Paradise Regained

Levan’s levee; Bolshoi technique; boy band crooner turns Romeo

Come with me tonight

All across the universe, we will sail for the skies

Meet behind Mars

We will hold each other as we sail for the stars

On a cosmic fling

We will kiss in Saturn’s ring

Make the Milky Way blush to see the sight

Making Star Love in the night

For the uninitiated, that song was by Cheryl Lynn, and it was but one disco classic that rocked Spirit on July 21 at the posthumous 51st birthday party for legendary Paradise Garage DJ, Larry Levan.

Typical of the rarefied musical taste of the Garage, it was “Star Love,” not Lynn’s ubiquitous “Got to Be Real,” which became one of the club’s sturdiest anthems. This cookin’ jam was hosted by West End Records’ Mel Cheren and DJs David DePino and Joey Llanos kept the standards coming: “Shame,” “Magnificent Dance,” “Bra,” “There But For the Grace of God,” “Cold Sweat,” “Walking on Thin Ice,” “Don’t You Want My Love,” “Love Hangover,” “Over and Over,” “Mighty Real,” “Don’t Turn Your Back on Me” and, of course, the anthem of anthems, “Love is the Message,” as those words and images of Larry kept flashing on huge screens. This last was the song that accompanied Levan’s priest-borne ashes to the altar at his memorial service in 1992.

Every groove played made a mockery of the soulless, derivative crap you hear in dance clubs today—by the likes of Black-Eyed Peas, as well as all that monotonous, lyric-less “house/trance/whatever”—which veterans like Cheren and Michael (Flamingo) Fesco refer to as “pots and pans.”

The party peaked with a performance by that gravelly, supersonic diva, Jocelyn Brown, who simply killed with a joyously sung-along-to “One Night Love Affair,” “Ain’t No Mountain” and “Somebody Else’s Guy.” But where was my favorite, “Moment of My Life”? The excitement and love Brown engendered had barely subsided when—in a perfect Garage moment—Luther Vandross’ first ultra-cool hit, “Searching,” could be heard, the perfect memorial to that sadly departed master, the greatest soul voice of his generation.

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Dance of an entirely different sort was presented by the Bolshoi Ballet, with its premiere of “Spartacus,” before a packed Metropolitan Opera House on July 22. If you think this grim tale of slavery, barbarism and crucifixion was a weird subject for a ballet, you probably think right. Despite strong performances by the magnificently-bunned Yury Klevtsov in the title role, lyrical Anna Antonicheva of the amazing extension and the aristocratically sexy Nina Timofeyeva, nothing could erase the inherent campy corn of Yuri Grigorovich’s choreography and the monotony of the libretto, heavy on corps work by Roman soldiers and slaves. (“It’s a happy slave encampment,” I whispered to my date, Lawrence Till, director of England’s estimable Watford Palace Theatre.)

During the interval, choreographer John Ollom (“The Journey”) regaled us with his observations of the balletic differences between the Bolshoi (“all flawless technique, no dramatic sense”) and the Kirov (“less concerned with technique, but far more emotional involvement”): “Did you see Antonicheva during the pas de deux, looking out at the audience instead of into his eyes?” Ollom asked. “And what about Klevstov, adjusting his dance belt and fixing his makeup when he was upstage, as if no one could see him!”

In one of those near-miraculous transformations actors can sometimes pull off, Matthew Morrison, as wholesomely American as they come, the original Link Larkin of “Hairspray,” is completely convincing, and the best reason to see “The Light in the Piazza,” as Fabrizio Naccarelli. He brings a perfect accent, curly-topped Michelangelo-chiseled handsomeness and ardently romantic voice to the role. He had charm-plus at Seth Rudetsky’s Chatterbox on CHECKING DATE, reminiscing about time as part of a fake boy band on David Letterman—whom he described as “a dick”—singing songs like “Don’t Talk to the Hand, Talk to the Heart.”

Morrison followed this by joining O-Town, but things turned sour when Jerry Mitchell, who claims credit as his discoverer, cast him in the film, “Marci X,” in which he was part of a gay boy band, “Boys R Us.”

“The other guys didn’t like me making fun of boy bands and, once they signed their Atlantic deal, I didn’t want to spend the next seven years of my life with them,” Morrison recalled. “My last day, we were at a Coney Island photo shoot for Macy’s and Ikaika”—a band mate—“kind of stepped on me. He was really jealous of me the whole time. On MTV’s ‘Making the Band,’ he got all the attention, but now it was me and him who were both lead singers and he didn’t like that… In front of all these photographers, [he] started cussing at me. He pushed me and I pushed him back and the photographers were holding us back.”

After hearing that Morrison had quit the band, Jerry Mitchell offered him work in “The Rocky Horror Show,” which led to “Hairspray” and then…

Morrison said he felt from the start that “The Light in the Piazza” was something he could do. He worked with an Italian-speaking buddy, Emilio, on the dialect.

“Something changed in me—I was so confident and just felt like Fabrizio,” he said. “I didn’t really want to come back to Broadway. The theater is my favorite art form but I don’t want to be one of those actors who goes from show to show. After ‘Hairspray,’ I needed the next one to be something amazing.

“I went into the audition and sang and acted the shit out of it, ran around doing all this crazy things, but I knew and they knew. Two hours after call back, I got it. This is the first time in my career that I feel like I’ve really come into my own as an artist and everything from now on will be so much different: I have complete ownership of what I can do. I now walk into auditions and feel like something has changed.”

Rudetsky puckishly asked Morrison if Fabrizio really knows that his beloved, Clara, is a “retard” from the beginning, to which he replied, “I’m not sure she is, really, but I have to play it like I don’t know. In all honesty, I feel like my character will eventually turn out like his brother, cheat on his wife, etc. The conception of Fabrizio was originally kind of cheesy. I wanted it to be simple and beautiful, come across boyish in the beginning and have the journey of growing into a man by the end, and now it goes with the whole show.”

When naughty Seth asked if winning the Tony had given star Victoria Clark diva temperament, Morrison laughingly demurred, “There’s not a bad bone in her. I just hear her always laughing backstage, so much joy: she is the light in the piazza!”

As for Kelli O’Hara, who plays his mentally challenged beloved: “In the scene when the bed goes down into the stage, we make out the whole time. But one night I got mad at her when the machinery broke down and we had a 25-minute make-out session, and she broke away from me. I said, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’”

Upcoming for Morrison is an even more buffed-up musical version of Disney’s “Tarzan,” as well as ABC’s pantingly anticipated “Once Upon a Mattress,” directed by Kathleen Marshall.

“‘Hairspray’’s Marissa Jaret Winokur was to have played the lead and desperately wanted to do it, but they changed producers and Tracey Ullman got it,” he said. “But Carol Burnett is the nicest lady ever. She calls me regularly, sends me cards all the time and came backstage to ‘Light.’ I’d never seen her before until working with her, but of course knew of her, and we had big parties on location in Vancouver, would all watch her TV shows with her in the room. She’s really quiet and kind of embarrassed by all that stuff. And Tommy Smothers is so cool, and smokes a lot of weed, too!”

Contact David Noh at Inthenoh@aol.com.

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