Manhattan Music

Beane’s bag o’fun; Nightlife Awards array; stunning cabaret comeback

Douglas Carter Beane was a riot at Seth Rudestky’s Chatterbox at Don’t Tell Mama on February 2. He dished about his penchant for long play titles, like “As Bees in Honey Drown,” which has his regular costume designer, Jonathan Bixby, moaning because of the limited space allotted for Playbill biographies. Beane said Johnny Galecki, the hunky star of his current smash “The Little Dog Laughed,” was suggested to him by Scott Ellis. “Oh, baby it’s cold in the winter. I hope he looks good naked,” Beane had said. After wresting “As Bees” away from Hollywood when they wanted to make a gay character straight, Beane is happy to report that due to the interest of a very hot actress, a screen version may be afoot, after all. “Think a non-singing Kristin Chenoweth,” he hinted. “Oh, wait, she does sing now!” Who else but Reese Witherspoon?

Beane wrote the screenplay for “To Wong Foo,” and recalled all the actors’ auditions for the film. “John Cusack looked just like his sister Joan. Robert Sean Leonard was stunningly beautiful, Audrey Hepburn. James Spader—also beautiful. Willem Dafoe looked the way Mary Tyler Moore does now—the Joker’s sister, with that mouth. John Turturro—not pretty.”

Producer Scott Siegal’s 2006 Nightlife Awards, of which I was a judge, held at Town Hall on February 6, was a bountiful cornucopia of talent. A healthy gay representation was offered by Charles Busch in his beloved Miriam Passman drag persona, plugging her new Gershwin CD, “S’Wonderful, S’Marvelous, S’Miriam;” intense Outstanding Cabaret Male Vocalist Tom Anderson; the former voice of the Lucky Charms leprechaun, Jason Grae; always wry comedian Judy Gold; and ‘60s pop star Lesley Gore, who sang her “Out Here On My Own” from “Fame.”

Eartha Kitt camped it up with “C’est Si Bon,” terrorizing an Italian man in the audience. Elaine Stritch broke the “All Performance/No Acceptance Speeches rule” of the evening, naturally, by announcing, “I’m so fucking tired,” before launching into a heartfelt reading of Cy Coleman’s “It Amazes Me,” which she sang for Nathan Lane later that same night at his 50th birthday party at the Rainbow Room. And Brian Stokes Mitchell took us all home with a thrilling un-mic’ed rendition of “This Nearly was Mine,” from “South Pacific.”

Those stupendous Mitchell pipes were again heard in the Encore series’ “Kismet,” at NY City Center on February 11. The choice of this old warhorse of a musical, based on themes from Russian composer Alexander Borodin, was somewhat questionable, with its musty book and now-questionable gags about Baghdad being a “fun, gay” town, but the cast, under Lonny Price’s direction, worked overtime to sell it. It would have been a very musty night, indeed, were it not for Marin Mazzie, bodaciously channeling Lypsinka’s favorite muse, Dolores Gray—who starred in the 1955 Vincente Minnelli musical version. Mazzie, who is the most spectacularly talented of all the current Broadway babies, sizzled on the only two hip numbers in the show, “Not Since Ninevah” and “Rhadlakum,” and, as she was in “Kiss Me Kate,” proved a deliciously seductive partner for Mitchell.

The cabaret comeback of the year has to be Joanne Beretta, who opened at Danny’s on February 3. Once a cabaret contemporary and serious rival of pre-Broadway/Hollywood Barbra Streisand, Beretta hadn’t performed in decades but wowed a packed crowd of her faithful cultists with her still crystalline voice and superior interpretative skills. “I don’t sing standards,” she announced, but did do a deliriously campy “Cocktails for Two,” with its oh-so-fruity lyrics, and a German lieder-ish version of, of all things, “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”

Beretta is an unapologetic Greenwich Village liberal, and after that last song, mentioned how apropos it is to present times, which remind her of “ze good old days in Berlin, ven you heard ze click-click of wire tapping, and ze march of storm troopers along ze Wilhelmstrasse.” She also attacked the notion of “eminent domain” and how downtown development has changed her neighborhood, uprooting longtime residents from their beloved “Batcaves,” as well as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for his macho, “anti-girly man” posturing and reminded us of his posing at one time for Robert Mapplethorpe’s decidedly un-Republican camera.

If you haven’t been to the Allen Room in the Time Warner building, I urge you to do so, preferably with a very special date. The glamour of the space, with its sweeping vistas of Central Park South that provide a backdrop to the performers, nearly justifies this Columbus Circle behemoth and I caught two very special singers there recently. On February 7, Lilias White did a delicious American Songbook tribute to composer Cy Coleman, looking smashing in a silver lame origami gown and fierce-ass shoes, which she took off during the performance all the better to boogie, saying “They’re Stuart Weitzmans; there’s a nice sale going on downstairs!”

And boogie she did, infusing Coleman’s jazzy riffs with some funk of her own, becoming a choo-choo train during “The Other Side of the Tracks,” and, when she did “Witchcraft,” the smoke rising up from the street outside could have been a custom-made special effect. White was a little disorganized, relying on sheet music and getting the pages mixed during a song David Zippel had written lyrics for—in front of the lyricist, who was present; but you can forgive her almost anything. Her musical instincts are so innately strong that she can screw up a song and instantaneously come floating back triumphantly.

Seen—singer Jack Donahue, who’s in the studio with a new CD and off to Palm Beach for an engagement at The Colony Hotel; Billy Porter, about to appear in “Jelly’s Last Jam” in Atlanta, as well as the American Songbook David Zippel evening on February 24; and music director Ted Sperling.

Faith Prince and Tom Wopat, seen February 15, are at Feinstein’s at the Regency until the February 25, putting on a delightful two-hander of lovely standards. Wopat is quite the svelte crooner, plays a mean trombone, and still looks pretty hunky, as per his “Dukes of Hazzard” days, while Prince is a belter to literally beat the band. “That’s what I am, all right,” she said. “I got that from my early voice teacher who always concentrated on the ping in my voice. Belting can express so much: joy as well as pain. In my 20s, I was always playing 40s and, now that I’m that age, I feel ready for all the great roles—Mama Rose, Mame, bring ‘em on!”

Contact David Noh at Inthenoh@aol.com.

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