Category Archives: theater

A Night at the Theatuh


Jon over at Give ‘em the Old Razzle Dazzle recently posted about the charming Yvonne De Carlo on her Sept. 1 birthday which  brought to mind the  magical evening some friends and I saw her in a bizarre live show in New Orleans in 1986 or ’87.

My friend Abby was house manager of the theater and had called to beg me to scrape up as many of my friends to come for free to the show because ticket sales had been so anemic she needed to paper the house.  A bunch of us agreed, which may have been a mixed blessing for Abby since we wound up laughing so hard we had the audience around us, composed almost entirely of Old Dears, glaring at us viciously.

I think the show was called something like “Legends of the Silver Screen,” but it lives on in memory as “Has Beens on Parade.”   I guess it might charitably called a “cabaret act.”  Besides Yvonne, it also trotted out Howard Keel, Katherine Grayson, Jane Russell, Mamie Van Doren (!) and Dorothy Lamour.

Each one would creak out on stage, fumble through a couple of songs and what they must have thought was patter and then shuffle off.  The whole evening carried with it a thrilling frisson that any one of them might actually die right there before us, onstage.  Surely that’s how troopers like this would want to go.

Mamie van Doren was tarted out (and I mean that in the most literal sense of the term) in a gown that looked a lot like it had been run up from a shower curtain.  As the designated chicken of the group, she flashed most of her still substantial cleavage in a manner that was awe inspiring.  Possibly a little scary, too.

Howard Keel came out with an oxygen tank and thanked Jesus for something or the other.  It wasn’t clear exactly what.

Howard was followed up by his old co-star Katherine Grayson who reminisced about her role in Show Boat (in her review of it, Pauline Kael referred to Ms Grayson as “the singing valentine”, a reference to the saccharine soprano she typically belted out.)  We all settled in expecting her to take a crack at “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” or maybe even “After the Ball ” (man, would that have been appropriate.)  Instead she launched into an astonishing cover of “Ole Man River.”  Apparently, her range had dropped into something approaching basso and she wasn’t about to raise her sights any higher.

We ran into Abby at the  intermission which everyone (including, apparently, the cast) spent getting as loaded as possible.  She apologized for getting us into what was rapidly turning into a theatrical disaster. We laughed, made some jokes about Madame Tussard and got more glares from the people around us.

Then we were back for Jane Russell.  All I recall about her was that she had some trouble with her props when she tried “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” (the nerve!) and that she looked a lot like a mean lesbian gym teacher.

Yvonne was up next and really was the most successful of the whole lot, mostly because she didn’t seem to be taking any of it too seriously.  She sang “Before the Parade Passes Me By” and got so tangled up in the last chorus, she finished a bar behind the band.  She just laughed and said “I guess that’s a parade that passed me by!”  Yukyukyuk.  What a gal.

Dorothy Lamour, who was born in New Orleans, was last and came out to a very warm hand.  There were people in the audience who obviously knew her from their long gone youth and she worked it, recalling watching vaudeville in the theater we were in.  By that point in the evening, she could have pulled out a reminiscence about seeing John Wilkes Boothe there and I doubt anyone would have batted an eye.   She sang something or the other, but so many people in the audience had fallen asleep, she could have gotten away with shadow puppets.

There was something like a curtain call when they all came back out.  I have never seen a cast taking their bows with so many of the audience determinedly making their way up the aisles.  My friends and I were probably some of the only faces they could have seen, and we were still laughing.

So hahahaha, and now I am slightly mortified to realize that even though they seemed so terribly ancient, I am now closer in age to these dinosaurs than the stoned and giggling smartypants I was then.   Wait, is that a parade I see passing by?
To put this in pespective, a similar show today might very well be composed of Neil Young, Micky Dolenz, Bette Midler, Henry Winkler, and Adrienne Barbeau.  Singing “Ole Man River.”  Actually, I would line up for that show. 

