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Michael Musto

Why Mario Cantone Feels Sorry For The Heteros

Why Mario Cantone Feels Sorry For The Heteros

Mario Cantone

The funny man discusses his return to the stage in Steve, his experiences on The View, and why he passed on playing Timon in The Lion King.

The mouth that roared, campy comic Mario Cantone is well known thanks to his gay wedding planner role on Sex and the City, his numerous appearances on The View, and many other projects that have showcased his inventive skills. But the Massachusetts-born personality is also a theater actor, having racked up many notable credits (though he drew the line at playing the meerkat in The Lion King. We'll get to that later, when I complete the circle of life.) And now, he comes back to the stage, starring with his longtime partner Jerry Dixon--whom he married in 2011--in Steve, a New Group production, officially opening November 18.

In the play by Mark Gerrard, Matt McGrath is a failed Broadway performer named Steven who's contemplating the meaning of life (and fidelity) with the help of his lover Stephen (Malcolm Gets), a lesbian friend (Ashlie Atkinson), a best friend (Cantone), his lover (Dixon), and a hot Argentinian waiter/dancer with firm views on Evita Peron (Francisco Pryor Garat). The glib and funny play, directed by Cynthia Nixon, is laced with banter, sexting, and showtunes, including a freewheeling group-sing before the curtain and a pert Sound of Music number for the curtain call. I talked to Mario about his various projects, and his insatiable lust for life.

Musto: Hi, Mario. Is this the first time you've done a play with your husband?

Mario Cantone: Yes, though he wrote original music for my show Laugh Whore and my one-man concerts.

So you keep him on the payroll?

I do, and he writes really funny stuff for me. He never takes the song of someone I'm impersonating and rewrites the lyrics. He writes a whole new song.

What's it like acting with your husband?

It's really great. I'm having a great time, and one of the best parts of it is working with him. And in February, we're doing Lincoln Center's American Songbook together. We're like Steve and Eydie for the next six months.

Or Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett.


Do you feel this play has something to say?

Yes. It talks about being more than middle-aged and gay and finally getting all the stuff that heterosexuals are getting and then it's like, "OK, we can have kids and get married. Now what?" As great as it all is, it also takes away what was unique about you. When I was young, before you could get married, I don't think I would have. I would have said, "We're not going to have kids. Why do it?" But years later, you're still together, and as soon as Governor Cuomo announced it for the state, we were like, "Let's do it." It's been 25 years and I have a walker waiting for me in my closet. There was no question.

So it's all good for the community?

Well, there's a lot of gay men that are getting married, and there'll be all the same divorces and problems heterosexuals have had to deal with all these years. There will be happy marriages and miserable marriages.

What's your secret to maintaining the former type of relationship?

We give each other space, but we always love being together. We can be silent together and not be insecure. "Why are you silent? What are you thinking of?" He can be on the computer doing his work and I can be watching Turner Classic Movies, as you witnessed one time when you came over. We just do what we do, and that's a plus. It's OK to be silent together, and we also have great conversations and a lot of laughs. It's not easy. It takes a lot of work and no one's perfect. We've all made mistakes. We have to accept each other's stuff, as long as you're not hurting or murdering anybody. I think men understand each other more. I really do. I always say to the heterosexuals, "You poor, poor opposite creatures." Men are men, gay or straight. There's a lot of bromances between gay and straight men because they do understand each other. Women, whether they're lesbians or not, they understand each other. And my best friend is a woman. Robin Brown. I call her my sugar mama.

So you straddle all genders. Speaking of straddling, your thoughts on theater vs. standup?

I don't do enough of the concert stuff. I want to do more. I just did Fort Lauderdale and had a blast. An hour and 45 minutes on stage, and I really do love it. But I haven't done a play in 10 years. I was scared and nervous. It's more nerve wracking because you're in an ensemble and you have to hold up your end of the bargain. "Am I going to be able to memorize my lines? My memory is shit at this point." But I memorized it and was OK.

You were swell, you were great. Why did you draw the line at playing Timon in The Lion King?

