Interview: Bruce Vilanch

Bruce Vilanch will be playing two nights, January 11 & 12, at Feinstein’s at the Regency in his new one-man show “Writer on the Verge”. We thought we’d call him up to see what the show’s all about. Even as he picked up the phone, he was already chuckling and cracking wise: “Is this the Gay Socialite? Any questions? Fire away!”

So, is “Writer on the Verge” all-new?

It is! It’s been a a long time since I’ve done anything in New York. When I’m in the city I tend to do benefits galore and emcee things. So I’m pretty sure all my material will be new to the city. I haven’t done a real show in New York for 10 years unless I’m forgetting something. I was at Westbeth for three months but that was almost 11 years ago. There have been many more Oscar broadcasts since then and many more things to tell stories about.

You’re going to be play Feinstein’s; will there be any singing?

I don’t think so; if I get the piano player of my dreams, I will sing, I’ve got some material. But to be there and to sing, to stand there in the shadow of so many incredible singers, just because it’s a cabaret…I don’t think when Jackie Mason played there he broke into song.

No, nor Joan Collins, and her show was terrific.

[Laughs.] She didn’t? I thought that was the whole idea. So she just told stories, right? That’s interesting too, and of course my life is so much more glamorous than hers. [Laughs.]

Yeah, Mitzi Gaynor sang a couple songs, but her show was also mostly stories.

In the ballroom, right? That’s the big time. I’m in the cabaret, where I’ve been a regular, which I actually love. I worked with Mitzi recently, when she was coming out of her shell — if you can ever believe she was in one. We did an on-stage Q&A in San Francisco, and of course what I learned is you ask Mitzi one question and she goes into material from her act, of which there is no shortage. It’s hysterical and wonderful. I think getting back out there and doing that stuff encouraged her to do a regular evening.

What do you think of the state of gay’s in today’s comedy?

I think we rule! It’s ironic on TV certainly the big hit is Modern Family and because of Modern Family there are half a dozen shows in the hopper for next year about “blended” families of different kinds and they all have a gay element in them. So success breeds a lot — this is the logical extension of Will & Grace and Ellen DeGeneres. In television there’s quite a lot of it. In general I think we’re going through a transitional period. Now that we’re visible, we’re showing different textures, a character isn’t just a gay character. He’s not in the script because he’s gay, writers are now being given freedom to discover layers in gay characters.

And you are acting in a new gay themed film comedy Oy Vey My Son is Gay.

Which is opening Friday in Miami. Miami Beach at last! I’m in Tampa right now and I’m going to go down there for the “gala” opening, “gala” that’s hysterical. It’s been released “on a platform,” opening in different markets one after the other. It’s been opening around the country on different dates. That’s a fun thing because you get reviewed at least once a week by some new person in another newspaper. It’s like the death of a thousand cuts. [Laughs.] But it’s a very funny movie, an old school comedy, about the older generation getting hit by a trifecta: their sons are gay, getting married and adopting a baby. What makes it so funny is the older Jewish parents are played by Lainie Kazan and Saul Rubinek, with Carmen Electra as “the beard next door,” and the cast just goes on like that.

For tickets, click here.

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.

Interview: Euan Morton

EuanMortonFrom June 2009:

Most famous for playing Boy George in Broadway’s “Taboo,” transplanted Scotsman Euan Morton is homesick, and in true show biz fashion, he’s doing a cabaret act to deal with it! 2009 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland’s most famous songwriter and poet. To celebrate, Scotland is calling ’09 the Year of the Homecoming.

To mark this great occasion and to bring a wee piece of home to New York City, Euan is performing his new Scottish-themed one man show, “Caledonia: Songs for the Homecoming” through the last few weeks in June. I caught up with Euan to ask a few questions about the show and what he’s been up to.

How did this act come about?

It’s a departure from the other cabaret concerts I’ve done. I used to sing all of these Scottish folk songs as a kid — my mum’s a singer and she taught us — but I’ve never done this stuff in public. I’m doing a lot of traditional Scottish music, as well as modern stuff like Annie Lennox’s “Why” and “500 Miles” by the Proclaimers. We did it for the first time last night and people really seem to enjoy it. It wasn’t even my idea: I was hanging out with Dessie Moynihan from the Shubert Organization. I told her it was the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’s birth, and Dessie suggested the idea of a Scottish celebration concert — I owe it all to her.

