Photo of Nick Gruber by Marcelo Krasilcic | Photo of John Tiffany by M. Sharkey
Let me “escort” you to some great gossip right off the bat. I’ve gotten my greedy hands on the story behind the reality show that Calvin Klein’s 23-year-old ex, Nick Gruber, was working on last year, not to mention the details on how to finally see it. I've even got a titillating teaser for you to view. John Luciano, the 49-year-old guy whom Nick dated in between his stays with Calvin, explained the show’s premise to me via email:
“In June 2012, a production company connected to Bravo approached Nick about starring in a pilot called Chapter Two. [Bravo's kingpin Andy Cohen says, "There was never a Bravo show with Nick Gruber."] The concept was how non-famous people cope after ending a relationship with famous people. If Matt Damon dumped his wife Luciana, she'd qualify. If Ben Affleck dumped Jennifer Garner, she wouldn't, since she was famous pre-Ben. Not that you needed that explanation, but after dating Nick for nine months, I now tend to over-explain everything.
“Nick passed on the Bravo project, and we decided to do a pilot based on our relationship, which was open since I didn't care who he slept with. Calvin and Nick also had an open relationship, but of a different nature—Calvin would open his wallet and Nick would open his legs.” Ba-dum-pum. John’s here till Thursday, check out the ribs platter.
“We started filming in the fall of 2012 between Orange County and West Hollywood,” he went on. “We broke up in February 2013 and all that I was left with was a band of gold, the dreams I hold, and countless hours of priceless footage. When I was approached by Boondock Films to extend my 15-minutes of embarrassment, I jumped at the chance. It's being edited into five-minute episodes and the title is Lucky Shot, The Nick Gruber Project. It's juicier than a Peter Luger porterhouse, but I was 40 pounds heavier when we filmed, so you might want to watch it on a wide screen.”
The first episode hits YouTube in a matter of days, with a new episode running every week. Watch this little teaser with your sugar daddy. And don’t ever let go of him!
And now, we return to our regular programming, and some much higher culture: While large-scale Broadway productions have scores of people frantically singing and twerking in an attempt to break even, Tennessee Williams’ classic The Glass Menagerie can do that—and even break your heart—with just four characters, some knick knacks, and a pond. All they need up there, human-wise, is a faded Southern belle who loves too hard, her aspiring poet son who escapes too much, his sickly outcast of a sister who’s searching for a major shakeup, and a hunky gentleman caller who sweeps in and turns her world (and glass unicorn) upside down. Voila! It’s magic, and when presented by the kind of creative team that’s brought it from Cambridge to Broadway (where previews start this week), the play attracts the kindness of strangers, and more importantly, critics, who’ve called it the second coming of Tennessee, Christ, and good theater. This is a long way from YouTube shows about colorful people exploiting each other while holding shopping bags.
At a recent meet-and-greet, the production’s director, John Tiffany (pictured here) reminded me that this isn’t a naturalistic work, by any means. “It’s a dream play, a memory play,” he said. “In the opening monologue, Tom says, ‘This is not real.’ ” But even though he’s a rather hazy figure, is Tom a proxy for Tennessee Williams himself? “Yes,” said Tiffany (who won a Tony for Once last year). “Tom was Tennessee’s real name.” End of mystery! Gosh, my sleuthing skills are amazing these days.
But if the character is based on Tennessee, then Tom likes guys, right? “I think he’s gay, definitely,” replied Tiffany. “It’s set in the ‘30s, in the Depression. There isn’t that kind of emancipated sexuality there for Tom. It’s all very claustrophobic and pressured. But let’s not forget that Amanda says to him, ‘I don’t believe you go to the movies every night. I think you’re doing things you’re ashamed of’.” “It’s probably a very different kind of movie theater,” I cracked. “It’s what happens in those movies,” Tiffany countered, with a knowing laugh.
Zach Quinto has beamed in from the planet Vulcan to play Tom, so at the same event, I asked him if he agrees with what Tiffany said about the character’s sexuality. “Parts of it, sure,” he replied, economically. And where does Zach think Tom goes when he says he’s going to the movies? “That’s for me to know,” he said. “We don’t have to tell the audience the answers to those questions. I know the answer myself.” But he would say this: “He’s constantly searching for some sense of belonging that’s unattainable.”
Well, Tony winner Cherry Jones has found a sense of belonging while playing his flamboyantly flawed mama, Amanda, though she told me she used to find the character more than a little bit freaky. “I had a chip on my shoulder about her,” Cherry admitted, adding that she’s developed an affinity for the complex role, especially when realizing the sheer moxie that had her supporting her kids through the Depression after being abandoned. Would Amanda be on meds today, thereby making for a much shorter play? “No, she wouldn’t,” said Cherry, playing along with my annoying question. “That’s not the situation. But the children might have had a little more help. Laura might have been in Special Ed.”
Well, let’s just keep everything as it is, especially since Cherry said kids have been spellbound by the production, as have really old people. “I want everyone who loves theater to see it,” she said, “but mostly I want everyone who hates theater to see it!” I’ll catch it one night when I’m not sneaking off to the movie theater, lol.
But wait! There’s something possibly worth catching on the small screen! (No, not YouTube—I’m talking about the actual telly.) Tomorrow night, openly gay opera singer Branden James performs in the semi-finals of America’s Got Talent, coming live from Radio City Music Hall. He’s one of the 18 contestants left, having scored with “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot and Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up”—two songs I’m terrible at!
This time, California-born Branden told me, he’ll belt out an ‘80s rock hit, hoping to shake up some expectations. “I’m very fond of pop music,” he said. “That’s where my heart is, even though I'm a classical singer. I’m trying to bring classical singing more to the mainstream. I started singing at 17. I was a loner kind of kid. I didn’t have a lot of friends and was bullied, and then I found music. My mentors steered me towards classical, and I studied it in college.” But bring on the rock song! This could make Howard Stern’s hair frizz!
Not quite so cheery is that fact that Branden has a dramatic backstory of the type that these shows tend to thrive on. (His parents couldn’t deal with his gayness, but eventually took steps forward.) “None of that was discussed in my initial audition,” Branden, 34, told me. “It was all about my singing at first. Then when I’d go against the judges, I told them about being young and gay and having a strained relationship with my parents. They perked up.
“Everything’s a lot better now. It’s amazing how being on national television helped mend a lot fences. We’ve become a lot closer and learned to communicate better. It had gotten better in last couple of years, but it’s improved even more. I didn’t even tell my parents I was going to talk about it on the show. I decided to be brave and open about my sexuality. It’s been amazing to see the outpouring, especially from young people, 12 to 15, coming to terms with their own sexuality and needing advice.”
But how about the outpouring from the folks? Is there actual proof that they’ve significantly changed, other than mom hugging him and crying on camera? “My father left me a message,” Branden obliged. “There was a hush, then he whispered, ‘I don’t want your mom to hear me, but I’m fine with who you are and love you as a son’.”
And mom? “At first she wouldn’t acknowledge things I said about my partner,” related Branden, “but now she loves him to death and always asks how he’s doing.”
“I guess some parents need to get used to things before realizing they shouldn’t discriminate against their own child,” I offered, sagely. “It’s amazing how long that takes,” Branden replied, “and how much pain you carry as an adult from those experiences.” So the trauma has left scars forever? “No,” he said, “not forever—and our scars have made us who we are today, so I’m proud of them.” The guy’s poetic enough to be a Tennessee Williams character—except he’s totally open.
Watch Branden James "AGT" Cover of Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up" below: