Broadway’s Liberace Says Justin Bieber Should Have Played Scott Thorson!

10.21.2013

By Michael Musto

Also: Chelsea Handler isn’t transgender

Richard Kline as Liberace |
Photography by Carol Rosegg

Was your craving for pearly white teeth and piano keys whetted by HBO’s Behind The Candelabra? Well, there’s a whole other Liberace story coming down the twinkly turnpike, and this one has actual singing and dancing! Alexander DeJong’s All That Glitters is a musical version of the late classical-musician-slash-zhoosh-queen’s life, and with costumes by the legendary Bob Mackie and a lead performance by Richard Kline, it’s angling for a Broadway run next year. Kline most famously played Larry Dallas, the upstairs womanizer/used car salesman on Three’s Company, but this time he’ll gay it up as the indomitable showman, complete with furs, rings, and fascinating furniture. I just chatted with Kline about the show, the story, and, of all things, Justin Bieber. (Well, to quote the Beeb’s remix album title, “Never say never.”)

Musto: Hello, Richard. Is this show really a go? 

Richard Kline: We did a showcase over a year ago. Four performances at the Baryshnikov—a $500,000 showcase—and then I didn’t hear a peep until a few weeks ago, and then all theatrical hell broke loose. They said it was greenlighted. We’ll have late summer rehearsals, a fall opening in Toronto, and then transfer to Broadway.

Bejeweled fingers crossed. How did you get the part?

I auditioned for it. I did quite a bit of research online—thank, God, for YouTube. As a kid, my mother and I would watch Liberace. I took piano lessons. I still play—not with the virtuosity of Liberace—so I was attracted to that.

Were you all dolled up and accessorized for the audition?

No, but I wore my good luck wizard ring. When I left Wicked after 13 months on the road, my parting gift was a green jade or faux jade pinky ring.

And it worked! So this show will have original music?

Beautiful music. It tells the life story of Liberace, and there are three Liberaces. First, he’s 10 years old. In part of the first act, I play his father, who was kind of an abusive perfectionist. There’s a middle Liberace in his late twenties and thirties, who rises to fame and does the TV show. Then there’s—hello—the older Liberace. It starts when I meet Scott Thorson, and it tracks that relationship. What attracted me to the script was it’s not just a spectacle, but there’s quite a bit of drama in it, especially, as you can imagine, in the end, when Liberace is basically dying.

So it delves into the fascinating dynamics of the Liberace/Thorson connection?

It touches on them. How they met, the jealousy, the break, him dying of AIDS. It’s not morbid. The book is substantial.

Was Liberace personally hurt by having to stay so closeted?

He was such a savvy businessman besides being a showman. As you know, in that era, you couldn’t come out. Rock Hudson, I think, started the movement of awareness and sensibility about AIDS and homosexuality. Liberace fiercely clung to denying that. Saying that the love of his life was [ice skating star] Sonja Henie!

That only proved he was gay. Did you like Behind The Candelabra?

I liked it. It’s so far different from this story. The movie was told from Scott’s point of view. It was basically a love story. What’s great about All That Glitters is it starts as a father and son dynamic and it ends as a father and son dynamic, because Liberace tried to be the father Scott never had and vice versa. Scott never had a normal, if you will, upbringing. Michael Douglas was brilliant, but Matt Damon was just a hair old for the role. When Liberace met Scott, he was 16. That part should have belonged to Justin Bieber!

Great idea! What will this show do for you, careerwise?

Through TV, I’m known to quite a few people worldwide, but as far as the Broadway scene, this is very exciting for me. I replaced Rene Auberjonois in City of Angels and was the standby for Nathan Lane in David Mamet’s play November, but other than that, I was never in an original musical or premiere. I come from the stage. It’s my first love. It’s the reason I left Los Angeles after 29 years, because I wanted to do more theater. And I achieved it at my age, which is available on IMDB. [laughs]

Was it weird to be in the goofy ‘70s sitcom Three’s Company after doing serious theater work?

I had done the classics. But that kind of snobbism never entered my mind, especially when I was working with a genius like John Ritter. He was such a wonderful, giving human being that I enjoyed every minute. I don’t regret any kind of typecasting or association with it. It’s afforded me a lot of opportunities.

Were you there when Suzanne Somers demanded more money and threw production into havoc?

Oh, yeah. No knock against Suzanne, but when one of the key performers is not available for a taping—which happened twice—the show is put in jeopardy and it was an uncomfortable time.

Is this your first gay role?

I did a showcase for Michael Greif of a musical called Most Wanted, about Andrew Cunanan, the guy who killed Versace. I played the older lover of Cunanan. I was his sugar daddy, and then he murdered me. 

At least Scott didn’t do that to Liberace. I was going to ask you if a straight person could really play Liberace, and then I remembered: Michael Douglas!

Acting is acting.

