Chita’s the Champ

Audra all over the place, choirboyz, The Globe’s in town

I’ve never seen anyone so radiant as Chita Rivera at the Copacabana opening night party for her show, “The Dancer’s Life” on December 11. In a gorgeously revealing scarlet gown, she joyously worked the press line, emerald eyes blazing with excitement, while hilariously receiving a much-needed margarita from composer John Kander. Bebe Neuwirth stood patiently by for her photo op with the star, which she seized with Joan Crawford chutzpah, doing a full balletic bow to the floor before her, for the paparazzi’s benefit.

Inside, we were all transformed into Fosse gypsies by party favor fedoras which bore the legend “I Just Saw ‘Chita’” and a host of major divas and divos showed up to give this First Lady of Broadway Dance her props—Marian Seldes, Barbara Cook, Donna Murphy, Carmen de Lavallade, Ben Vereen, Tommy Tune, Liliane Montevecchi, Audra McDonald, Tovah Feldsuh, Mario Cantone, Hunter Foster, Jonathan Pryce, Brian F. O’Byrne, Brian Stokes Mitchell, whose wife, Allyson Tucker, is a Chita backup dancer, Celeste Holm. Dominick Dunne, Christopher Sieber, Sara Ramirez, David Hyde Pierce, Clive Davis, Judy Kaye, Linda Evangelista, “Jersey Boy’s” new star, John Lloyd Young.

“Betsy Palmer’s here, in the white sequin gown she wore to the 1976 Daytime Emmy Awards!” some queen screamed in the men’s room, which broke me up. Sitting alone, almost completely unrecognized was singer Phoebe Snow, whose “Poetry Man,” was a ubiquitous part of the 1970s. She told me she’s getting back into music, loves collaborating now, and that her autistic daughter, Valerie, “just turned 30, something no one expected.”

Daphne Rubin-Vega was sitting with “Rent” co-star Anthony Rapp—who just finished two movies, playing himself in Andy Dick’s mockumentary, “Danny Roane: First Time Director,” and “Scaring the Fish”—and boyfriend, Rodney To, who is working on a one-man show for HBO.

Rubin-Vega told me that, yes, she was bitterly disappointed about not being in the movie version of it. Asked if the official reason given—her pregnancy—was accurate, she said, “Yes, but you’ll have to talk to [director] Chris Columbus about why he couldn’t reschedule the shooting. It was a tough thing to get over, but I’m a believer that if something’s not meant to be… Anyway, I got a beautiful child, instead, and that’s what’s important.” I told her that Judy Garland said the same thing about son Joey Luft, when she insanely lost the 1954 Oscar for “A Star is Born,” and Rubin-Vega, who has a new CD coming out and, along with Phylicia Rashad, will be in Michael John LaChiusa’s musical version of “The House of Bernarda Alba” at Lincoln Center in February, smilingly agreed.

I saw Chita’s daughter, Lisa Mordente, for the first time since her 1978 Broadway debut in “Platinum,” one of those legendary but unforgettable flops, starring Alexis Smith. Mordente, bubbling with excitement, told me she now lives in Los Angeles: “My chemistry and New York’s just don’t work well together. It’s too much. But I teach musical theater to kids whom I thought only cared about Britney Spears. To my surprise, they just lap up everything I can tell them about [choreographers] Jack Cole and Peter Gennaro, both of whom worked with Mom. And she was always a mom to me, first. Every night, dinner would be on the table at 4:30, with placemats, but come half-hour 7:30, it would just be the most delicious explosion of craziness. My Dad, [Rivera’s ex-husband] Tony Mordente [one of the original Sharks in “West Side Story”], was there tonight. He’s so macho, you know, “So what’s the big deal, here?”—but I saw him when Mom was talking about their lives and he was sobbing away! This is such an amazing experience, bringing us all together again––I wish everyone had something like it with their mothers.”

Busy triple Tony winner Audra McDonald gave a scintillatingly intimate benefit concert for the New York Festival of Song on December 3, at the Rafael Vinoly Architects Studio. The songs of that sexiest of American composers, Harold Arlen, were spectacularly voiced by a ravishing McDonald, wonderfully accompanied by Steven Blier, who recalled the first time he met her: “I knew Eddie Korbich when he was in ‘Carousel.’ I went backstage to see him, but really to meet Audra [who played his wife, Carrie Snow]. The first thing she said to me was, ‘Do you know Verdi’s “Macbeth”? Because I have to learn it.’ And that’s how we started, preparing her for ‘Master Class.’”

McDonald dazzled from her opening, “Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home,” and lent some seriously sexy sass to “It’s a Woman’s Prerogative.” She introduced a lovely “I Has Never Seen Snow,” by saying that she had first sung it for a benefit tribute to Joanne Woodward, thinking that the Truman Capote lyrics could pertain to Woodward’s relationship with husband Paul Newman. After the concert, Woodward told her, “Someone must have told you. That is my favorite song in the entire world!”

McDonald bravely attempted the Matterhorn of torch songs, “The Man That Got Away,” indelibly associated with Judy Garland’s “A Star is Born.” Blier remembered working at the nightclub Reno Sweeney years ago, when an aspiring singer wanted to audition with that song: “Lewis Michael Friedman, who owned the club, said, ‘No, honey, you can’t sing that song!’ And she said, ‘But you haven’t heard the way I do it!’ He said, ‘It. Doesn’t. Matter. You can’t sing that song!’” The song was just as daunting for McDonald, who first did it at a Lincoln Center tribute to Moss Hart, who wrote “A Star is Born”: “We walked out onstage and suddenly, there above us, was this huge photo of Garland. I don’t know how we got through it.”

As comfortable and familiar as a favorite scarf, The New York Gay Men’s Chorus’ annual Christmas concert had all the nostalgic corn, campy touches, and ubiquitous deaf signer we all associate with it. The boys were in magnificent voice, especially on a capella renditions of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and the African carol, “Betelehemu,” and Elaine Stritch was special guest star. She did a bang-up “I’m Still Here,” drolly prefacing it with, “I’ve decided that 80 is the perfect age to sing this song, but it’s such a great song, I’m not gonna wait 20 years to sing it!” She hilariously made everyone repeat Jerry Herman’s “We Need a Little Christmas,” until she got the lyric right, and there was one hilariously campy moment when the entire choir thundered at her, “[You’ve] grown a little older!” stopping her dead in her tracks.

My cultural pick for this holiday season is “Measure for Measure” at St. Ann’s Warehouse—through January 1—presented by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre of London. It will be your final chance to see its vibrant artistic director, Mark Rylance, in the role of Vincentio, as this is his final season with the company. I saw him in 2002 play Olivia in “Twelfth Night,” as a hilariously dithering Queen Elizabeth I at the Globe’s incredible, authentic Elizabethan space on the Thames, and urge you all not to miss this opportunity to see the Bard performed as it should be, as a true, powerful ensemble, sans over-parted movie/TV personalities or ill-conceived “modernizations.”

Contact David Noh at Inthenoh@aol.com.

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