It was a Monday like any other in Gotham, with one small difference: LIZA WAS STALKING ME!
First, at the 23rd Easter Bonnet Competition for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids (which raised $3,407,858), Seth Rudetsky and Julia Murney were bemoaning the lack of really big stars present before parting like the Red Sea to reveal Ms. Minnelli, resplendent in black Halston sequins and pencil slim slacks showing off the bird legs she famously inherited from Mama, Judy Garland. She launched into what she referred to as “the hardest part” of “New York, New York” to a thunderous ovation. (Does she ever get any other kind?)
Then, a mere few hours later, after I dashed from the Easter Bonnets at the Minskoff for the NY Pops 26th Birthday Gala at Carnegie Hall, who should be dogging my tracks again but Liza, who popped up on stage for her “best friend,” Michael Feinstein, who, with his club, Feinstein’s at the Regency, was being honored. She read a heartfelt speech in which she described meeting Feinstein at the suggestion of her godfather, Ira Gershwin, for whom he was then working as assistant, and was astounded at his encyclopedic knowledge of the Great American Songbook.
Feinstein then introduced a raft of stars who’ve all performed at his club. Barbara Cook sang a plangent rendition of Sondheim’s “No One is Alone,” proving yet again that, at 81, her voice remains one of the world’s inexhaustible, evergreen wonders. Ashford and Simpson rocked the hall with their “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and Brian Stokes Mitchell performed a powerful, unamplified “This Nearly Was Mine,” from SOUTH PACIFIC, which he performed in concert a few years ago at Carnegie with Reba McIntire. He sounded terrific, but I wish he’d done either “Bali Hai” or “Some Enchanted Evening,” instead, and really made magic. Am I alone in my disdain for this Rodgers and Hammerstein dirge, which combines their least attractive attributes of ponderousness, repetition and lyric banality, like “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”? (Maureen McGovern is another singer who’s just crazy about the song and will sing it at the drop of a hat, despite the fact that it was written for a man, one of the few male torch songs.)
Somehow, it’s all about Cheyenne, and not just for the obvious…
It was Cheyenne Jackson who really stole the show, in one of the most electrifying Carnegie debuts in the history of the hall, with a soulfully impassioned “Feeling Good” that showed off every one of his myriad vocal colors, from heroically blazing belt to melting falsetto. His interpretation was wholly inspired, and the Pops orchestra never sounded better or more powerfully spirited under the baton of their charming new music director, Steven Reineke.
What a year Jackson has had, from XANADU to Encores! productions of DAMN YANKEES and FINIAN’S RAINBOW, his sold-out cabaret appearances at Feinstein’s, and now this. Feinstein promised he’d be back, in fact, in June, in a show which will feature both of them.
“How DARE you? WHO do you think you are?”
Back to the Easter Bonnets: the humor was low-down and dirtier than ever, with certain leitmotifs, like no less than three Liza impersonators (more stalking!), Arthur Laurents’ insistence on Spanish being used in WEST SIDE STORY, and the current punchline du jour, which is Patti Lupone’s outraged reaction at a fan’s snapping photos during GYPSY: “How dare you? Who do you think you are?”
Lockstock and Little Sally (Photo by Michael Portantiere)
Audience favorites, URINETOWN’s Officer Lockstock (Don Richard) and Little Sally (Jen Cody), were actually a bit more subdued in a year which, with so many flops, would have seemed ripe for reading to filth. But they definitely got their digs in.
“This is our eighth Easter Bonnets appearance!” “Yeah, that’s one performance more than all the ones Amy Spanger’s missed in ROCK OF AGES.”
“How about Malcom Gets’ show [THE STORY OF MY LIFE]?” The 24 Hour Musical?”
Re Kristin Chenoweth’s memoir “A Little Bit Wicked,” in which she says she couldn’ love her dog more than if it had come out of her own vagina: “That’s why she called it ‘Summer’s Eve,” and “She should should ask God, ‘Why does my self-tanner make me look like an Oompa-Loompa?'”
“And, Little Sally, what have you learned from Patti LuPone [not present at the benefit]. “That fund-raising is someone’s else’s job?”
The funniest skit was the CHICAGO company’s “Chopping Block Tango,” which focused on the unfortunate six shows which were shuttered in last January’s Broadway bloodbath: “We saw it coming, we saw it coming!” HAIRSPRAY’s crew cited their show’s once relevant theme of racial equality and the beauty of full-figured femmes now vanquished by “a brother in the White House and a fat girl as Secretary of State. I guess thay can stop the beat!” An arrogantly jejune cast member of SPRING AWAKENING bemoaned having to leave “the Tatum O’Neal Theater.” SPAMALOT’s people sang, “You bring in Clay Aiken (or Drew Lachey) one more time…!”
The eternally jaw-dropping Doris Eaton, the true Easter Bonnet muse, was featured in BILLY ELLIOT’s presentation. At 105, this former Ziegfeld Follies girl sang and led the chorus in “Ballin’ the Jack,” with a verve and spice miraculous to witness. She recalled being Ann Pennington’s understudy. Pennington introduced the dance “The Black Bottom” f’chrissakes, and Eaton’s sister, Mary, starred in the Marx Brothers’ first movie THE COCONUTS in 19-freakin’-29! The woman makes Elaine Stritch look like a presumptuous ingenue.
Ann Pennington dancing “The Black Bottom”
33 VARIATIONS was the predictable winner of the competition. It started with its cast muttering about their difficult star, “Monster-in-Law” aka Jane Fonda, who refused to learn their real names, referring to them all by their stage characters’ monickers: “She’s touchier than LuPone and meaner than Stritch.”
And then Fonda, swept on, swathed in sable, to call for a special aerobics rehearsal, whereupon she flung the fur off to display a still pretty spectacular spandex-clad body at 71. (She may well have possessed the most gorgeous figure in movie history). I mean, what could possibly compete with that?