Screen firecracker Rosie Perez is hitting the gay baths, and youd better hide your cuchifritas. Perezwhos best known for films like Do the Right Thing and Fearlessis returning to the stage for a Broadway revival of Terrence McNallys The Ritz, the 1975 farce about some wacky shenanigans involving gays and mobsters in towels. Perez camps it up as Googie Gomez, a talentless chanteuse with an accent as thick as the cement the mob makes shoes out of. Though she wants to be thought of as a rising star la Bette Midler, more often Googies mistaken for an off-kilter drag queen.
Joe Mantello, who also directed Perez in the revival of McNallys Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune, is at the helm of The Ritz, and its being mounted at Studio 54, a location that makes perfect sense considering the 70s hedonism that apparently went on in there.
Hi, Rosie. So how are you approaching Googies very bad singing?
Rosie Perez: Its just so difficult for me! [Laughs] Im really channeling three people -- Ethel Merman, one of my cousins (I cant say her name because shell kill me and shes so clueless shell never guess its her when she sees it), and Boy Shakira.
No. Boy Shakira has got heart. Sanjaya, oy vey.
How did this production come about?
When I was doing Frankie and Johnny, Terrence said, Ive got to write you a play. I said, Please do, and hurry up. He said, I dont know what to write. Youre not what people think you are. Youre so sensitive. I said, Throw that out the window. I dont care. I told Joe about this, and he said, Ive got the perfect one for you: The Ritz! You know its politically incorrect. I said, Right up my alley! Everyones a stereotype -- the Italians, the gays, the straights. If you get offended, youre not a human being or you need therapy or both.
Have you talked to the original Googie, Rita Moreno?
I called her and said, Im asking for your blessing. Ive got big shoes to fill. She said, Bullshit. You can do this. Just remember that Googie is a real person and youll win...and change your fucking cell phone message. Its fucking rude. And she hung up on me! I dont think its rude at all. It says, This is R.P. Please dont leave a long, irritating message, and Ill get back to you when I feel like it. Have a blessed day and God bless you. Dont you hate when people ramble on and on?
Yes, I instantly delete. Have you ever been in a gay bathhouse?
No, but Ive been in other places. Ive been to [Latin tranny haven] Escuelita. John Leguizamo took me there for the first time, and I was dying. Remember Lady Catiria? Shed do My Way and take off all her clothes except her G-string and the tears would run down her face. I saw her show four times.
The Ritz seems an easy fit for you. But has the scope of your talent been fully realized?
The three top people whove recognized it are the ones Ive done my best work with -- George C. Wolfe, Joe Mantello, and Peter Weir. Those three didnt view me as one-dimensional. Peter Weir was from fucking Australia. He never heard of me. At my audition for Fearless, they said, Hes not familiar with your work. I said, Yes! Ive got this one in the bag! But I got so nervous I had Montezumas revenge -- and the embarrassment and shyness all came flooding out and thats how I got the part.
Before that, I read that you choreographed In Living Color. Did you work with the immortal J. Lo?
Im the one that hired her, even though she tells everyone Keenan [Ivory Wayans] was. He didnt want her because she was overweight and didnt dance that well, but I said, She has star quality. He said, Your job depends on it. And I thought, Oh, shit.
Well, you turned out to be right on target.
I didnt get fired.
By the way, theres a porn star, Ryan Idol, in The Ritz.
I just found out! I said, Joe, its so scandalous. Watch the porno guy get more press than anyone. Do you know him?
Um, yes. He mysteriously fell out a window some years ago. I need you to find out why.
Ill get the dirt!