You’re known for playing good-hearted but scandalously outrageous characters — is any of that on display in “Caledonia”?

I can’t go as crazy in cabaret as I can when I’m playing Caligula or Boy George or any of those other riotous men. But the part of me that goes into those characters is definitely something I enjoy playing with onstage. My director Lee Armitage and I are much more organized with this show than other concerts I’ve done before. We’ve actually written a script out, which I haven’t done often before. It’s a really good thing, because my mind sometimes wanders and I say stupid things and repeat myself just before, you know, a tender ballad. Plus, it gives us a chance to consciously draw out those parts of my personality you mentioned, which definitely contrast me with a more traditional cabaret performer.

You’re missing Scotland?

Not just Scotland! I haven’t left the USA since March 2005 — for me that’s strange because from London or Scotland it’s so easy to travel. You can get to Spain for $120 round trip, Amsterdam $80, France $40 and I used to leave the UK four to six times a year. So I miss all those places. I have a reason to go home next year. My little sister is getting married in June 2010; by that time it’ll be six and a half years.

Any dream projects in the works?

I’ve talked about writing my own musical. I’ve always loved the Carpenters. And I’m even more fascinated by the darkness and addictions that come with success. I wanted to write a show about a boy who was obsessed with the Carpenters and ended up living like Karen did. Because no one ever talks about male anorexia. It’s actually much more common than we think. Then I realized he didn’t need to be a Carpenters fan, that in fact that cheapened both the boy’s problem and the memory of Karen. You could just do a show about male eating disorders. People have pooh-poohed the idea but now comes “Next to Normal,” bringing bipolarity to Broadway, so perhaps that’s something I’ll get back into. Writing-wise now I’m working on writing a movie — it’s about a woman who was a fighter in the French Resistance in World War II, who became a leader in it. There were a handful of women like her in the Resistance, but they are rarely recognized. She’s now 105 and she practices the art of the “healing hands.” I’m also involved in two new musicals, leading roles. “Behind the Limelight,” which is the life of Charlie Chaplin and the other is “Caligula,” which I did in the first season of NYMF. Both of those are definitely dream projects, even though, like “Caledonia,” they weren’t necessarily an original idea of mine.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

Interview: Lesley Gore

lesley goreFrom April 2009:

Singer Lesley Gore, a through and through New Yorker – born in Brooklyn and raised in Tenafly, New Jersey – was discovered by music legend Quincy Jones and recorded “It’s My Party” when she was just 16 years old. In the years that followed, she helped create the soundtrack of the 1960s with over two dozen chart hits, including the proto-feminist anthem “You Don’t Own Me,” becoming the most commercially successful solo artist of the “Girl Group” era.  A few years back, Gore also quietly came out as a lesbian by serving as a host on the PBS series In the Life.

The 1960s legend will be doing a breif stint at Feinstein’s at the Regency, May 5 to 9. She’ll perform a selection of her 1960s chart-toppers as well as contemporary pop classics.  I chatted with her about her plans for the show at Feinstein’s, the growing acceptance of gays and one of her most resonant songs

Any particular plans for Feinstein’s?

There are few wonderful clubs in New York, you’ve got the Carlyle and Feinstein’s. I’ve visited Feinstein’s, I’ve seen a lot of wonderful talent there and always aspired to play there. In terms of figuring out a general direction for the show, I know it’s a room I need to cater to. At the same time, I do come in the door with a couple of hits, which probably people are buying a ticket or two to hear, so I’m obliged to do those. I’ve got a number of songs that I’ve loved and which I’ve been performing over the last 44 years. I’m putting all of those into a context that’s right for Feinstein’s and right for Lesley. I think it should be a great show! We nod to the songs of the Great American songbook that Michael Feinstein does so beautifully, we do a couple of what I call “modern classics,” and I get an opportunity to sing a couple of ballads, which I think every singer enjoys more than an up-tempo song.

What to do you think of the state of gay rights?