The Refined Life. Sort Of


Darlings, we’re off to the theatuh on Friday evening to see what Miss Sandra Bernhard has to say about things. Current things. We saw her here several years ago and were delighted with her efforts, so I’m looking forward to the show. It takes a lot to get me out of the house of an evening these days. I probably wouldn’t even go this time if I didn’t remember a sketch I saw her do back in the dark ages imitating Christine McVie living life as a restaurant hostess after she had received an eye injury from the flying fringe of Stevie Nicks’ shawl. Pretty funny stuff.
Also, just now in our terribly quiet little neighborhood, I heard a racket out front and when I went to look (I had to, it was upsetting Saki and he demanded a report) it was not the skunks or coyotes I expected, but an actual fight. Fisticuffs. A brouhaha. Just as I was fixing to yell “I’m calling the cops” (which is a phrase I used with fair regularity when I lived in the French Quarter but haven’t since we escaped to San Francisco) someone beat me to it. Damn. I hate when that happens.
Once we were standing on our Chartres Street balcony in the French Quarter with friends chatting and getting loaded when we saw a couple ambling up across the street. The gentleman kept repeating “Oh, bayby, bayby, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” The Lady, without breaking stride, turned, punched him in the jaw and dropped him, as they say, lack a bag of dirt and kept walking. He got up, still apologizing and caught up with her by now in mid-block at which time she punched him again. He managed to keep his feet, barely, and proved himself unable to learn his lesson because when he pulled up next to her she popped his sorry ass yet again and knocked him down, yet again. They then passed out of our sight and lives, but they remain a symbol of love to me. Oh, l’amour.
You know what else is a symbol of love? This.

An Afternoon at the Opera

Super Agent Fred and I went Sunday afternoon to Philip Glass’s opera Orphee. It seemed like a good idea at the time; I love Philip Glass’s weird little neener-neener-neener music and the opera was based on Jean Cocteau’s film, of which I am one big gay fan.

We settled in and I was trying to listen to the Glassian melodic noodling, but there was this ongoing, annoying noise interrrupting my concentration. I finally realized it was the singing. The whole thing was a “word for word re-enactment of the movie.” Again, probably a good seeming idea, but it meant all the singing was actually recitative, which I hate because I’m shallow, and no arias, which are the parts I love because I was raised on operas performed in Bugs Bunny cartoons.
The best line: “My life stinks of success and death,” sung by Orphee and which wins the award for the most French sounding declaration in history. Speaking of Orphee, one of the show’s insurmountable problems was that Jean Marais (one of the most beautiful men in history) played him in the movie and those are some pretty big cheekbones to fill. Compare and contrast:

Jean Marais

Eugene Brancoveneau, the Orphee in Sunday’s opera.
I think he looks like a shoe salesman. Jean Marais would never sell you shoes. You should be so lucky.
Also, here’s a picture I stumbled on of Brancoveneau getting up to something or the other at Spoleto:

Oh dear.
The set looked like it was borrowed from a middle level community college production of Death of Salesman. Eurydice had a snappy little New Look shirtwaist dress that was very pretty, but Death was tarted up in a corset and a full skirt, neither of which fit or did her any favors.
So intermission rolled around and we sort of left. “Fled” would probably be a better description of us scurrying out, looking for cupcakes, which we never did find. Rats.

mrpeenee’s Big Night

It is no secret mrpeenee and R Man lead a very, VERY quiet life. Almost every evening you can find fireside reading while Renaissance music fills the background. And yet, Saturday night we were out experiencing the mad gayness of San Francisco nightlife, Yes, it’s true, there we were in a little boite callled the Rrazz Room (ridiculous spelling their own idea) watching local drag phenom Justin Bond (Kiki of Kiki and Herb) in his new show, Queens of AM Radio.