BLUE IS THE NEW ORANGE

From Liberace to liberation, let’s dive into the Cannes award winning lesbian epic Blue is the Warmest Color, which will be raising all sorts of rainbow flags at the art house starting Friday. In the film, a teen Miley Cyrus lookalike named Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) saunters into a gay bar and meets an older, blue-haired art student she’s fantasized about (Lea Seydoux), claiming, “I came in here by chance.” Yeah, OK, whatever. They flirt, and after declaring “I’m not a lesbo!” to her taunting friends, Adèle is pretty much positioned deep between the lady’s legs for seven whole minutes—in bright lighting yet. (All the film’s sex scenes are eye-poppingly lit, some with added candles and daylight. So are the sequences involving closeups of the characters slurping on pasta and oysters. You do the math.) By this point, Blue veers between a refreshingly frank look at the rigors of same-sex loving and a bit of a lecherous man’s heavy-breathing marathon, directed by a trench coat wearer. But once there’s trouble in para-dykes, the film really rivets, with Exarchopoulos brilliant as a girl who’s been awakened, then crushed, while trying to figure her place in the coupling scheme. By the end, both women are wearing blue, but your Aunt Fanny will be red in the face—and that’s totally a good thing. See this film. Otherwise you’ll have to lie at every party for the rest of the year, whenever people ask what you thought of it. 

A blue comic, Chelsea Handler went with her handlers to Chelsea to host the Paper magazine Nightlife Awards at Marquee the other night (with Paper’s Mickey Boardman), and the result was an award-worthy nightlife event unto itself. Chelsea greeted the crowd by announcing, “I am not transgender!” (shock waves went through the crowd, LOL), also admitting that she’s aware of the general hatred of bridge-and-tunnel people, but no one should be concerned; “I arrived here via private plane!”

Pointing me out in the crowd, Chelsea noted that I’m a “legend” who’s stunningly reinvented himself, dryly adding, “And he’s doing so great that he’s going to present the People’s Choice awards later.” Unfazed, I did just that, with party queen Susanne Bartsch, who announced that Friday had been named Best Night to Go Out, as the crowd booed. (That’s one of the biggest bridge-and-tunnel nights. Chelsea must have been horrified. But at least nowadays the trek goes in reverse, with Manhattanites shlepping into Brooklyn.) At another point, Bartsch noted that one of the winners’ envelopes didn’t have a seal on it. “Heidi Klum doesn’t have a Seal anymore either,” I quipped, desperate to become America’s Next Hot Standup. But it turns out Chelsea Handler needn’t worry a bit. 

After the show, I ran into the Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears, who told me he’s thrilled that the spookily funny Elvira is doing “Let’s Have a Ouija,” a takeoff of the Sisters’ “Let’s Have a Kiki.” “Well, I was in the video for Sherry Vine’s parody, ‘Let’s Have a Pee Pee’,” I exclaimed, as Jake’s smile froze. With joy, I’m sure.

Meredith Forlenza, Spencer Davis Milford, and Roger Rees in 'The Winslow Boy' | Photo by Joan Marcus

While we’re waiting for Liberace to kiki on Broadway, it seems like some far more grounded courtroom-related pieces have landed there. The Winslow Boy is the 1946 Terence Rattigan chestnut about a man who goes to extraordinary lengths to prove that his son didn’t really steal a five shilling postal order, how very dare you. It’s talky, stiff-upper-lip stuff, with all the courtroom theatrics happening offstage, and this production is hardly revelatory, though it’s solid enough that you won’t feel like they stole five shillings from you. Openly gay Roger Rees and Michael Cumpsty are standouts in the cast.

Meanwhile, A Time To Kill is based on the John Grisham novel in which a noble white lawyer dedicates himself to saving the ass of a black man who stooped to vigilante violence to wipe out the rapists of his young daughter. It’s a white liberal fantasy, with a predictable conclusion, and here it leads to a production the New York Times called “competent but bland” (though courtroom drama aficionados will be happy to know that Act Two provides the entire case onstage.) During intermission at the show’s star-studded opening last night, I asked Joan Rivers what she thought, and she replied, “Can we…? Can we…?” I loved that Joan actually says her famous catch phrase in public—or at least enough of it so you get what she’s going for. I can’t wait to catch Donald Trump running around and murmuring, “You’re…You’re…”

In “should be fired” news, critic John Simon is up to his hideous old foibles. Simon reviewed Broadway’s Romeo and Juliet revival for the online Westchester publication he currently toils for, and criticized an actor who “carries on like a flagrant homosexual” as Mercutio. John, when will you learn that acting gay isn’t a bad thing—especially in a play where the heteros are killing each other? Let’s hope he never sees the Liberace show.

Or this: A quick clip of me on VH1’s The Gossip Table, serving a lively blind item, then promptly answering it. Click it, watch it, and like it—or they’ll replace me with Justin Bieber. 

 

 

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