I frankly don’t care whether I get married or not, but I think our civil rights depend on it. I think it’s important, not so much to be married to your partner as to be given the civil rights that married couples get, so I’m on that bandwagon. I think it’s 2009, I really don’t think that straight people have a problem with gay people any longer. But of course I live in New York. I don’t know what’s going on in Kansas and Utah, but I imagine they’re a little bit behind us—and its time to catch up!  I know it takes some people a little longer. They come to this with histories, apprehensions, fears because they don’t understand. The more people understand that they probably already know a gay person, and in fact adore them, then the better off we’re gonna be—and that may take awhile, but it’s happening, for sure. By the time I shut my eyes for good I’ll have seen a real difference, I think, and I’m happy about that.

Could you talk a little bit about your protofeminist anthem “You Don’t Own Me”?

When I first heard that song at the age of 16 or 17, feminism wasn’t quite a going proposition yet. Some people talked about it, but it wasn’t in any kind of state at the time. My take on that song was: I’m 17, what a wonderful thing, to be able to stand up on a stage and shake your finger at people and sing you don’t own me. I thought of it as a humanist anthem—I could see a guy saying that to a girl as well. As time went on the feminist movement did grab a hold of it, and frankly I’m very proud of that. It’s the one song that I do every time I’m on a stage, more often than not it’s the song I close with, because frankly in all my years I’ve never found a song that’s stronger than that. It’s imbued with something different every time I sing it. It’s a great song, so when you really think about it, different things pop up all the time. It has a lot of layers which I think is the test of a good song.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

Interview: Charles Busch

6a00d8341ca51d53ef0111684be2f0970c-800wiFrom March 2009:

Legends!—a hilarious comedy about two glamorous, Hollywood has-beens and arch-rivals forced to consider working together on a new project to resuscitate their careers—is one of the most notorious theatrical properties ever written, mostly for what happened behind-the-scenes. 

Originally presented in a 1986 year-long, pre-Broadway tour starring Carol Channing and Mary Martin, it closed on the road before making it to New York.  The juicy on and off-stage antics were chronicled and immortalized in playwright James Kirkwood’s own non-fiction account, Diary of a Mad Playwright: Perilous Adventures on the Road with Mary Martin and Carol Channing.  In 2007, the play was again presented as a pre-Broadway national tour, this time helmed by “Dynasty” co-stars Joan Collins and Linda Evans.  Also failing to make it to New York, the production had its backstage wars chronicled in lurid detail by Ms. Collins in a two-part series in London’s Daily Mail.

Now its returning as a One Night Only staged reading starring Charles Busch, Whoopi Goldberg and Lypsinka in the first-ever New York presentation of the play, featuring a script that has been adapted for this reading by John Epperson AKA Lypsinka.  Also starring Bryan Batt (“Mad Men”) with additional casting to be announced, the special event is a benefit for Friends In Deed – The Crisis Center for Life-Threatening Illness. We sat down with legendary actor and playwright Charles Busch to get his take on the event.

So how did this come about?

Various friends over the years have suggest that I should do a drag “Legends” , but I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of doing it with a less than ideal cast—and I’ve always felt that the script, funny as it often is, is too long. This was surprising to me since I loved James Kirkwood’s novels like Good Times, Bad Times and Some Kind of Hero. What’s different this time is that John Epperson approached me with his own adaptation; the idea of doing it as a one-night only benefit for Friends In Deed; with himself and Whoopi Goldberg already attached playing the other leading roles. I read his adaptation which tightens the play marvelously—and so I leapt at it, there was just no reason to say no. I’ve always enjoyed working with John, I’ve known Whoopi for a long time and am excited to be working with her, and we have some surprise guests—it should be great campy fun.

As a playwright, you’ve been taking a lot more chances recently…

Yes! I very intentionally included more dramatic dimension in Our Leading Lady and The Third Story, because I’m a firm believer that a writer, in order to grow, needs to keep stretching and challenging themselves. Oh! I feel like I’ve been working on The Third Story for a year! I mean there were months between the two productions, but I personally was never that far away from it. I was hard at work on rewrites the whole time. And when I first wrote it I thought, “Oh, this won’t be so much work for me as an actor. I’ve given such a big part and so much stage time to the wonderful Kathleen Turner” but every second I’m offstage, I’m frantically changing costume, it’s actually exhausting. So as much as I loved it I’m glad to be done with it and doing something where I’m not the writer.

So are you working on something new, Charles?