Having been though the evolution of FM radio in the late 60s, I assumed this would be a tribute to girl groups like the Shirelles and Dixie Cups as well as, surely, Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick. Which was fine with me.
Instead it turned out to be a trip down a much more recent memory lane, specifically, according to Bond, “1972, poolside, in Los Angeles.” Darlings, I was there, 17 years old in 1972 (go ahead and do the math, I’ll wait for you) and believe me, that intro sent shudders down my delicate spine. Warranted, too, as it turned out.
It was a very amusing show, but still, an evening that includes Afternoon Delight, Midnight Blue, and Midnight at the Oasis cannot be considered an unmixed blessing. High points were Linda Ronstat’s Different Drum and the Carpenters Superstar mashed up with Joan Baez’s Diamonds and Rust. Pretty great, but still, Afternoon Fucking Delight?
Plus, as I mentioned, I was there, and I remember by 1972, AM radio was the province of your grandmother and old cars. Even Melissa Manchester’s Midnight Blue (you were wondering where that came from, weren’t you?) was on FM radio. Crappy FM radio stations.
The best thing about the show was the very casual air of it all, Bond had his IMac on a stand in front of him to read the lyrics and at one point in the big finale of one of the numbers, stopped and announced, “I don’t even know what key we’re in.” I didn’t either, sweetie, but you know what? It didn’t matter, a good time was had by all.

Full of Gin and Will & Grace


While R man was off being all lawerly in DC, I spent an amusing evening at the theater, enjoying Leslie Jordan’s show “Full of Gin and Regret.” Jordan played Beverly Leslie on Will and Grace, the guest star whom Karen would regularly dismiss as “that Keebler elf queen…”

The show was a raconteur’s tour de force. Jordan came out, launched into a string of memoirs (up to and including briefly sharing a jail cell with Robert Downey Jr.,) frequently interrupted himself to wander off track, and did it all in a thick Southern accent. It was, in short, very much like spending the evening in a bar in New Orleans, albeit a very nice one, and with a very funny Big Mess.

There is a common element in Southern life of telling long, involved stories, and doing so in as self-deprecatory and funny way as possible. I’ve got it, all my friends have it, Jason over at Night is Half Gone has it in spades, and so does Leslie Jordan.

Of course it’s important to tell these rambling vignettes in as thick a Southern accent as you can muster. It’s just funnier that way. Leslie Jordan hit the stage sounding like Aunt Pitty Pat from Gone with the Wind and never wavered. Naturally, my own accent, long moribund, rebounded. I cain’t hep it, as soon as I hear those twanging vowels, my own match them drawl for drawl. All I have to do is step off the plane in the Houston airport and suddenly I’m the lead in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Also, because I am Not a Nice Person, I took some pleasure when Miss Jordan (repeatedly) assured the audience he was 54 years old, exactly the same age as me, but looked easily like he had 15 years on me. Just shows you, that fast, glam life is rough.

Another Openin’, Another Show


Years ago, I wrote the divine Diane von Austinberg the following little note because she sidelines in the theater in Austin as a costume designer and had mentioned she had a ready stock of non-committal platitudes for occasions like the one I describe here.

“I let John talk me into a play last week. I have no idea why. He claimed it was “Something About Yes” which sounds like a sweet little valentine of a play. It turns out he just meant he couldn’t remember the actual name, but knew it had the word “Yes” in it. In this universe the real name was “The House of Yes” which had been a movie with Parker Posie and Freddie Prinze, Jr. We spent the evening trying to decide if actors who rose to the level of competent could have saved it, but it seems unlikely. It was just a bomb waiting for a fuse. The plot line included incest and Jackie Kennedy’s Channel suit. You do the math.

We were there because John’s acquainted with the Stage Manager. Naturally, at intermission we had to make small talk with him and I was desperately trying to come up with some of the innocuous remarks you had given me as appropriate for when talking to theater people who are riding a dog. Of course, I couldn’t think of any of them except for the definitively feeble “everyone’s remembered their lines” I said it with real conviction, but somehow it was still so very lame.”

