Friday, April 20, 2018

Making fine gestures

Will YOU be the One to Judge "Lily Dare?"  Also — Reeve Carney ... The Chita Rivera Awards ... Harry Benson's photos, Gigi Benson's scrapbook ... Elvis, the Beatles. Finally, don't cry for Patti LuPone, and maybe — don't even get on your feet for her!
by Denis Ferrara

“FOR THE theater one needs long arms. An artiste with short arms can never make a fine gesture,” said Sarah Bernhardt.
I’VE yet to notice — despite knowing him for many years — if playwright/actor Charles Busch has long arms.  He must, because he is the master of fine gesture not to mention a genius of vocal inflection and variety.

Mr. Busch, who has delivered over the years everything from “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” to “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” (for which he garnered a Tony nomination), is trodding the New York boards again down at Theater for the New City (155 First Avenue). 
His latest comic melodrama is “The Confession of Lily Dare” a hilarious hothouse mélange of  “Madame X,” “Stella Dallas”, “Blonde Venus”  “The Sin of Madelon Claudet” and every other over-the-top cinema tale of excessive — and sordid! — maternal sacrifice.

Busch’s genius as a performer is the exquisite fine line, the tenuous tightrope he walks between high camp and playing it straight — he’s a man in a gown, the situations are ridiculous, but that man in the gown is not.  His ability to hold an audience between raucous laughter and, wait — genuine tenderness — is an astonishing thing. (At one point, after falling low, Lily Dare transforms herself into cabaret performer Treasure Jones.  Busch does a wicked Dietrich/”Foreign Affair” homage had had me on the floor.)
Charles Busch in The Confession of Lily Dare (Michael Wakefield)
“Lily Dare” was written — natch — by Mr. Busch, and most cleverly directed by Carl Andress. The star is supported by a superb cast — Nancy Anderson ... Kendal Sparks ... Howard McGillin ... Christopher Borg and Jennifer Van Dyck. (Mr. Borg and Ms. Van Dyck are each given multiple roles.  Van Dyck is especially effective in her variety of interpretations.) 

This little masterpiece runs only until the 29th.  Get your tickets at or call 212-254-1109. Go, and then decide — “Will you be the one to judge her?”

... FANS of the late and still lamented Showtime series “Penny Dreadful” surely remember lovely Reeve Carney, who appeared as Dorian Gray? (The series was a phantasmagorical monster-mash that included the Wolf Man, Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, etc.)  Reeve “has had” Broadway, being the original Peter Parker in “Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark.”  Now he has an album, titled “Youth is Wasted” — a nod to the eternally boyish Dorian? — which he recorded primarily in his New York apartment.  Mr. Carney will debut songs from this album at NYC’s The Green Room 42, on May 3rd.  Reeve will also soon film a biopic about the late rock/soul/blues singer, Jeff Buckley.  For ticket info, click here.
... ON May 20th, dancer/choreographer/actress Carmen De Lavallade, composer John Kander and director/producer Harold Prince will be honored at the 2nd annual Chita Rivera Awards.  This happens at NYU Skirball Center of the performing Arts. The gala celebrates dance and choreographic excellence — past, present and future.  Last year’s event was impressive and fun.  Go to
... AT the prestigious Staley Wise Gallery on 100 Crosby Street, the great Harry Benson will circulate and sign copies of a new edition of his “R.F.K — a Photographer’s Journal.”  This happens April 26th ...
I WAS awash in all manner of happy nostalgia and painful memories/realizations last weekend.  I watched the new HBO Elvis Presley documentary, “The Searcher,” and caught again PBS’s “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years” and “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise.”

“Black America ... ” hosted by historian Henry Louis Gates, knocked me back on my heels again, just as it did when it debuted on PBS in 2016.  It’s not that I learned anything new (others certainly can!), but the reminder of how far African Americans have come and how far they — and we — have to still travel is mind-bending.  At one point, I realized I had put my hands to my face in shock as the good white citizens of Boston expressed themselves with many expletives, racial slurs and death threats on school busing in the mid 1970s.  And to pretend these attitudes still don’t exist is to be naïve in the extreme. Watching this, one swings between pride, amazement and admiration to deep, depressing despair.  The fight for equality — for people of color, women, the LGBT community — simply never ends. This can’t be said often enough.
Happier thoughts came with The Beatles and Elvis.  “Beatles” director Ron Howard included incredible concert footage of the early Fab Four, and the group’s sense of imprisonment within those concert years, as their fame grew to epic proportions, is excellently conveyed.  They were The Beatles for a decade — forming at just the right time in 1960, and breaking up at just the right time in ’70. (How well I recall rushing out to buy their final LP “Abbey Road,” after having all but worn through copies of “Sgt. Pepper,” “Magical Mystery Tour” and — especially! — “The White Album.”  And yes, although I didn’t believe it, I avidly read and listened to on the radio all the “Paul is dead” theories.)
As for HBO’s documentary on Elvis, “The Searcher” it leaves some mystery as to what exactly Presley was searching for, or why he couldn’t free himself from the vulgar and unimaginative clutches of his manager Col. Tom Parker.

