Archive for the 'Women of Genius and Talent' Category


A Family Weigh

The 1976 film Network may most commonly bring to mind overwhelmed, despairing Howard Beale bellowing “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!” His performance is genius, and his newsroom messiah complex may seem to presage this generation’s personality-driven Fox News and CNBC, but something else stood out to me when I watched the movie for the first time not long ago. A much smaller moment. And it had nothing to with Howard Beale, at least not directly.
Continue reading ‘A Family Weigh’


You Better Work

Start with a strong-woman ensemble piece like the 1980 film 9 to 5. Add music written by gay-fave country diva Dolly Parton. Throw in an orchestra, some sequins and a bit of razzle-dazzle, and you should have a recipe for a little slice of gay heaven.

9 to 5: The Musical,” which opened at New York’s Marriott Marquis Theater last night, comes pretty close.



Les Liaisons Timides

Laura Linney, brilliant in nearly everything I’ve seen her do, is the entire reason I bought tickets to see the Roundabout Theater’s production of Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangeureses. So it’s a good thing that Ben Daniels and not she was replaced by the understudy in the performance I saw.

    Laura Linney and Ben Daniels
Laura Linney and Ben Daniels don’t open their mouths without first calculating what damage they can do in this revival production of Les Liaisons Dangeureuses.

She was calculating and precise, demanding, even cold at times, but not strong-sounding enough. Her voice faltered in a few lines, which in other characters and at other times she has used to great effect, but in Merteuil, it just seemed weak.

The Valmont understudy did fine, but only fine. He seemed more of a smirking, cocky American boy than the “conspicuously charming” and ultimately dangerous European I am sure Tony-nominated Ben Daniels carried off a bit better. For Valmont to be effective, he needs to seduce not only his female prey but also the audience. He needn’t have been better-looking, necessarily — just more … irresistible.

Linney seemed to be alone out there, even with the other actors on stage. This isolation is clearly part of Merteuil’s character, as she even explains in great detail in a late scene. It felt like the was against a blank canvas at times, with little to react to, except when paired with the clownish Madame de Volanges or the mousy Cécile. I’d like to think there was better chemistry with her intended leading man.

The swordplay toward end between Valmont and Danceny was a letdown, too. Notably, these were the only two actors to appear on stage on separate occasions fully nude. (Damn my obstructed-view box seats!) So, naturally, their pairing for a sword fight was perfect! Unfortunately, their thrusts and parries seemed flaccid and uninspired. Seems to me the passions that would stir two men to draw their weapons in mortal combat should result in something looking more hot-blooded, less practiced — less poorly practiced. By contrast, they seemed sloppy, like two actors missing their marks.

The costumes were gorgeous, inspirational. And the Tony-nominated sets were lush and evocative. A series of curtains and drapery sculptures shifted from scene to scene, unfurling and tightening to match the action on the stage. By the final scene, just before Merteuil reaches her downfall, they had resolved themselves into something resembling a spider web. I feel safe saying this now, as the run is nearly at an end. However, I wish the “theater talk” dramaturge guy before the show had held his tongue and not given away this little confection of scene craft. It would have been far more effective to see it first for myself.

I so love the story, the dialogue, the humor, the moral philosophizing, and of course the Glenn Close/John Malkovich movie, that I am willing to let my petty complaints go. I won’t compare the play to the wholly excellent (with the exception of Keanu Reeves) film. It seems unfair somehow. Every actor has a different interpretation; there are some things Linney did that I actually like better than in the Close performance. I only am grateful that I have her and Malkovich, and Uma Thurman and Swoosie Kurtz and Michelle Pfeiffer at home to refer to again and again as the defining example of bad behavior and truly dangerous liaisons.


Song Poison: Pee-Wee’s Playhouse


Wonder Woman, Diva


If I had ever entertained any hopes of passing for straight, I dropped them like shorts at a circle jerk when I gasped at my first sight of a poster advertising an intimate evening with Lynda Carter. She was on tour and was to make her New York cabaret debut at Feinstein’s at the Regency, performing jazz standards with a six-piece band.

Thanks to Lifetime Intimate Portraits: Lynda Carter, one of my dearest possessions on VHS, I know that she first tried to make it big as a singer way before Wonder Woman and before becoming a beauty queen.

I had no idea she was still at it. Something like this could be amazing — or completely awful — but either way, what self-respecting homosexual could pass it up?

