centric program On Stage, joined each other on the Town Hall stage to feign their own off-stage rivalry. Karger: "You hideous pig." Torre: "Thank you, Donna, you c-word, you."
In a stroke of metatheatrical genius, Torre then read her fake review of the reading thus far before the ladies extolled the charitable virtues of Friends In Deed. At her suggestion that Legends! might find future life on a legitimate New York stage, Torre was met not with applause but with tepid rumblings.
There was some brief business at the start of act 2 with a policeman played by tall drink of water Todd DuBail. Former Advocate cover boy Cheyenne Jackson had originally committed to the small role but bowed out of the benefit just days before due to a scheduling conflict. "This guy damn well better strip too," said Waldorf. Alas, he did not.
Because it's just that kind of a play, Sylvia and Leatrice accidentally scarfed down some hash brownies, which set the loopy tone for the remainder of the evening. "Do you think we might behave like Whitney Houston?" asked Leatrice on discovering the snack's secret ingredient. Hell to the no, but the setup did allow Lypsinka to stop the show in spotlight with a fantasy lip-synched performance for which she's famous. I wasn't familiar with the song, but suffice it to say that both Statler and Waldorf hummed along.
Before long, Batt's producer Martin reappeared to seal the deal on the play-within-a-play and wound up popping a few brownies himself. What followed was an epic exercise in mugging and physical comedy. "I kind of hope someone's cell phone rings," said Statler about three minutes into the scene.
Then came the part in the show where the actors pretend to screw up the lines, break character, and laugh at their flub, thus tickling the audience. "Sylvia, let's do the play," said Busch, reading Leatrice's line in error.
"That's my line," protested Lypsinka before addressing the audience directly: "She did that in every rehearsal, so I wasn't surprised." Neither was I; I'd seen a similar character-breaking bit done with more believability by Bernadette Peters and Tom Wopat in the 1999 revival of Annie Get Your Gun. (Yes, I'm that gay.)
Spoiler alert: Sylvia and Leatrice ultimately decide to do the play. The end. Well, sort of. During the first round of applause, Batt, Young, and DuBail returned to the stage for a cheeky song-and-dance number that repeated the lyric "the bitch is legendary." It seemed like overkill until I realized something had to waste time while the three stars changed into showstopping crimson evening gowns for their curtain calls. Seizing one last opportunity to steal focus, Lypsinka was quick to expose her impressive gams.
Throughout the performance, various subtle winks had been made to the audience to suggest that (especially without Epperson's admirable adaptation efforts) perhaps the reason Legends! never reached Broadway had more to do with a weak script than with backstage bitchery; when referring to the play-within-a-play's merits, characters would often break the fourth wall to clarify, "Not this play, but the one we're thinking about doing." In fact, I imagine that the only reason no one ever outright bashed Legends! was because its playwright died in 1989 of AIDS-related causes.
Yet somehow I don't think the late Mr. Kirkwood would mind my summing up the evening by paraphrasing a zinger from another sharp-tongued diva of a certain age, Bette Davis, when she infamously commented on rival Joan Crawford's demise: My mother always taught me to speak good of the dead. Legends! is dead. Good.