Herewith, Aunt Diane’s list of things to say when speaking to folks from the theatre:

Cheat sheet (note that “performance” and “show” can often be substituted for each other, which specific term is used to better effect depends on whether one is talking to an actor or director):

1. That was SOME performance.

2. You’ll be remembered for this for a long time.

3. What a show!

4. How DID you come up with that interpretation?

5. I’ve never seen anything like it!

6. I’m stunned!

7. You must be getting a lot of attention for this!

8. The critics didn’t do the show justice.

9. What a night!

10. That was really something!

Note the importance of exclamation marks. Tone of voice is everything; your words may be subject to interpretation but the enthusiasm in your voice leaves ’em thinking you loved it. My friend Kathy’s personal favorite is “Oh, you!!!” accompanied by a mild chuck on the upper arm and downcast eyes that indicate she’d never in her life be able to match that performance.

Thank you Diane.

Sparkle Thombeau, Sparkle


Darlings, even here, in our quiet little burg by the sea, we have culture.  And I don’t mean the kind the nurse down at the clinic takes before you have to call all your recent “dates.”  No, no, I mean EVENTS that add a little glamour even to my own fabulous existence.

For instance:

6 PM – Meet & Greet Reception with Patty Duke

8 PM – Gala Main Event

Marc Huestis presents SPARKLE, PATTY, SPARKLE!

 A Gala Tribute to Academy Award® Winner Patty Duke Live In Person! 
Interviewed by Bruce Vilanch with Screening of the classic VALLEY OF THE DOLLS & Performances by Connie Champagne & Matthew Martin 

 Benefiting New Leaf Services, NAMI Walk/S.F. Bay Area, Mental Health Association of S.F.

 It’ll be Patty Duke’s time to shine as Marc Huestis presents SPARKLE, PATTY, SPARKLE! a gala tribute to Academy Award® Winning star Patty Duke. The screen legend will take center stage for a stellar live in-person interview with comic extraordinaire Bruce Vilanch. They’ll discuss her amazing career including winning the Oscar for her remarkable portrayal of Helen Keller in the 1962 classic THE MIRACLE WORKER; playing the iconic Neely O’Hara in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS; writing 2 best selling books (Call Me Anna and A Brilliant Madness: Living With Manic Depression Illness); and her recent stage triumph as Madame Morrible in the smash hit S.F. production of WICKED (now running in an open ended engagement at the Orpheum Theatre.) 

They’ll be fun a-plenty with an only in San Francisco screening of the classic VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, fabu career clip reels including rare chestnuts from THE PATTY DUKE SHOW, and sizzling send up performances by Connie Champagne as Neely O’Hara & Matthew Martin as Helen Lawson. It’ll be a night to remember at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre!

Can you believe it?  Miss Duke her very self taking the stage.  I mention this in particular because Thombeau, the old darling from Fabulon, and I occasionally address each other as Helen and Neely as a nod to our great love for Valley of the Dolls.  And now, Thombeau has announced a brief break from Fabulon.  I initially didn’t think much about it, just nodding when he muttered something about a gig, all the while thinking to myself “Rehab AGAIN?  Didn’t she just get back?  Must have some goddam frequent flyer thing going at Promises.”  But now I see the truth, the timing is just too coincidental.  Don’t you get it?  Connect the dots, sweetie.  “Thombeau” really is Patty Duke.

 This explains so much.  Maybe too much.

Nothing Like a Dame


We hit the bright lights of theatrical San Francisco last night with our friends John and Dan by going to the see Dame Edna Live and Intimate In Her First Last Tour. We’d seen the old girl’s last two shows when she blew through town; both were plenty, plenty funny, but the second one had seemed like enough of a retread (the word “stale” hung in the air) that we hadn’t planned to go to this one, but John popped up with tickets and suddenly we were off for a night of audience bashing and the astonishingly klutzy hoofing she specializes in.