Don’t believe me that she can sing? Check her out on The Muppet Show:

(For more YouTube fun, check out those Maybelline Moisture Whip Lipstick commercials. Who could forget those? Honestly, love her as I do, I don’t know how people can do these things … or say the word “moist” so much without cracking a smile.)

The erstwhile Wonder Woman still looks heroic at 56, thank Hera. And she’s still got the pipes. Her October show was lovingly previewed and
favorably reviewed in the New York Times.

Intrigued as I was, I had to put all hopes of seeing Ms. Carter’s show out of my mind, because that same night, November 3, Jeff and I had a hot date with Annie Lennox, who was staging one of her achingly infrequent Stateside performances.

I don’t know who went to see Lynda Carter, because all the gays in three states seemed to be at the United Palace up on 175th Street that night. Throughout the long A train ride up to Washington Heights, we revealed ourselves as the passengers thinned out. When the doors opened at 175th, I had no worries about finding the place with such a large, lemming-like exodus of gay couples to follow. (I found it sadly telling that, after the show, the subway stop was so crowded again that we were at a virtual stand-still until someone opened the emergency gate to allow the flood through — in such a rush we were to high-tail it out of the neighborhood, apparently.)

Annie Lennox as Wonder Woman    
The invisible jet must be in the shop.

Interestingly, Ms. Lennox appears in her music video, Dark Road, dressed as a sort of homemade Wonder Woman sitting as a bus stop. For her Nov. 3 appearance, a tastefully be-glittered black sleeveless camisole and a rather conservative pair of flared black slacks was all the costume she needed to showcase <a href=",0,5100553.story
” target=”_blank”>her super powers. Her richly layered voice was color enough.

Given the chance to speak to her in person, I would thank her for not subjugating her show to a lecture. I have no problem with famous people using their celebrity and influence to do good in the world. What I take issue with is the often sanctimonious way they go about doing it. Her pet project, Sing, whose goal is generally to bring attention to the African HIV/AIDS pandemic and specifically to help implement the Mother to Child Transmission Prevention Program in maternity hospitals throughout South Africa, should be supported. And after the recent release of an album called Songs of Mass Destruction, clearly infused with feelings of despair and frustration in the wake of a globally unpopular war, it is reassuring that her intention with this tour was to project hope and joy. She had the good sense to remember that both she and her audience were at a rock concert, not a lecture hall, and everyone was there to have a good time.

Lennox rightly observed during her mercifully brief PSA that it is a privilege to be able to use her art to draw a spotlight to a worthy cause. During an extended round of applause, she stopped us. “No, please don’t,” she said. “It’s nothing. I’m going to shut up and sing now.”


You Must Not Know ‘Bout Bea

CNN gleefully covered an onstage spill from Beyoncé recently. It reminds me of the time I saw Bea Arthur fall off a stage in Minneapolis.

She was barefoot and resplendent in a flowing white kaftan. Or something. During a story about a fistfight with Elaine Stritch or something, she moved slowly backward into a poorly lit part of the stage. And then, in an instant: a wisp of white taffeta, like smoke, and she had vanished.

A gay guy in the front row gasped. A small child began to cry somewhere. And then, from the darkness, Ms. Arthur’s voice rang out like a call from God:

“Ladies and gentlemen. I am all right.”

Exuberant applause erupted from the assembled masses, and she took to the stage once again, without so much as a limp. It was inspirational.


Diamonds are Indeed Forever

Rivaled only, perhaps, by Alanis Morissette’s cover of Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps” is this startling yet gorgeous rendition of Pink’s “Get This Party Started” by the legendary Shirley Bassey. A friend of mine directed me to this video confection at Joe. My. God.
Girlfriend sure looks good enough to eat! I wasn’t sure it was even her at first. Immediately, her take on this song seems utterly wrong to me, but seconds later, she wins me over.

I was a great fan of her Propellerheads collaboration “History Repeating” until Graham Norton killed it by making it his theme song. It’s great to see that this woman is still having fun. Catch the laugh on her face when she sings “I’ll be burning rubber/You’ll be kissing my ass”!


Madonna Gets It Right

Madonna is not much use to us as an actress in feature-length films, with some exceptions, but in short films, like this H&M commercial, she really shines as a comic performer. I don’t watch enough TV to see commercials, so I completely missed this one.