I’m working on a bunch of different new things. I writing a Lifetime Network movie—can you believe it! It was difficult at first, but now I’m really getting into the swing of it. I can’t tell you what it’s about, and there are a bunch of other film and TV projects I can’t tell you anything about. I never set out to write for anything but the theatre but all of these wonderful opportunities come up and I’m actually thrilled to be doing them.

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Interview: Ann Hampton Callaway

ahc11[Note: This interview from February 2009 marked the first time that Ann Hampton Callaway had candidly discussed her life as a lesbian. It originally ran in the New York Blade]

Ann Hampton Callaway—the multiplatinum-selling pop and jazz singer/songwriter best known for writing and singing the theme from the TV hit “The Nanny” as well as songs for Barbra Streisand and others—will perform at Dizzy Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center from February 17 to March 1 to celebrate her new CD “At Last.”

She has now started talking about her personal life in public for the first time. She and her partner Kari live in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. Ann likes to say “Ann Hampton Callaway’s new CD is coming out on February 3 and so is she!!!”

So your CD came out and so have you!

[Laughs.] I don’t remember when I thought about that phrasing. It feels good! Free at last!

Why now?

This was a long time in the happening. I’ve been out to my friends and my peers for many, many years. But I was also with a previous partner who didn’t want me to be out, and I had to respect her wishes. But in the past year I’ve been much more involved in political activities, trying to elect a president who can bring about change, realizing the struggles we have with Prop 8. I also realized how short life is, and how important it is to give yourself a chance to be the most honest and real you. It seemed like the extra step I needed to take not only as an individual but as a citizen. I think that artists have the opportunity to offer inspiration to people who may still need it and I think even thought we’ve come a long way in this community, we still have a long way to go.

So you had one of those “Obama moments” where…

Yeah, I’ve been Obamacized! [Laughs.] But you know I also turned 50 last year, and as always those big birthdays are occasions to be philosophical. I’m always trying to encourage my friends to be themselves, achieve their greatest potential, to live out their dreams to get past their fears. I’m a pretty good advocate for my friends, but I think sometimes you’re the last person to do that for yourself. And also I’m finally with a partner who feels like “the one,” who is comfortable with people, the public, with my expansiveness as an artist and a person; so we can share a much more open life together because she’s comfortable with it, and that makes all the difference in the world.

How long have you been together?

We are actually celebrated our two year anniversary of realizing we could be together at the beginning of this month. It was love at first sight, and we were both in unhappy relationships and neither one of us really knew that there was anything possible between us. I ended my relationship—that should have ended a few years before. It took us a while to realize we could be more than friends. When it finally became evident, it was an incredibly joyous occasion. I knew right away the moment I saw her “This is the person I’ve been looking for my entire life.”

Now back to that CD that also “came out”…

Yeah! It’s so personal about Kari and me; the last song on the CD is “On My Way to You,” a reflective look at how do we get to the person that we love. All the ups and downs, the delicious experiences, the disappointments and the yearning. I wanted the CD to be a cinematic journey on the way to love, starting with a question and ending with an answer. It expresses a lot of feelings about love in my life.

And Kari is the inspiration?

Yes, she has been incredibly inspiring to me. She’s the most big-hearted, loving supportive person. She’s not at all intimidated by my busy life or my fans or the sheer amount of people that come into my life. She loves people too, and she loves travelling. It’s a beautiful life that we’re able to share together. I never thought this was possible. I’m hopping on an airplane every other day, and that’s not a problem.

Difficult and glamorous life.

Exactly! Like good high heels. [Laughs.]

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

Interview: Christine Ebersole

christine-carlyleFrom January 2009:

The club act that Christine Ebersole did in late 2001 at the much-missed cabaret Arci’s Place is the stuff of cabaret legend. It caused my husband Gacin to exclaim “She’s faaaabulous!” and me to write that she is “one of those talents that comes along just a handful of times every generation,” something she proved in spades in her Tony-winning run as Little Edie Beale in the Broadway musical “Grey Gardens.” We were thrilled to hear, then, that she would be reuniting with director Scott Wittman—who has his own Tony for co-writing the score of “Hairspray”, and who directed that magical Arci’s Place act—for a completely new cabaret show at the Café Carlyle. I sat down to talk with her about the new act, and her role in the upcoming Broadway revival of Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit.”

