Wednesday, March 15, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Having the last laugh

Charlie Masson, Elysian Park, Los Angeles, 2017.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Wednesday's Rap: New Restaurants ... Zombies at the Strand ... Charles Busch and Penny Fuller ... Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald's Centennial.

“IF YOU want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans,” said Woody Allen.
LAST WEEK while perusing the New York Post column of my friend Richard Johnson, I happened upon his story about the opening of a “new” restaurant in Manhattan.  It is named Majorelle, and resides within the Lowell Hotel on East 63rd Street.

This is news, because as Richard pointed out, the eatery is the creation of Charles Masson, who was “ousted by his family from La Grenouille, but could be having the last laugh.”
The restaurant’s official opening is scheduled for tonight, but looking out my window right now (Tuesday morning, 8:30 a.m.) at the driving sleet and snow, one wonders if the weather, which is supposed to get worse, will delay the festivities?

But, this is a big deal, Mr. Masson is much loved, and already such worthies as Bruce Springsteen, Ronald Perelman, broadcaster William O’ Shaughnessy architect Gregorio Alvarez have popped in to sample the Moroccan-influenced dishes. (Mr. O’ Shaughnessy told Richard Johnson that “the food is superb, as you would expect.”) 
The main dining room at Majorelle. Courtesy of Elizabeth Lippman for The Lowell
So maybe everybody ordered their Ubers, had their own limos, or were transported to the Lowell Hotel on snow-proof canvas-covered litters? New Yorkers are a hardy lot, even the privileged class. It takes more than anxious “Snowpocalypse” warnings to keep them from, another op’nin, another show; a new place to eat and meet. Likely, by the time you are reading this, Manhattan’s streets will be cleared and ready to flow. (Broadway optimistically declared no shows would close Tuesday night. So there!)

In any event, early visitors to Majorelle (named for the gardens of the late designer Yves St. Laurent) were struck by “the brilliant flower arrangements, which were, of course, the handiwork of Masson himself.”
A sneak peek of the dining terrace.
I will visit Majorelle for the first time after I attend Elizabeth Peabody’s Maria Droste fundraiser on April 5th.  At this year’s fundraiser — happening at a location I cannot disclose — Perri Peltz and I will host HBO’s inimitable producer Sheila Nevins and her new book, “You Don’t Look Your Age and Other Fairy Tales.” Already it is receiving raves.  Delia Ephron calls it “Gorgeous.” Diane Von Furstenberg says, “Fearless! Funny!”  And Barbara Taylor Bradford sums it up with: “When I finished, I felt I’d been given an unexpected present.”
And how has Charles been staying so calm in advance of Majorelle's opening? Painting, of course! This one is called Diversion.
SPEAKING OF restaurants, nothing was more delicious than last week’s big take-out in New York magazine on the refurbishment of the legendary Four Seasons restaurant, which will become two new eateries, the Grill and the Pool, later this year.  (There will also be a new, transplanted Four Seasons, managed by Julian Niccolini and Alex Von Bidder, who presided over the old spot for 40 years.) 

Written by Eric Konigsberg, the piece was full of dish, recipes, hurt feelings, and nostalgia (“Why should it end?” remarks Barry Diller of the venerated home of the Power Lunch). Also, lots of high-energy confidence and enthusiasm for the expensively spruced-up space on Park Avenue and 52nd Street. It is one of those articles in which almost nobody mentioned will feel they came out particularly well, although they’d be hard put to put a finger on anything actually insulting. Let’s just say writer Konigsberg produced something full of ... flavor.
The last meal at the Four Seasons ...

... THE fabled British rock group, The Zombies (“She’s Not There, “Tell Her No,” “Time of the Season”) have collaborated to produce a big new book titled “The Odessey.”  The band’s last album, 1968’s “Odessey and Oracle” although not terribly well-received at the time, has achieved classic status. (The word “odyssey” was a misspelling by the guy who did the cover art for the album. They all decided to let it be.) The book contains rare photos, artwork and intimate memories of the band’s brief but dazzling heyday. Also reflections and praise from the likes of Tom Petty (who wrote the foreword), Clive Davis, Carlos Santana, Brian Wilson, Graham Nash, Patti LaBelle, etc.
Today, at the Strand Bookstore in NYC, Zombies band members Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone, Hugh Grundy and Chris White are supposed to gather to launch the book and talk about their heady time of season. Call 212-473-1452.
... THE DIVINE Charles Busch and the great Penny Fuller will lend their voices to a new off-Broadway musical, “Diva: Live From Hell.”  This, written by and starring Sean Patrick Monahan, with music and lyrics by Alexander Sage Owen, tells of “a high school nerd’s descent into madness.” 

Penny and Charles just a few years ago ...
The kid’s name is Desmond Channing and it seems there are more than a few “All About Eve” references and allusions.  Apparently, it’s a high school drama club take on the concept of Margo Channing murdering Eve Harrington and then being condemned to play the leading role in “Aged In Wood,” forever, in hell. (I don’t have to tell you “All About Eve” aficionados that “Aged in Wood” is the play Margo was starring in when Eve slithered into her life.) 

Busch will voice the manager of a ratty cabaret in Hades where Monahan is forced to perform in perpetuity.  Penny Fuller voices Desmond’s grandmother.  The show will run from March 23-April 9th, at Theater for New City’s Community Space  (155 First Avenue, between 9th and 19th streets.) Call 212-254-1109 for tickets. Or go to

Oh, I bet you thought I forgot — Penny Fuller, who is appearing in the current revival of “Sunday in the Park With George” — was Tony nominated for her deliciously perky/evil performance as Eve Harrington in “Applause” the 1970 musical based on “All About Eve.” Margo was played by the inimitable — and sometimes fearsome — Lauren Bacall.
Anne Baxter and Penny Fuller in "Applause." Courtesy of The Museum of the City of New York
... ALL THIS year, The Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, Verve Label Group and Ume are collaborating to celebrate Ella’s Centennial Year. There will be tribute concerts, museum exhibitions and releases of some of the singer’s greatest works.

For starters, The Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. will present an exhibit on April 1st, kicking off Jazz Appreciation Month. “Ella Fitzgerald at 100” will showcase letters, sheet music, costumes and videos of some of her astonishing performances.
On April 21st, a new four-CD box set, “100 Songs for a Centennial” will be released, as well as a limited edition six-LP vinyl box set of “Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Song Books.” Some Ella fans consider this the apex of her great Song Books series of recordings.  Perhaps.  But just to be on the safe side and since you can’t go wrong with the silky perfection of Ella’s voice, I’d also invest in her Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Rodgers & Hart, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer and Cole Porter albums. 
Not to mention Ella’s sensational 1960 live concert, “Ella in Berlin” which contains her famous, semi-improvised rendition of “Mack the Knife.”

Ella Fitzgerald died in 1996. She’d been singing professionally since 1935. During that time she put out 200 albums and recorded over 2,000 songs.

She was called “The First Lady of Song” and I defy anybody to question the rightness of that sobriquet.

Contact Liz here.