Put ‘Em on Me

Empty and untouched
[fantasy arts resource project]

When I had a chance to touch Cyndi Lauper recently, I turned it down.

When she walked out onto the peninsula of stage projecting out into the masses assembled on the floor of the club, she reached down to the frantic hands grasping at her knees. She briefly clasped fingers, slapped palm to palm, butted fist to fist.

My friend pulled me closer and shouted into my ear. “Do you want to go up there and touch her hand? I’ll go up there with you.”

I hemmed and hawed and eventually decided no. No, I won’t.

“OK,” she said, “but if you change your mind, let me know. I’ll go up there with you.”

I wanted to go up there. No I didn’t. Yes I did. I looked at the bouncing crowd at her feet. It was packed. I’d have to be pretty aggressive to get up there. Rude, even. But I might never be so close again. And why shouldn’t they share her with me? Oh, why didn’t I start out closer to the stage before the show started, when there was plenty of room to stake out a spot?

    Cyndi Lauper
I couldn’t get a good snapshot, but memories “R” Good Enough.

Lauper retreated, and the hands came down. My moment, my chance, had passed. Much more importantly, I could stop fussing and wimbling and concentrate on the show.

I looked over at my friend. What have I done? (What have I not done?) She sort of shrugged, as if to say, Well, that’s that. I asked you.

Cyndi Lauper was performing with Soul Asylum, Lifehouse and Mint Condition in a benefit concert for Wain McFarlane, a friend of mine. He needs a new kidney, and with the inadequate health insurance of a man who makes a living as a musician, Wain can’t afford the procedure and, more importantly, the anti-rejection drugs he’ll have to take the rest of his life. Thankfully, his brother is donating the organ, and it’s a good match. Things could be worse. But he’s still got to pay for it.

All the performers have a professional and personal connection to Wain, and agreed early on to do the show. Jeff and I flew back to Minneapolis for the show to support our friend — and, I’m not ashamed to say, to see Cyndi Lauper.

Before long, she was back on the peninsula, and my friend was elbowing me in the ribs.

I was reminded of a guy I met online whose cowboy hat Madonna took off his head at a concert last year. She wore it through a song and threw it back out into the crowd. He was apoplectic with joy. (His friends strongarmed the poor person who caught the hat into returning it.) Oh, why can’t I be like that guy?

As it was, I was embarrassed even to be standing there with my cellphone pointed upward trying to snap a few photo. My real camera had been barred at the door, but it didn’t stop us from flipping open our phones, the constellation of those tiny video displays glowing blue and shifting shape for the hour-long set.

It felt so lame and ineffectual. Every time Lauper looked in my direction, possibly even making eye contact a couple of times (which was thrill enough for me), I could feel her disappointment. You’re missing the point, idiot. This is music. This is a party. You’re trying so hard to capture the moment that you’re missing it.

She had enough to contend with, including a band that seemed unable or unwilling to keep up with her and some sound techs who just couldn’t seem to get it right. The diva — cold, raised voice, and forceful gestures (Move. There. Now.) — came out a couple of times. She is the boss and in total control. But she is not without flaws herself. When she dusted off “When You Were Mine,” an apparent gesture to local-boy-made-good Prince, she had forgotten many of the lyrics and couldn’t seem to read them very well from the back of a flyer where they had been scribbled. Eventually, she dropped the paper and rocked the chorus out instead.

None of the images I took turned out, by the way.

I had a friend in college who was a Tori Amos groupie and had a picture of herself with Amos from every concert she had attended. The dedication of waiting at the stage doors after each show, the consistency and Amos’ eventual recognition of her, was impressive to me. I was jealous, but also alarmed. It seemed obsessive. Why the need to do it more than once?

A group of three women pushed past me toward the stage, annoying the enormous man standing next to me. The one in front would gently displace someone and then her friends would rush through. It was a nuisance. There was no room for them. I hated them. I wanted to be them. No, I didn’t.

I don’t think less of people for wanting to make that contact. They were fulfilling a “need” that Lauper was willing to accommodate. Unlike my friend with the Tori Amos fetish, I suppose I just didn’t feel that need strongly enough to act on it. Unlike these women, I didn’t want to interfere with other people’s experience for an ultimately empty gesture.

It struck me that this may not have been about me. By refusing to push forward, I was keeping my friend from getting closer, too. All the emotion around my devision was instantly transferred to guilt. I should do it for her, not me. Though I guess her boyfriend could have taken her up there if she really wanted to go.