How long have you been working on the new act for the Carlyle?

[Laughs.] Not very long! I would say I got the call when I was out in L.A. doing an episode of “Samantha Who,” about December 10, something like that. So I got together with Scott Wittman We’ve been going over music and music and music, and we’ve finalized it, I guess last week. [Laughs.] It’s very fly by night, learn Guinevere in “Camelot” in three days—which I did early in my career—but this is different even than that because we’re assembling the whole show, the music, writing the patter, pulling everything together. And John Oddo is doing all the arrangements. I worked with John briefly with Jimmy Naughton. My agent put Jimmy and I together as a package, and John had worked with Jimmy for a long time. John was Rosemary Clooney’s musical director, you know, and worked with jazz legends like Woody Herman.

So you’ve had lots of rehearsal with John?

Um…I’ve met with him twice… [Laughs.] I don’t want to give the wrong impression because when you’re a musician that’s the way it works, that’s the nature of the beast. You know the nature of creativity and art; we know what the outlines of each song are: the keys and all that. On the other hand, it’s not my personal preference, coming from the theatre, I would like to have more rehearsal, but that’s the way this came. It was actually because of Eartha Kitt. We’re doing the show in what was going to be her spot in the Carlyle season. When she took ill, they called and asked if I could fill in, I think she was scheduled for five weeks, and I was able to do two of those weeks, but I couldn’t do any more because of “Blithe Spirit,” and even at that my second week at Carlyle is also my first week of rehearsal of “Blithe Spirit.” That’s really the way these things appear with me, that’s the way it works, welcome to my life! I guess I’ll find out if I can manage doing both. [Laughs.] I’ll find out.

The previous act you and Scott created was so great…

I love working with Scott because he has such a vast knowledge of music, and he knows what I can do—so there’s always a great array of songs to choose from. We bring the same sensibility to the table; I mean he’s been a friend for over 30 years. I think everyone should be pleased, I’m certainly thrilled with the material, it’s just spectacular—running through it are themes of love and family, the economy. [Laughs.] And what is everlasting.

Are you excited about “Blithe Spirit?”

Definitely, it’s very exciting. That’s brand new, too, because I’ve never worked with anybody in this amazing cast before. Jeffery Richards had approached me about doing a musical he was interested in producing and I said, “You know, after ‘Grey Gardens’ I really can’t top that, and I have to come in through another door. When I come back to Broadway, it’s gotta be in a play.” This doesn’t mean I won’t come back and do a musical, but just not on top of it. So he came back with “Blithe Spirit” and I thought that was a great idea. From there he went and assembled the rest of the team. Jeffery and I had worked together on “The Best Man” in 2000; I love him and it’s great working for him, we had such a great time. Do you believe that cast! Fantastic. Angela, Oh my God I’m looking forward to working with her. She’s always been an inspiration to me. My very first part I received on Broadway was in a play called “Angel Street” in which I played Nancy and that was Angela’s first film role. And I’ve done the title role in “Mame,” which she created. I always looked to her for hopes of career longevity.

You’ve done pretty well so far. Another day, another dollar…

Well, knock wood, another dollar doesn’t necessary follow another day. [Laughs.] Another day, another “opportunity.”

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Interview: Mark Nadler

MarkNadlerHS-Best72From May 2008:

When asked to describe cabaret personality Mark Nadler, I always return to an image of him performing that’s burned in my memory. At one point during “American Rhapsody” a long-running Gershwin tribute he did with KT Sullivan (herself described by The New Yorker “as vocally, comically and theatrically assured as contemporary cabaret performers get”), Nadler, in white tie and tails, leapt from floor to piano bench, tap-dancing madly, singing and keeping steady eye contact with the audience—all this while playing a complex passage on the piano without even glancing at the keys. The man sweats talent from every pore.

I’m guessing he’ll be doing similar pyrotechnical performing for “A Swell Party: RSVP Cole Porter” which reunites him with Sullivan at Town Hall on June 9.  This special musical evening event, commemorating Cole Porter’s birthday, also features Loren Schoenberg. To find out a little more about this tribute to one of the greatest gay songwriters of the last century, I got in touch with Nadler in Chicago, where he’s performing a run of his new solo act “Russian on the Side.”

So, just how gay is “A Swell Party”?