The very young (and naturally rather blond) Elvis of his controversial TV appearances and those first few films (“King Creole,” “Jailhouse Rock”) is mesmerizing.  Then, after his rather pointless time in military service, there was the long period of mostly awful movies, the dyed black hair, slightly altered facial appearance and ridiculous songs. Presley came back spectacularly with his 1968 TV special (around which “The Searcher” is constructed), but swiftly, he became kind of ridiculous again — if immensely popular, as “Vegas/jumpsuit” Elvis.  I can’t watch most of those post 1958 films, and jumpsuit Elvis makes me roll my eyes.  But — when I close my eyes, that voice blows me away. (He somehow manages to even occasionally elevate the garbage he had to perform in things such as “Harum Scarum,” “Kissin’ Cousins” and “Girls, Girls, Girls!”)  He was an artist, a genius, and so badly used and wasted in so many ways.  But — he made his choices.
The revelation to me came out of Presley’s last recording session in 1976, which he insisted happen at Graceland’s tiny, cramped Jungle Room, though conditions were hardly ideal.  His version of “Hurt” — the old Jimmie Crane/Al Jacobs musical melodrama of betrayal — stunned me. Naturally, I instantly ordered “Elvis Presley — The Jungle Room Sessions” on which this and other final studio recordings appear.  Whatever else was happening to Elvis, he had that sound, right to the end.

So many things old are new again — especially to me. 
MAIL:  Lots of interest in the Liz Taylor/Richard Burton play, “Cleo,” which debuted in Texas.  Will it barge into New York many asked?   I’ll keep you posted. 

Tons of response to the  Doris Day tribute and our perpetual grumbling here about the Academy refusing to slip Miss D. an honorary Oscar, whether she cares or not, or doesn’t want to appear in person to pick it up. 

I loved this from Gigi Benson, the divine wife of photographer Harry Benson:  “Doris Day is my favorite of all time. As a child I cut out and saved about 500 photos of Doris from different magazines like Photoplay (remember that one?) Anyway my father managed to get me into Warner Bros. studio to meet her when I was about 12 years old (a few years back — ha!) and I will never forget it. She had on a pink sweater and maroon pedal pushers and was recording the soundtrack for a movie — wish I could remember which one!! Her hair was in a short flip (before the more bouffant haircut for the first Rock Hudson film, ‘Pillow Talk,’ and it looked like spun gold! Childhood memories.”  

Well, I let Gigi know that I still have scrapbooks jammed with Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor clippings.  Not to mention reams of loose paper memorabilia, stuffed into manila envelopes.  Gigi had the excuse of being a child — the majority of my fire hazard memories were collected in my late teens, twenties and well into my thirties.  These days, the internet provides me with countless opportunities to download rare photos.  Sad, I know!
My favorite email came from a lady named Beverly, with whom I have sparred in the past — she thinks I am a hopelessly liberal idiot.  I think she’s smart and bitingly funny.  She sent this brief missive: “Finally found something we agree on — Ashley McBryde. She's amazing!” 

She is!  After reading about Ashley in Billboard I ordered her album “Girl Going Nowhere” — and I love it. 

It did my bleeding liberal heart good to have pleased Miss Beverly.  And I mean that.
ENDTHOUGHT:  Recently, Patti LuPone unburdened herself on the subject of standing ovations in the theater — she doesn’t like them much, thinks they are now too common, mean nothing.

I actually tend to agree with her, but of course, LuPone being LuPone, she can’t help coming off kinda pointlessly — or very purposely — bitchy. And then she had to drag Uma Thurman around as an example of Hollywood actors who maybe shouldn’t do theater. (Thurman made her Broadway debut recently in “The Parisian Woman.”)

Bless dear Patti for her unbridled candor in our now overly cautious, politically correct world.  But I must say, I did see her and the great Christine Ebersole in the wildly entertaining “War Paint” last season — twice. 

At curtain call, audiences leapt to their feet giving the two ladies screaming, stomping standing O’s.  Ms. LuPone looked very pleased.  She did not tell them to sit down or rush off the stage. I guess she thinks audiences should remain seated for ... other performers.
Contact Denis here.