Archive Feature: 2007 Broadway Beauty Pageant

From May 2007:

The winner of the first annual Mr. Broadway pageant held last Monday, April 30th, Mr. “Mamma Mia” Frankie James Grande, is living proof that saying “she ain’t right” doesn’t preclude sexiness – crazy can be crazy hot! Grande went way out on a limb with his “talent” performance, singing “You’re the One that I Want” as Gollum from “Lord of the Rings.”

He went even further, mixing in the idea that Gollum was a contestant on the recent “Grease” casting show bearing that song’s name. It certainly didn’t hurt that ultra-athletic back flips were part of his act, or that he sang in a loincloth, or that his swimsuit was the skimpiest of the lot (combined with body oil, which host Tovah Feldshuh praised as “attention to detail”).

Judge Seth Rudetsky (a Broadway musician also known for his one-man show “Rhapsody in Seth”, and “Broadway Chatterbox” his weekly live talk show at Don’t Tell Mama) revealed that “Nancy Opel and I did a show together on Saturday and we looked at each other and said ‘This pageant on Monday could really be awful.’ We’ll do it for the terrific organization it benefits –the Ali Forney Center (AFC) which provides shelter for homeless LGBT youth in New York City – but we were both sort of dreading it.”

“But,” Rudetsky enthuses, “it was so well done! Amazing, so well produced, the talent level was incredible, I thought. Tovah Feldshuh, the host, was hilarious, doing her Borscht Belt shtick, which the audience just ate up. I totally want to do it again! I mean I’d love to be in it but I’d have to do a 40 pound weight loss and drop 20 years in age. I was so impressed with the acts, they could have just come out and sang their audition songs, but they were so well thought out and brave.”

Each of the contestants went head to head in talent, interview and swimsuit competitions in front of judges who are celebrities on the Great White Way – or nearby gay bars — but ultimately, the final vote was left in the audience’s hands. The judges were Scott Nevins, Opel and Rudetsky.

Grande wasn’t the only candidate to rely on comedy: Mr. “Mary Poppins” Kevin Yee gave an interpretation of Tom Jones’s “Sex Bomb” that playfully parodied boy-band choreography and costuming (Yee was part of boy-band Youth Asylum when he was a teenager).

Mr. “Curtains” Ward Billeisen earned points for dressing elegantly for his talent, but lost points for singing the melodically easy “Moondance.” His swimsuit featured “curtains” that rose to reveal his bare butt, which the judges found provocative for its combination of cleverness and sexiness.

Mr. “Wicked” Kenway Kua’s talent was a dance that also involved a serious story about finding self-esteem and some artful choreography. Full disclosure: Kua got my vote because the choreography was his own, and incorporated technically difficult moves and good storytelling – and, yes, a gradual shedding of costume revealing his svelte physique.

Mr. “A Chorus Line” Paul McGill both hacked off and challenged the judges with an early revelation that he was only 19, born in 1987. He also caused a stir in the swimsuit competition with a package that was either quite well-hung or artfully-stuffed. “It was crazy,” said Rudetsky. “Did he wrap his dick four times over? I don’t understand how it can look like that.” In the interview section he did a very hard to-the-ground split. Maybe that’s why he was first runner up to Grande — though it might also be because he very nearly nailed the Michael Bennett‘s choreography for “Music and the Mirror,” a bravura dance number from “Line” in heels no less, which he chose for his talent.

Mr. “Hairspray,” Arbinder Robinson is clearly a singer before everything else, staking everything on his interpretation of “Georgia on My Mind” which he delivered with chops that more closely resembled real soul than “American Idol” screaming. He copped out on the swimsuit portion of the evening, but was candid and winning in the interview, speaking about his upbringing and theatrical career.

Mr. “Tarzan” Nick Sanchez got major technical points for attempting to set a world record for toe touches (high jumps with hands extended to meet the feet) – he made it to 50. He charmed the judges, especially Nevins, in the interview, and caused a stir by swallowing an entire bottle of Corona during his swimsuit walk.

On the subject of the Center’s financial need AFC Executive Director Carl Siciliano comments that “We want only the best for the kids in our program. The services they can get from the government are minimal. It’s like getting a baloney sandwich when they need and deserve a four-course meal. At the Ali Forney Center, we want to make sure they get the four-course meal.”