Cole Porter’s songs are all written in code—that’s what he had to do at that time. I find it very sexy to have to be covert. There is one moment toward the end of the show that’s overtly gay. Also, there are lots of lyrics in the songs that are pretty blatant: the lesbian references are more blatant than the ones about gay men—for example, in “Kate the Great” he says: “She made the maid who made the room.” Fun stuff. In this show we do not tell the story of Cole Porter’s life except through his songs—wherein he tells plenty. We have almost no patter at all in this show—it’s about his songs and is almost completely sung through. 

I know you like to “multi-track” your cabaret shows, structuring several layers of meaning in interlocking ways.  What’s Mark Nadler’s subtext for “A Swell Party”—anything we should look out for?

Well, you’re absolutely right about that. What “Swell Party” is about for me is what Porter’s songs and life are about: ambivalence. For every aspect of his life, including his homosexuality, there was an equally strong opposing force. That’s why his songs are so very complicated and that’s the excitement of them. He’s probably the most complex composer, musically speaking, of all of the writers of the Great American Songbook. I think the song that most exemplifies Porter is “Begin the Beguine,” which is, structurally, more like an art song than a popular song—it’s not AABA, which is the standard song structure.  It’s ABCDE—it keeps evolving and changing and twisting and turning and, importantly, it’s about a person who is of completely two minds—“Don’t let them begin the beguine, make them play!” That’s his whole life—that’s what I mean when I say that his songs are written in code. He really loved his wife Linda and she was an incredibly important part of his life—just because they probably didn’t have sex doesn’t mean that she wasn’t his partner—she was.  Yes, he had to seek sexual satisfaction outside the marriage—and he even fell in love with some of those guys, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t love Linda—he did—very much—and he needed her, too. I know plenty of gay men who have been in long-term relationships who are in the exact same situation. Relationships are complicated things—they evolve and never in ways that fit the fairy tales—that’s what Porter’s songs speak to so, so eloquently.

You and KT have done a lot of shows about the various songwriters in the Great American Songbook, such as “American Rhapsody”. Is there an important composer or team you two haven’t done that you’d like to do?

There are many. We both love Frank Loesser, for example and also Yip Harburgh and I’m a huge fan of Burton Lane’s music. It’s an endless list.

Is there a composer or team you’d absolutely refuse to do an act about—“It ain’t gonna happen”?

The Rolling Stones.

So what’s the story about “Russian on the Side”,  is it a relative of your earlier solo cabaret show “Tchaikowsky (and Other Russians)”?

Thanks!!! It’s based on “Tchaikowsky (and Other Russians).” It’s very different, though, in that Mark Waldrop, my director (of “When Pigs Fly” and Bette Midler’s Millennium tour), has helped me to re-shape the show to be a theater piece, as opposed to a concert. 

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Interview: Beebo Brinker Chronicles

beebobrinkerprod460From March 2008:

The new Off-Broadway hit “The Beebo Brinker Chronicles” surveys early ’60s Manhattan from the angle of the Greenwich Village lesbian underground. It consistently sold out its off-off-Broadway venue during a showcase run last year, and this move to a larger venue means that every theatergoing lesbian and gay man can now see this sexy and historically important show—and straight audiences are find it very entertaining and enlightening as well.

“Beebo” is based on a steamy series of lesbian pulp novels actually written between 1957 and 1962. Since then, three generations of gay readers have embraced author Ann Bannon’s melodramatic, noir-ish coming-out tales.  Beth and Laura, secret lovers in college, go their separate ways after graduation: Beth marries and has children (much like Bannon herself), and Laura moves to New York. They pine for each other, but find themselves entangled in the web of the titular Beebo Brinker, a loquacious and wildly confident butch barfly with a soft spot for young lesbians fresh off the bus.

We recently sat down co-authors Linda Chapman (“Gertrude and Alice”) and Kate Moira Ryan (“25 Questions for a Jewish Mother”) to find out what all the excitement is about.

Linda Chapman: Did you hear? Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner have just signed on as producers —

Kate Moira Ryan: And we’ve also signed on Continental Airlines as a sponsor, so they’re going to pay for their tickets to come to the opening. They also fly Ann Bannon in and out as we need her as well.

LC: Ann came into the process in the second or third reading. And she loved it.

