By Brandon Voss
Originally published on Advocate.com July 07 2009 12:00 AM ET
As summer cools down, the fall theater season in New York heats up with lengthier runs of higher-profile productions. Throughout the month of June, however, live shows are about as brief and bawdy as the outfits seen marching down Fifth Avenue at the pride parade. And nothing makes me prouder to be a gay theatergoer than hot one-night stands and extremely limited engagements.
OK, so a lesbian couple walks into Town Hall carrying just-bought mini blinds from Home Depot. No, it's not the setup for a bad gay joke; fittingly, it's the first thing I saw at Sandra Bernhard's Without You I'm Nothing: The 20th Anniversary Show. This one-night-only NYC performance was presented as part of a monthlong concert series by Josh Wood Productions called Summerwood: The Other Pride Celebration , which partially benefited Heritage of Pride. I hadn't read anything about the show's recent limited engagement in London's West End, so I expected a word-for-word re-creation of Bernhard's satirical 1987 solo masterpiece (I guess "20th" had a better ring than "22nd"), but it turned out to be a "best of" spliced with new stand-up about her girlfriend, daughter, and Stevie Nicks.
I've practically worn out my VHS copy of the 1990 film version of Without You I'm Nothing , but the feisty crowd on June 10 reenacted her revived material (especially her queer-empowerment monologue set to Sylvester's "Mighty Real") like we were at a Rocky Horror screening. (Unfamiliar with Bernhard's legacy, my boyfriend Nick couldn't understand how a classic line like "There must've been dust on that mint" could earn riotous applause.) Among her newer material, Bernhard refashioned Dolly Parton's "Jolene" as "Jolie," a fantasy number that imagined a love triangle between Bernhard and Brangelina. New York gay club comic Hedda Lettuce has been doing the same bit for years, but if Sandy's going to steal, at least she's stealing from drag queens.
Audra McDonald and Anne Hathaway
Speaking of drag and deception, the hottest (and cheapest) ticket in town in June was the Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night , Shakespeare's gender-bending comedy of mistaken identities at Central Park's outdoor Delacorte Theater. Clearly capitalizing on the popularity of RuPaul's Drag Race , this summer's stellar season (which also includes The Bacchae by Euripides in August) has gone so far as to use the promise of "Cross-dressing in the Park" on posters and other promotional materials. But what's really giving the drag king community more street cred than it's had in years is the fact that America's sweetheart Anne Hathaway, playing Viola disguised as a boy, enjoys the first girl-on-girl kiss of her career with Private Practice 's Audra McDonald as Olivia.
On Saturday, June 20, the evening I attended, it had been lightly drizzling for hours. The show's publicists assured me that they hadn't canceled a performance due to bad weather yet; even so, many soggy seats remained empty for the usually sold-out free show. After a wet but wonderful first act, someone made an announcement over the loudspeaker that the actors were "holding for precipitation" shortly after the second act began. Without missing a beat, Nick peeked out from under his hoodie and said, "I didn't know this show had audience precipitation." (Like guys who wear "mom jeans," Nick tells corny "dad jokes.") I wanted to stay for Hathaway's Sapphic smooch, but after a few endless minutes listening to the sound of rustling ponchos, I pulled an "I'm a Celebrity Journalist, Get Me Out of Here!"
Seth Rudetsky and Kelli O'Hara in Nothing Like a Dame
Four-time Tony winner McDonald, whose lips Hathaway called "fabulous, pillowy soft" on The View , used her Monday off from Twelfth Night to participate in the theatrical song-and-storytelling showcase Nothing Like a Dame , an Actors Fund benefit for the Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative at New World Stages on June 15. Pianist, author, and seriously funny Sirius Radio host Seth Rudetsky (better known to younger gays as the vocal coach on MTV's Legally Blonde reality competition) took over hosting duties of the long-running annual event. A sassy show queen who practically out-illuminates Broadway's marquees, Rudetsky also gave the Inside the (Stage) Actors Studio treatment to South Pacific 's very pregnant Kelli O'Hara, 9 to 5 's Stephanie Block, and original Annie Andrea McArdle, plus living legends Betty Buckley and Bebe Neuwirth.
Neuwirth shared some scoop on her perfect casting as Morticia in next year's Addams Family musical before belting out Liza Minnelli's "Ring Them Bells," but it was McDonald who stole the show with a candid anecdote about her many awkward run-ins with Barbra Streisand. A nagging suspicion that Babs didn't like her was finally confirmed by McDonald's Master Class costar Zoe Caldwell, but the divas eventually found a way to share the same room without incident. As a bonus, out Broadway chorus boy Nick Adams (a.k.a. that guy with the biceps Mario Lopez allegedly wanted covered in A Chorus Line ) provided arm candy to escort each dame onstage.