It’s true there’s an air of familiarity to these shows (perhaps “fond memories” would be a more accurate, or charitable, description,) but I also laughed until my face hurt, so I’m not complaining.

A huge part of the show are the gladiolas she tosses into the crowd throughout the show, and especially at the end. We were about eight rows back, safe from the interaction with audience that’s such an amusing part of the act, so I never expected to snag a gladdie, much less have it literally fall into my lap, but it did. The queen in front of me started to turn around as if she was going to snatch it up, but I hissed at her and she settled right down.


Here Come the Planes


In 1982 (I know, I know, some of you weren’t even born then; others were simply not paying attention. Spare me) according to our good friends at Wikipedia the Grammy nominations for best song were:

Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) performed by Christopher Cross, (Just Like) Starting Over performed by John Lennon, Endless Love performed by Lionel Richie, Just the Two of Us performed by Bill Withers & Grover Washington, Jr.

Bette Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes won. Maybe not paying attention wasn’t such a bad idea.

However, also in 1982, I went to a show of a performer I’d never heard of and was absolutely dazzled. Laurie Anderson and her United States tour was the smartest, wittiest, most fascinating thing I’d ever seen. Flawless. It more than just the music, which was weird and intriguing, it was the way the sounds and the visuals of the show (I think this was the one where she held a light bulb in her mouth) worked together. Listening to the album now, I can still remember how images on the screen behind her or even just phrases projected there would change the meaning of the song or make it funny or involve the audience in on the joke.

There aren’t many things I look back on as being in the right place at the exactly right time, but that show in New Orleans when I was young and interested in being wowed was one of them.

And long cars in long lines and great big signs and they all say: Hallelujah. Yodellayheehoo. Every man for himself. Ooo coo coo.

Tuna time


OK, so I said I wasn’t going to write griping, snarky posts ever again, that this would be a blog devoted to magic flying ponies and pretty colors, but I lied. Sue me bitch.

The project I mentioned being so behind on was simply updating a quarterly calendar of the training events I oversee. (As a side note, let me just say that I have finished it. I know you all were just sick with worry over it.) One of the hold ups was a woman, whom I’m actually quite fond of, normally, and who shall remain nameless (Janet). Yesterday afternoon she sent me a testy email bitching about my not being clear about the calendar’s deadlines. A quarterly calendar. Let’s see, old thing, we’ve been working together on this for three years and this is the twelfth time you’ve been late. Hmm. Maybe the deadline is THREE FUCKING MONTHS AFTER THE LAST FUCKING ONE. Anyway. Back to the magic flying ponies.

Or a much happier note, I read this afternoon the theatrical geniuses who brought us Tuna, Texas are back at it. Here’s the scoop on Tuna swiped with love from Wikipedia: “

Greater Tuna is the first in a trilogy of comedic plays (followed by A Tuna Christmas and Red, White and Tuna), each set in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas, the “third-smallest” town in the state. The trilogy was written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard. The plays are at once an affectionate comment on small-town, Southern life and attitudes but also a withering satire of same. Of the three plays, Greater Tuna is the darkest in tone.
The plays are notable in that two men play the entire cast of over twenty eccentric characters of both genders and various ages. Greater Tuna debuted in Austin, Texas in Fall 1981….”

The local gay rag reports the boys have broken down and are preparing to debut a new Tuna offering, which I suppose will make the series the only four part trilogy on record. Tuna Does Vegas. I’m all a twitter. Go here for the story

I love all the Tunas. The writers specialize in the cheesy laughs I’m so fond of. Even those of you fortunate enough not to have a small Texas town in your background must find the image of an elderly woman running over her husband’s prized dog so that he won’t realize she has poisoned it pretty darn amusing. Or not. Depends. Anyway, I’m looking forward to the gala premier like Mr. First Nighter. I’ll be reporting back on it.