KMR: She’s never had a single artistic note for us. Nobody has! The producers aren’t even giving us notes.

LC: We had been in contact with Ann through our agent. She loved it she couldn’t believe it; there have been a number of attempts to make this into a theatrical piece.

KMR: Yeah, my friend Leslie in LA was like, “Yeah, good luck!”

LC: But we did it and Ann was just delighted with it, even in early drafts when it was much, much longer. We’ve had dinner with her, we’ve had lunches, and she’s come over to Kate’s house a couple of times. The whole gang was there—[director] Leigh Silverman has been with us from the beginning from the very first draft, the first reading. So Ann’s met the whole company as its taken shape, and she continues to be incredibly supportive. She and her daughter even invested in the off-off-Broadway showcase.

KMR: She’s a real class act and a delightful human being. She’s so excited…

LC: She’s eternally young

KMR: This is the 50th anniversary of her first book. You wouldn’t believe it though, she’s very spry. Her books are so juicy they’re just fantastic bodice-rippers. And yet you meet Ann she’s so proper. Well she was having these weekends you know, she was married and would come to New York. She’s very private, though.

LC: She’ll answer questions that are put to her, but in a very gracious way.

KMR: She enjoys the mystery, too. Her daughter Inga, who travels with her did not know her mother wrote these book until she was well into high school.

LC. Yes. These books were for a very early part of her life, and after them she didn’t write anymore. She’s approaching writing her memoirs now.

Jonathan Warman: So what was the initial idea behind adapting these books for the stage?

KMR: I often go to Dartmouth with the New York Theatre Workshop when they do their residencies there, and I said to Linda [who’s also NYTW’s Associate Artistic Director], “You know we’ve been friends for like 17 years, let’s go out for some drinks.” [NYTW Artistic Director] Jim Nicola was really jealous. I said or maybe Linda said, “Let’s do something to celebrate our friendship.”

LC: Yeah, we thought, we’ve never really worked on a project together.

KMR: And we came up with this because we both liked these books. My friend Jaye Zimet wrote this this fantastic thing called “Strange Sisters”—it was all these lesbian pulp book covers,

LC: …and Ann wrote a foreword for it.

KMR: Right, and Jaye had originally given me Ann’s books to read. I couldn’t put them down; I was just amazed by them. So I said to Linda, I can get to Ann through Jaye, so let’s see if we can get the rights. Jaye has since passed so we’ve dedicated the play to her; she was such an amazing historian on the pulp genre

LC: I knew the “Beebo” books from my early days; they’re primo coming out books. I mean Beebo deserves the term “iconic.” She so epitomizes 1950s butch, she’s really a hero in a way, because it was not an easy time to be out in that strong a way.

KMR: It was like the original “L Word”

LC: At the time, lesbians were living underground, any kind of public expression was totally repressed. There were the bars but they were still very dangerous, you know this is pre-Stonewall. Busted on a regular basis. You could get arrested if you didn’t have at least three items of women’s clothing on.

KMR: But a lot of these bars were integrated with gay men. They would give a warning buzzer and the men and women would start dancing together. They had to form these alliances; some of them had “lavender marriages” like Jack and Laura’s in the play. We love that whole old Village scene. Lola Pashalinski [legendary Ridiculous Theatrical Company actor and Chapman’s partner] had taken us to Fedora’s that restaurant on 4th and 10th.

LC: The décor and even the menu are preserved from that era. It still has it, you’ll always find an older gay and lesbian crowd there, and it gives you a little flavor of what these places must have been like.

KMR: The bar in the play, The Cellar, is an important character itself. Just having these designers, and having them create this world, a friend said “I want to marry the play; I want to live in the world of the play.” You’re transported back into this era—it’s so much fun!!

LC: Greenwich Village today has become so boutique-y, I mean the buildings are preserved, but the aesthetic and the temper are so different. So to go back to what the Village was…I guess it’s kind of romantic. Putting it into an entertaining show like this, it’s a fun way of tricking people into learning their history. Lola says, because she grew up in this era, she used to say when I first met he “The old ways are the best.” There’s something exciting about that repression. The sexual encounters are so heightened.