Michael Urie and cast of Broadway Bares 19.0
As in recent years, Adams also showed off his assets at Broadway Bares 19.0 , which raised $808,819 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Cybersex-themed and subtitled "Click It," the two-show June 21 event was presented by MAC Viva Glam and executive-produced by recent "I Advocate" subject Jerry Mitchell, who created the benefit in 1992 with just seven Broadway dancers at a Chelsea gay bar. The meticulously choreographed burlesque show has evolved exponentially since then, and now there's a little secret about the event that's dirtier than the dancers' jockstraps after the midnight grind: Though it promises Broadway's hottest chorus boys and girls in the buff, Broadway Bares is actually padded with waiters, bartenders, and professional go-go boys who don't have a single New York stage credit to their names. In fact, some of the sexiest show offs are solely known for their Bares appearances. (Think MTV's Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Musical. ) But, hey, who's complaining when the cast's infamous pre-show starvation diets pay off so handsomely?
Breaking out from the tanned and toned throngs in thongs, The Daily Show 's Mo Rocca, Top Model winner Whitney Thompson, 9 to 5 's Allison Janney, and Hair 's Gavin Creel memorably strutted their stuff and showed some skin, but I was most titillated to see Ugly Betty 's Michael Urie take the stage in the same square-cut swimsuit he wears in the gay off-Broadway play The Temperamentals . After plugging his show, he explained the rules of the annual Strip-a-Thon finale, during which all the servers and temps go-go for the cause -- "It starts with a reach and ends with a thrust," he instructed -- and the sweaty cash stuffed in the cast's skivvies wound up totaling $50K more than last year's record. Oh, and in case you were curious, @michaelurie finally returned my tweets after reading his numerous name-checks in my last column! He wasn't exactly thrilled that I made a crack about his "Sprockets" accent in The Temperamentals , but his response was very sweet and made my week.
Michael Urie in Celebrity Autobiography
He may not like discussing his sexuality, but Urie had no problem lending his talents to the "Gay Pride Edition" of Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words on Friday, June 26, at the Gramercy Theater. The premise of the ever-morphing show, which plays most Mondays at the Triad uptown, is simple: Celebrities try to keep straight faces as they read from the autobiographies of other self-important celebrities. Joining regulars such as Kristen Johnston and Jackie Hoffman for the extra-queer event (George Takei's To the Stars was on the reading list, and out actor B.D. Wong read from Madonna's Sex ), Urie brought to life a disturbing passage about tampons from Miles to Go by Miley Cyrus.
Urie was busy chatting up some cute fans outside the theater after the show, so we didn't get the chance to meet face-to-face. I did, however, catch up with frequent Autobiography reader Rachel Dratch, who'd earned some of the evening's biggest laughs by voicing Frankie, the "Bonus Jonas" Jonas brother. When I spoke to Dratch last month for Advocate.com, she had blamed her gay friend Ryan Shiraki for ghostwriting her mildly offensive Out article. Dratch now told me that Shiraki, who had also been in the audience, was a bit miffed that she'd "sold him out" in the interview and that I'd printed her admission. "I'm not going to tell him you're here," she whispered before running off to join him and her entourage. Like I'm scared of the queen who wrote Spring Breakdown .
Dixie Longate in Dixie's Tupperware Party
Nick and I were back at the Gramercy the next night for a drag show doubleheader. At 7:30 p.m., Dixie Longate, a Southern-fried female impersonator from Mobile, Ala., showed off her colorful wares for a Pride edition of Dixie's Tupperware Party . But Dixie's obsession with airtight plastic storage isn't just a gimmick; she's actually America's most successful Tupperware salesperson. Dixie spent most of the evening harassing a straight security guard who couldn't work a can opener, and she squeezed in a few good "rimming" jokes when she pitted a gay couple against a straight couple in a lid-sealing speed contest. The winner of a lottery drawing, Nick scored a Tupperware keychain that Dixie claimed was great for hiding a shot of liquor from the cops. How could Tupperware bigwigs not love this broad? But my favorite moment was when someone's 9-year-old son cornered Dixie after the show and asked, eyes wide and innocence waning, "Are you a boy?" Unfazed, she responded, "What a silly question to ask such a pretty lady!"
