I thought about that idea a lot this week, as I went about my days and nights seeing shows and things and people. What is the entertainment event I’m craving, the movie in my mind, the musical in my heart?
Theoretically, on Monday nights, that means staying home, regrouping from the weekend, watching “Nurse Jackie” and “The United States of Tara,” but as Monday is usually the dark night on Broadway, benefits and concerts in that world tend to be on Mondays. What’s a gay to do? Sleep or see Julia Murney? What got me out of the house last Monday was a double-bill of Max Vernon and Dan Fishback at Joe’s Pub – not even a theatre thing! Jeez. Or was it?
Both of their sets were wonderfully affecting and felt very “now.” I thought, “Yes. This is what Broadway could be like.” Dan is even writing a musical, Material World, about 1920s Russian immigrants and Madonna. Count me in.
Wednesday, I saw the City Center Encores! limited run concert version of Sondheim’s legendary 1964 flop, Anyone Can Whistle. I’ve loved that score since I became obsessed with the CD in high school, but had never seen the show. It’s such a picture of early 60s pop-psychological irreverence. It is widely thought to have been ahead of its time in its satirical take on social dynamics and its highly stylized, showbizzy tone. Unfortunately, it now plays pretty dated, as much of what was provocative in the show then feels old-hat today. But it’s still so satisfying to see a musical with such great, smart, funny, tuneful songs, so integrated into the story. And it’s hard to complain when Donna Murphy belts out the Kay Thompson pastiches in an ostrich feather-lined pantsuit like my grandmother at my parents’ wedding.
Of course, irreverence is alive and well today, even more ubiquitous than forty years ago. For a time, in the last decade, practically every new Broadway show seemed to be employing some form of breaking the fourth wall, winking at the audience. I think it’s safer, less vulnerable than being completely sincere. Especially with musicals, maybe we feel less lame bursting into song if we don’t stand 100% behind the character, if we hold a little something back. Of course, some things are just plain parody, strictly satire, and Broadway has always seemed like a good fit for that, whether it’s Forbidden Broadway, or one of the new crop of cheeky internet videos, like the hilarious Margo Rose Ferderer created by Lori Hammel.
Saturday afternoon, I met with my friends, songwriters Hyeyoung Kim and Michael Cooper, about putting together an evening of Hyeyoung’s music.
I love her stuff, very poppy and dramatic, but how to tie it together into an evening. Her songs are so emotional, I don’t think they would be served by being sandwiched between off-color cabaret patter.
That evening, I went to the release party/reading for the new edition of Scorcher, the zine my friend Max Steele writes. Does anyone still write a zine?
Max represents to me an exciting new generation which embraces different things from a wide variety of times and places to form a fresh original style all its/their/his own. Is the zine a throwback to the pre-email days when arty youth passed their Xeroxed work around bars and malls and parking lots? Or is it a physical embodiment of Max’s work, something to hold onto? I love clutching it in my hand as I read Max’s steamy, sassy, seriocomic and sexy streams of consciousness on the subway. I can hear Max’s distinctive post-Valley Girl drawl in my head, although not as clearly as when I heard him read on Saturday, along with fellow Birdsong Collective writers, Daniel Sander and Tommy Pico. These New Gays speak their truths in earnest and have fascinating, funny, brave things to say. They have a lot to say. Now, if only they’d write me a musical…
I was supposed to go see my friends Scott Schneider and Tim Aumiller’s musical, Hello, My Name Is Billy, at the Duplex later that night, but was feeling over-stimulated and decided last minute just to hang at home with friends. I really hope I make it to the closing night this coming Saturday.
What if this is the musical I’ve been looking for?
I did wind up at the Duplex late Sunday night, to celebrate my friend Adam’s birthday. Funny, how I often dread the work, the effort, the labor of seeing new shows, listening to new music, but it’s always such easy breezy fun, to belt out the old showtunes with my buddies at a piano bar, or karaoke room, or like my apartment. I think this New Old Gay is part of the problem! Like the kids say, “be the change you seek.” Oy.
Earlier in the night, Adam and I had been to a loft in Tribeca to see a special presentation of the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards’ Electric Party Songs, “a flow of songs and actions based on the poetry of American poet Allen Ginsberg.”
It was weird and fascinating and funny to hear these Eastern European singers pronounce these decidedly American texts, and somehow their accents made them seem more honest, less cynical. Looking like a Serbian road company of Hair, these ragamuffin international performance artists danced and prowled around the space looking deep into our eyes as they sang spirituals in our faces, connecting to each other and to the audience indiscriminately, just open. After each song, they would writhe around on coffee tables, on the floor, sighing, smiling, staring, sort of reveling in the afterglow until one of them would lead them into the next number.
It made me think about the evening of Hyeyoung’s music. What if, instead of starfucking, we created a small, tight-knit ensemble to perform her work? Instead of a line-up of the biggest B-List Broadways stars we can get taking turns cold-reading, what if we could capture some of the Electric Party Songs magic, with some vulnerable, young nobodies opening their hearts to the music and sharing the stage, letting each song flow into the next and highlighting the themes across all of Hyeyoung’s work? At the very least, I could keep my Monday night free.