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Inteview: Andrea Marcovicci

Marcovicci-Andrea-230From November 2007:

 “Andrea Marcovicci Sings Rodgers & Hart,” opening on Tuesday, November 13 at Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room, celebrates the music of one of the American Songbook’s most prolific and accomplished songwriting teams. Marcovicci will sing both the duos hits (“Manhattan,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Where or When,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” “This Can’t Be Love,” “It Never Entered My Mind”) and undiscovered gems. From the giddy excitement of Rodgers & Hart’s early collaborations to Hart’s heartbreaking untimely death, Andrea traces this singularly American story of a duo that gave us so many beloved songs.

Set along the sculpted lines of Richard Rodgers’ sumptuous melodies, a Lorenz Hart lyric is—according to Andrea—“an acting scene waiting to be brought to life. I was attracted to what Josh Logan”—the notoriously gay Broadway director—“called the ‘bitter beauty’ of Hart’s lyrics. No other lyricist brought so much of his own personal life—the elated highs and the manic-depressive lows—to his writing.”

Lorenz Hart, we now know, was a gay man who never quite came to terms with his sexuality. Does your show deal with that?

Absolutely. The show starts in a very light-hearted, congenial way. It’s  also in chronological order and begins in the early 1920s: all sorts of grand silliness and wonderful gaiety—no pun intended. As I tell the story of their work and delve deeper and deeper into Larry Hart’s personality, the story darkens and gets richer. I don’t bring the show back up to some kind of happy ending. I get more and more truthful as the show goes on, about Hart’s self-destructiveness and his very early and very untimely death.

Larry had, in his life, this Milton “Doc” Bender who provided him with men but also with excessive amounts of drugs and alcohol, which ended up being very destructive for him. I look at both sides of him: a gay man, but also a man who was drinking himself to death, destroying his life with destructive habits. You can’t say of Larry Hart “well if he could have come out he would have been happy.” He wasn’t just a closeted gay man; it’s far more complex than that.

How involved was Hart with the gay underworld of Manhattan of his day?

From my research, it seems that Larry Hart didn’t meet with much success in the gay world of his time. He went out with Doc Bender, he enjoyed being around all of the decadence that Bender could bring him. But when it came to his experience one-on-one with men, according to the only actual quote I could find from a man who spent the night with Larry Hart, Larry became frightened and spent most of the night crying. You would think that if Hart had made any kind of happy, successful connections in the gay world—as it’s clear Cole Porter did, for example—by now we’d have more quotes, more available details, more people who would have come out and said “yes, I was his lover.”

Instead, Doc Bender, who was very openly gay, took Larry on “tours” all over the place, took him away to Mexico. There will be things we’ll never know about what happened when they were out of the country. Larry was a severe alcoholic, and what happened on his long binges we’ll never know about. What we do know doesn’t paint a terribly happy picture, it’s clear that he was incapable of establishing an ongoing love relationship and that, very likely, is what destroyed him. If he could have loved and been loved in return, which he wanted so badly, he wouldn’t have died so young.

Did his declining health affect his lyric writing?

Larry Hart is the greatest writer of the unrequited love song. Unbelievably, even as his self-destructiveness plunged him into ever-deeper alcoholism, he was still able to sober up and write “By Jupiter” in 1942 and he wrote some of his finest lyrics at the very end of his life for a revival of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” In the show I really try to understand how the creative Larry stood right at the side of the tortured Larry. At the very end of my show I raise the question of whether he might indeed have loved Richard Rodgers—was that really his great unrequited love? Very possible.

I have to hand it to Richard Rodgers that he put up with unbearable behavior on Larry’s part, he was for 20 years able to cope with it. I talk about that moment when “Oklahoma,” Rodgers’s first collaboration with Oscar Hammerstein, opened while Hart was still alive. There are a lot of people now with so much time gone by, that think Larry Hart dies and then “Oklahoma” is written. That’s not true: He went to the opening night of “Oklahoma” and died six months later.

It’s a very touching show, very funny at times—there isn’t anybody any wittier than Larry Hart. He speaks to me on a level that is just so profound. I don’t think anybody else ever wrote so much from the heart, their own feelings. When you look at the heart of one of his lyrics, they’re every bit as human and moving as anything Hammerstein wrote, just framed in a more sophisticated “New York” way. He’s always been my favorite lyricist: I‘ve wanted to do a show about him ever since I started doing cabaret in the 1980s. I’m so excited!

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