Jackie Beat in Without Me You're Nothing
We stuck around for the 9:30 p.m. show from an equally pretty lady in Jackie Beat: Without Me You're Nothing, Jackie Beat's nod to Bernhard's seminal act. Jackie's shtick is simple: Making "Jolie" look like a nursery rhyme, the irreverent Los Angeles-based drag queen replaces the lyrics of pop songs with her signature celebrity-skewering filthiness. (An ode to bestiality titled "I Kissed a Squirrel" is a crowd pleaser.) While the famously Photoshopped Mariah Carey made for a safe target with "Retouch My Body," the inebriated audience (particularly a Canadian couple at our table who'd bought tickets to Jackson's comeback tour) wasn't ready for Michael Jackson jokes. We held our collective breath (someone even cried out, "Too soon!") as Jackie skirted the taboo topic, saying with mock-gravitas, "We lost someone very special recentlyâ€¦" Luckily, she was just lamenting the demise of Chastity Bono's femininity as a segue into her latest ditty, "He/She Chastity," set to the tune of Cher's "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves." Sample lyric: "She was born in the body of the opposite sex, and now she will trade in her boobies for pecs."
Luke Miller and Darrin Wright in Dark Horse/Black Forest
On the subject of uncomfortable absurdity, performance art always makes me think of Freddie Prinze Jr.'s hacky sack solo in She's All That . Yet somehow I was drawn to Dark Horse/Black Forest , a 35-minute, two-person contemporary dance piece staged in the lobby bathroom of the hip Gershwin Hotel. A male-female pairing occupied the public john for the first part of the month, but real-life gay couple Luke Miller and Darrin Wright took over for six performances June 19-28. Though the action could be viewed on closed-circuit television in each hotel room, the bathroom itself only fit seven audience members. Due to a box office mix-up on the gay couple's opening, director-choreographer Yanira Castro literally squeezed me in as the eighth, and it's not the first Friday night I spent with one foot in a urinal.
So there we were: me, two 20-something girls, an older gay couple, a somewhat bewildered suburban straight couple, and a lady who looked like Kathy Griffin's mom, all together in a hotel bathroom. Again, not a joke. Competing for space among the installation of additional mirrors and fluorescent bulbs, the boys argued, kissed, crawled on the floor, dunked their heads in water, cleaned, kicked us out, invited us back in, ate cake, stripped to their undies, and broke a sweat with a synchronized routine presumably symbolizing make-up sex. Pretentious self-indulgence? Perhaps. But anyone who's ever shared a cramped one-bathroom apartment with a lover could relate to the claustrophobic coupling. If you'd like the piece adapted to fit your own private bathroom, contact Castro at firstname.lastname@example.org . Just be sure to flush beforehand.
Jonathan Whitton in The Disney Diaries
Creating messy drama on a larger scale, Pride comes early to Orlando when 135,000 gays animate Walt Disney World for Gay Days over the first weekend of June. A solo excursion to the Magical Queendom last summer inspired playwright Phil Geoffrey Bond's monologue The Disney Diaries, which the winning Jonathan Whitton performed for five shows at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Having just returned from a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth with my parents for three very straight days, Nick and I rushed to this show's opening night on June 21. Using the red T-shirts worn at Gays Days to explore the gay identity crisis at large, Bond mainly kept it light with cynical yet celebratory stories about a bear attack on the Country Bear Jamboree and an unexpected hookup with Tigger. Inspired by Bond's alcoholic adventure in Epcot, Nick and I created a drinking game where we had to take a Dumbo-sized swig of our cocktails each time Whitton removed his shirt to show off his impossibly slim torso. I think I blacked out after five.
Cast of Mary Poppins
Adding a pinch of pride to New York stages practically every month of the year, gay social networking site TheMenEvent.com often hosts official "Boys Nights" at long-running Broadway and off-Broadway shows. I couldn't fathom Shrek getting any gayer, so I declined to let my freak flag fly at that musical's "Boys Night" on June 10. But I couldn't pass up a "gay day" for Mary Poppins at the New Amsterdam Theater two weeks earlier, because, as The Disney Diaries taught us, there's nothing funnier than a family show force-marketed to "family." At actor-friendly eatery Angus McIndoe for the event's after-party, I eavesdropped on three skinny guys making off-color euphemistic jokes about spoonfuls of sugar and the musical's sexy chimney sweeps. And I swear I overheard the adjective "supercalifagilistic" used twice.
Waiting in the wings for next month's Seat Filler: an all-nude, gender-bending revival of Extremities staged in my kitchen starring me as the stalker and Michael Urie in the Farrah Fawcett role. Or, better yet, an exclusive front-row seat to some gay-friendly summer shows that may run long enough for you to check them out for yourself.