Madonna has truly explored what it feels like for a girl. We're reminded of that in a new book by gossip's answer to Nick and Nora Charles, the shamelessly heterosexual George Rush and Joanna Molloy, who wrote the popular Rush & Molloy column for the New York Daily News for many fizzy years.
Their new Scandal: A Manual is a breathlessly enjoyable trek through hot stories, lame spin controls, and how to weather it all with integrity and humor. In one memorable passage, Molloy relates how she learned in a very up-close manner that, sapphically speaking, Madonna was obviously not like a virgin. "There was an outdoor party in Midtown for k.d. lang," remembers Molloy, harking back to the 1990s. "Most of the guests were lesbians. Madonna was there, sporting a butch look that included a gold tooth. At one point, I was searching for the ladies room. I poked around some shrubbery and--hello!--stumbled on Madonna and her pal Ingrid Casaresin flagrante. Madonna was sitting on a chair. Ingrid was standing between her spread legs, kissing her, while Madonna squeezed her ass."
This must have been extra hot for Madonna because she reportedly "stole" Ingrid from her lesbian gal pal Sandra Bernhard. And apparently this whole scene was way more watchable than anything in Body of Evidence.
She was never exactly the original "girl gone wild," but Broadway-soprano-turned-sitcom-star Florence Henderson was lots of fun singing and cavorting at 54 Below last week; even Madge would have cracked a gold-toothed smile. After describing how her mother would make her pass a hat around as a poor Kentucky child, Florence did the very same thing as she floated through the 54 Below audience, the crowd awkwardly forking over bills, unsure of where this shtick was leading. Back onstage with a hatful of cash, Florence announced that she would match the amount and donate the entire haul to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, as we all sighed with relief that the woman wasn't really destitute.
She was also generous with Brady Bunch dish when answering questions supposedly written by the audience. "Was it hard doing episodes of the show after sleeping with Greg?" was one query. "It was hard, but not as hard as he was," cracked Florence. (She then assured us that their date was totally innocent. Whew! More relief!) Did she know that Robert Reed was gay? "Of course I did," she said, seriously. "We all did from the beginning. I loved him. My heart always broke for him because here he was playing the father of America and everybody loved him and he had to be in the closet." And speaking of closets--and not just broom ones--how about that frisky maid, Alice (Ann B. Davis)? Was Ann a big-time lesbo? "I never really knew," Flo replied. "All I know is she was a brilliant comedienne and sweet and wonderful. She's with a religious community now and works with the poor. I don't care if she's a lesbian, a transsexual...I love her." I'll take that as a yes. After all, I'm pretty sure I poked through some shrubbery and saw Alice straddling Madonna once!
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO PLAY TWO WOMEN AND SIX MEN
In the new musical A Gentleman's Guide To Love and Murder, Jefferson Mays goes through even more quick changes than Madonna at the Super Bowl. The Tony winner (for I Am My Own Wife) plays eight characters who are knocked off, one by one, by an unethical gent who's learned he's ninth in line to inherit a fortune. That's like killing off the entire British answer to the Brady Bunch!
The versatile Mays has literally become a man of many hats--and wigs--while performing in this show, opening at the Walter Kerr on November 17. "I have as many as four people working on me, depending on the quickness of the change," Mays explained to me in an interview. "My main dresser, Julian Arango, follows me everywhere and is amazing. He's sort of an actor whisperer. He has the ability to calm me down with the gesture of his hand. He's like Jeeves!"
The Connecticut-born Mays has been involved in this project--based on the novel that inspired the brilliant 1949 movie Kind Hearts and Coronets--since the Hartford Stage workshop several years ago. "I fell in love with that film when I was nine," he told me. "I deliberately haven't revisited the film in a long time, but I'm sure Alec Guinness is infused in me."
Judging from the out-of-town thumbs ups, comparisons will be dropped like quick-change drawers. His favorite of all the characters he plays? "I don't have one," Mays admitted. "They come and go so quickly, I don't have time to get attached." But he does enjoy the female characters, who he explained are Lady Hyacinth D'Ysquith, "a society woman consumed by missionary zeal. She does it just for self aggrandizing purposes" and Lady Salome D'Ysquith Pumphrey, "the Florence Foster Jenkins of the drama." In other words, she can't act, but she totally doesn't know it, just like...so very many people in this column.
Au contraire for the talented Mays, who by the way is no stranger to drag and/or LGBT dabbling. In the 2012 revival of Gore Vidal's The Best Man, he played the nervous prattler who ratted out the evil candidate via gay claims. He had already portrayed what's officially described as "Effete Man's Friend in Gay Bar" in 2004's Kinsey. And the same year, he copped his Tony for I Am My Own Wife, in which he was no fewer than 37 characters, most notably a trans antiquarian named Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. "She was a German hausfrau," he told me. "She lived as a woman and considered herself a woman in a man's body, but never had any interest in getting an operation or even wearing falsies." Today, she'd probably be a NYC party promoter--or a member of my movie club.
Did Mays enjoy being alone onstage ? "It was scary and potentially quite lonely," he admitted, "but my wife, Susan--who was the associate director--would be in the dressing room every night. It was lovely to have her there. I never had any interest in playing a one-person show. The joy of theater is playing with other actors. One night I bailed out, lost my lines, and another character knew the lines!" Amazingly, Mays came to his own rescue, thanks to the ritualized schizophrenia of solo theater.
"Well," I remarked, "if the same thing happens in Gentleman's Guide, at least you have seven other characters to prompt you." I'm always so very reassuring.
Above: Photo of Jefferson Mays in 'Gentleman's Guide' by Joan Marcus
Fantasia in Broadway's 'After Midnight'. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
AFTER DARK, MY SWEET
There aren't that many lines to forget in After Midnight; the Broadway revue consists primarily of number after number, recreating Harlem's Golden Age with lots of fluffy style. Fantasia makes a vocally effective "guest star" (especially when scatting her "zaz zuh zazzes"), Isabel Toledo designed the splendid costumes, and the musicians, handpicked by Wynton Marsalis, are as fine as Warren Carlyle's snappy choreography. There's very little pathos here, and hardly any building up to anything; this is just an entertainment, but as such, it goes down with a high step and a smile.
After Fantasia, the guest star will be k.d. lang, who cast member Desmond Richardson told me will sing the same numbers, "but in a jacket!" Hmm, after that, could special guest Madonna be far behind?