Ali Forney was a homeless queer teen who was forced to live on the streets of New York during the 1990s. Ali was dedicated to the safety of other homeless queer youth; he was a committed HIV prevention worker, and aggressively advocated that the NYPD investigate a series of murders of the homeless queer youth he had befriended. In December of 1997, Ali was murdered on the streets. His tragic death called attention to the atrocious conditions for homeless queer youth in New York. Ali’s murderer has never been identified. According to AFC statistics, as LGBT teens come out of the closet, 25% are rejected by their families, 11.5% of gay and lesbian youth report being physically attacked by family members and 42% of homeless youth self-identify as gay or lesbian.

AFC was started in June 2002 in response to the lack of safe shelter for LGBT youth in New York City. They are committed to providing LGBT youth with safe, dignified, nurturing environments where their needs can be met and where they can begin to put their lives back together. AFC has quickly become the nation’s largest and most comprehensive organization dedicated to homeless LGBT youth. AFC currently provides help for 2,000 persons a year with services including three emergency housing sites, three transitional housing sites, a network of resources in New York City, and a day center that offers clinical and support services.

While the total amount raised had not been tallied at press time, the audience was given the opportunity after the show to make an additional donation to the Ali Forney Center, resulting in over $2000 in cash raised at the door alone.

Interview: Bryan Batt

Feinstein’s at Loews Regency will continue its Fall 2010 season with the debut of out Broadway favorite Bryan Batt – two-time Screen Actors Guild Award winner and star of television’s Mad Men – on October 3 and 4. Bryan takes to the New York nightclub stage with “Batt On A Hot Tin Roof”, an evening of song and storytelling, weaving a tale of his “life experience” in the Big Apple and the Big Easy. From Cole Porter to Burt Bacharach, embracing classic Broadway and new composers, Batt promises a fun filled evening celebrating heart, hope, and home. I caught up with Bryan by phone, while he was in his hometown of New Orleans.

JW: So what is “Batt on a Hot Tin Roof”?

Just a collection of songs and stories. It all started about five years ago when I got a call from a friend of mine Barbara Motley, from New Orleans. I live part time in New Orleans part time in New York. She was organizing a benefit and asked me to put together a one-man show, to help out actors and musicians displaced by Katrina. She has a wonderful cabaret space called Le Chat Noir. I said yes, but right when I hung up the phone I realized I’d never done a show like that before. I’d done lots of Broadway shows, but I’d never done just an evening of me alone with a piano. I called her back and said “You know I’ve never done this before.” And Barbara said “Just do anything you want, sing songs you like, songs you’ve sung on Broadway, songs you’ve wanted to sing on Broadway.”

So I went ahead and did it, and I had so much fun, so I just kept on doing it every now and then. I haven’t done it in over a year. I don’t know how the people a Feinstein’s got word of it. But they asked me to do this show and I just kept putting it off, and finally said yes, so I got to work on updating it.

JW: Does it deal with growing up gay in New Orleans, like your new book She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Mother?

It definitely deals with that, some stories, some fun ones about my father and baseball, and all of that stuff about self-discovery and loving the theatre, and some of the songs are just fun. There are some songs in there that not everybody will know, and I’m so enjoying people walking away wanting to know more about this music.

It all came out of, of all things, Katrina. It’s sold out every time I’ve done it in New Orleans. It’s been called many different things. The first time I did it, it was very simply “Bryan Batt Live at Le Chat”, and a couple times later we called it “Bryan Batt Same Old Chat”. [Laughs.] And then about a year and a half ago, I did a different version, to help out a theatre company down here that was going through some difficulties. So much good has come of it that I just am proud of it and wanted to do it for New York.

JW: I’ve seen Le Chat and it gives me real estate envy. It’s so much bigger than a New York cabaret.

Isn’t it nice? I really had such a great time there. Cabaret in general is a medium that I am really surprised that I enjoy as much as I do. It’s so intimate, it’s like you’re doing a show in your living room. It takes a lot more concentration. There are no walls, forget the fourth wall, there’s no wall at all, you just have to be. Doing Mad Men has really helped, you know, the smallness of film and TV acting.

JW: Speaking of that, any word on Sal, the closeted art director you play on the show, returning?

[Laughs.] Well, that’s the million dollar question. At the Emmys, we were all in the press room and the CNN guy asked Matt Weiner that exact question, to which Matt replied “Sal is alive.” So, I guess we’ll just have to watch and find out.

JW: Are you still very involved in New Orleans?

 As a matter of fact Patricia Clarkson and I did a benefit down here, for Le Petite Theatre du Veiux Carre, where I’m on the board. Yeah, when I’m in New Orleans, I’m very active. Any way I can help out, you know the city is still rebuilding, its another good five years at least, I think, but we’re definitely on the road back.