It’s enough for me to consider that I am only a degree away from Cyndi Lauper. I felt like an insider just being there. I had the hubris to think that maybe Wain would introduce us after the show. It would be just weird to touch her hand like everyone else. She talked about her upcoming True Colors Tour (which won’t stop in Minneapolis), days before the official announcement. But even that is meaningless. I don’t know her. I have nothing to say except as a one of millions of distant fans.

Cyndi Lauper is a formidably talented musician, not a faith healer. I would love to meet her and tell her I admire her and thank her for helping me friend. But I don’t want to reduce her to a fetish. What would I get out of touching her hand? The transferance of greatness? A palm full of sweat? Maybe the human touch would be just enough to assure them that she is as real as they are. Or that they are as real as she is.

Dammit, I should have just gone up there and done it.


Kidney Tones (with apologies to Jeff)

From the cover art of Wain’s 2001 release That Was Then, This is Now

These days, my good friend Wain sticks mainly to cranberry juice. He jokes now about his bar tab. Not long ago, he’d drop a twenty at the most on a night out, because so many people would buy him drinks and the bartenders would do him favors. But no one gets anyone a cranberry juice, even good friends. He has to buy his own. And at a bar they charge you like it’s a cocktail. So now he spends much more not drinking than he ever did drinking.

He’s no alcoholic, and this is no 12-step program. Trust me, if he had his druthers, Wain would be back to the booze — free or not. But he’s got a problem with his kidneys that makes alcohol highly … um … disagreeable to his system. He’s on doctor’s orders. (And when that doctor is from the Mayo Clinic, one doesn’t argue.)

Wain’s kidneys are functioning at roughly 6 percent capacity. He needs a new one pretty badly. And as a musician, he doesn’t have heaps of disposable income and he doesn’t have great health insurance. He does have three things, however, in abundance: luck, friends and connections.

The luck came in at a bar in Walker, Minnesota, out in the north woods. He plays up there sometimes. At this bar, by chance, he met a doctor. That doctor knew a kidney specialist at Mayo. And suddenly there was Wain’s golden opportunity. Introductions made … 87 miles each way between Minneapolis and Rochester, Minnesota … tests taken … and voilà! We have a surgeon and we have a donor (one of Wain’s brothers).

The friends came in shortly thereafter. A bunch of musicians decided to get together to produce a benefit concert on March 10. Wain fronted a funk/reggae band in the ’80s and ’90s called Ipso Facto, and he’s been around the block a few times, having played with Prince’s band, Dave Pirner, Jonny Lang, UB40, Tracy Chapman and scores of others. This is where connections come in.

A few years back, Wain’s brother was Cyndi Lauper’s tour manager, and she became friendly with the family. Wain tells me he once saw her at a party in a gorilla costume. A musician he mentored toured with her. When she performed at the Minnesota State Fair in 2004, she let Wain sing “Time After Time” with her, letting him ad lib a verse dedicated to his late sister. She brought him back out on stage for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” which Wain and her bass player spun into an impromptu reggae jam.

A connection.


So, we are told, Ms. Lauper has graciously agreed to lend some of her time and abundant talent to the cause. And many other people he’s worked with are helping out, too: Lifehouse, Mint Condition, Soul Asylum. You can read about it on her Web site.

Wain was our neighbor for more than three years. His wife Catherine, another good friend, was our landlady. He sang at our wedding. We planted vegetable gardens and herb gardens together. They babysat our cat. We’ve had Easters and Thanksgivings. We’ve dined on curried goat. We’ve toasted aquavit. He once gave us 15 lbs. of crab legs (there wasn’t enough room in his freezer for 30 lbs.) because the parents of a kid he tutored are fishmongers and they paid Wain in fish.

We just saw Wain right before Christmas. And I guess we’ll be back in March. Apparently he thinks we don’t visit enough, so he’s hauling out the heavy ammunition. I’ll take any excuse to go back to my adopted home for a visit. Even in a month as c-c-cold as March. But it’s not Cyndi Lauper who’s luring us back. It’s the prospect of being part of a concert full of people who are there to give their love to my friend.

(Truth be told, having Cyndi Lauper there, too, doesn’t hurt.)

To all my Minnesotans: Please buy tickets!

the untallied hours