For tickets, click here.

News: I’m directing “Groupies” in FringeNYC

GROUPIES_colorIn the spirit of what my peeps over at call “shameless self-promotion,” I’m directing a play in the Fringe called GROUPIES, and I’d very much like all you “drama queens” to come see it!

Here’s the info:

at The Studio @ Cherry Lane Theatre
At FringeNYC

Fri August 14 8:45 pm
Sat August 15 1:45 pm
Wed August 19 7:00 pm
Sat August 22 8:00 pm
Mon August 24 6:15 pm
Tue August 25 2:15 pm

The Studio @ Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce St. between Barrow & Bedford Streets
For tickets, click here.

A play by Sharon Lintz. Directed by Jonathan Warman

Featuring Jeff Berg, Tricia Beyer, Damion Lee and Ralph Pochoda.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, what sex you are, what your sexual orientation is, what color you are: every one of us has been fascinated by celebrity.

GROUPIES starts with a pop concept—celebrity obsession—then goes deep, offering surprising trips into the minds, passions, and sexuality of four very different people. Celebrity is the key into each character’s psyche: the perfect entry point to understand his or her humanity, desires, regrets, loves, loneliness.

And each character’s story comes with a twist.

Why GROUPIES? Because we like our pop culture with depth. And we love New York City. The stories contained in this massive city never cease to amaze us. Even so, we admit to forgetting at times about the wealth of human experience out there. As denizens of New York—as humans anywhere—we so often get lost in our own lives, in the chaos of life, in the anonymity of trying to get by.

For tickets, click here.
For more about my directing work, see

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(Big) News: I Join


I am now the exclusive theatre critic for, a popular, lively Google News-listed web site based in New York City. See the announcement here:

Their motto is “More than Gay News for Gay Men” and its content truly reflects that motto. It is smart and timely; I believe in it, and think it represents a fresh vision for the future of gay news media. I am as proud to be associated with this brand and what it stands for as I was to be associated with the Blade and HX.

See you at the theatre!

News: Hair Joins National Equality March

hairIn an unprecedented move, the producers of HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical have announced they are canceling the show’s Sunday, October 11th performance so that the entire cast can join the National Equality March in Washington, D.C.  The announcement was made this evening by the cast of HAIR at a spirited rally in Los Angeles (the entire company of HAIR has traveled from New York to California to appear on tonight’s broadcast of “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien”).  The cast was joined at the rally by National Equality March organizer and historic LGBT activist Cleve Jones, Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) and a handful of other prominent equality advocates.

In a statement, Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of The Public Theater and producer of HAIR, said “The Public Theater has always aspired to make theater that matters, that speaks to the great social issues of our time.  HAIR has never been just a show; its message of change and hope and inclusion is one we try to live, not just preach. This is the moment when we need to recognize the right of all citizens, gay and straight, to have their love and their unions acknowledged by the state. We are proud to join with Cleve Jones and the National Equality March in support of gay marriage.  Peace now! Equality now! Justice forever!”

Last May, civil rights activist David Mixner called for a national march on Washington in support of Equal rights for LGBT people, calling on prominent LGBT community leaders Cleve Jones and Torie Osborne to execute and organize it. Days later in Fresno CA, at a rally of approximately 5000 people from all walks of life protesting the California Supreme Courts decision to uphold Prop. 8, Cleve Jones stepped to the podium and committed to Mixner’s plea. At that moment Jones’ organization Equality Across America was born, along with its first mission: the National Equality March. Between now and October, Equality Across America will develop grassroots leadership in all 435 congressional districts to ensure that their message is heard loud and clear by elected officials all across America.  In October 1979, LGBT activists from across the country marched on Washington to fight for equal rights towards all. Exactly 30 years later a new generation of equality activists will take to the National Mall and continue that fight — and not quit until LGBT people are granted equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states. 

Ticketholders for the Sunday, October 11, 2009 performance of HAIR, can exchange their tickets for a different performance of HAIR as follows: if you purchased your tickets at the box office, please bring your tickets back to the Al Hirschfeld Theatre Box Office (302 West 45th Street); if you purchased your tickets through (either by phone, by mail, or online), you can exchange your tickets by phone with Customer Service Department (212-239-6210 in the tri-state area or 800-543-4835 outside of the tri-state area); if you purchased your tickets from any other source, you must contact the original ticket-seller.