Are you kidding me? I just didn't want to paint my face green and strap a puppet on me.

No, that's Wicked.

Timon came before Elphaba. You are a green shadow behind a puppet. I wanted to bend it over and fuck it up the ass, but I didn't because it was Disney. And I love Disney. I'm a freak for all that stuff. But it's one thing to do a voiceover and another to strap a puppet on. Max Casella, who did it, said his hip was messed up and his body was aching after a year in the role. I didn't want to be a puppeteer. If it was Jiminy Cricket, I would have beaten Joel Grey for that role and I would have done it!

You were born to play that cricket. Moving on to your TV career: There was a campaign to add you to the panel of The View.

There was? That's good because it didn't work. [laughs] What a time to be transgender. If I could just make that leap, I could have been a cohost. The guards are always changing over there, but I met with the new producers and they were nice and I went on in a cooking competition with Raven Symone, and that was fun, and I'm glad Joy's back. Last year, Whoopi was like, "I'd like him back again." It's almost like it's new. I have to break in again. But once I work with them, it's always good.

Do you take sides on feuds within The View, like Rosie vs. Whoopi?

No, I don't. I step away from the shrapnel. I have a history with both of them. And I was not there every day, so I didn't really feel it. Whatever happened, I never saw it. I go way back with Rosie, but I'm very close with Whoopi. I go to her house and watch The Bad Seed and Valley Of The Dolls. When you came over to visit that time, what was on? The Bad Seed! I was just telling people at the New Group--Scott Elliott and Cynthia Nixon--that I think the Drama Dept. did a reading of it years back, and Cynthia played the mother and John Cameron Mitchell played Rhoda. I said, "Can we do it again and I'll play Rhoda?" Cynthia seemed game, but Scott said, "They did it already." I said, "They did it years ago! And it's Halloween! It's perfect!" I wanted to play not only Rhoda, but the Eileen Heckart part, Mrs. Daigle. So haunting.

I'm haunted by the way The View always seems to hire one person to sit there and say dumb things, like Candace Cameron Bure.

That was an upsetting choice for me, and for every homosexual that adores that show, it's a very upsetting choice. Paula Faris is a very Christian woman, but very sweet and inclusive. There's not the gay thing about her. She's very cool about that. God loves the gays--that's how she thinks. That old "Hate the sin, love the sinner" thing pisses me off. That's a lot of bullshit.

I know. I don't really need that kind of love. But I love you, and best of luck with your full gay plate.

Daphne Rubin-Vega


Here's some more inclusion: For a long time, rising rocker Kenyon Phillips has let me take part in his various shows--I just bravely sang "Rock-a-bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody" to a roomful of straights at a club called Norwood--and while doing so, I've gotten to work with Broadway greats like Cady Huffman (The Producers) and Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent). So when Rubin-Vega invited me to see her solo show with the Labyrinth Theater Company, Empanada Loca, written and directed by Aaron Mark, I jumped, making it to her final performance. I'm glad I did! As drug dealer/ex con Dolores, living in an abandoned subway tunnel under Manhattan and telling of her dizzying descent while perched on a dimly lit massage table, Rubin-Vega was mesmerizing, rough, real, raunchy, hilarious, and chilling, giving a real master class in subterranean star power. When the empanadas of the title become "inspired by the legend of Sweeney Todd," as the promo materials promised, the show took on a riveting grizzly turn that made me not want to eat again for a long, long time. But I want to see this show again. If someone doesn't film it pronto, they're loca.

Bruce Willis in Misery

Photo by Joan Marcus


Less successfully, WilliamGoldman's Broadway adaptation of Stephen King's 1987 novel Miseryaims for chills, but does better with creepy comedy. The plot--as you know from the priceless 1990 movie starring Kathy Bates and James Caan--has romance novel writer Paul Sheldon waking up in the remote Colorado home of his "number one fan," Annie Wilkes, who claims she saved him from a car crash and will keep him comfortable until the snowy roads clear and she can get him to a hospital. But chirpy Annie is more than just an admirer; she's a certifiable psycho who goes for the sledgehammer (literally) when she learns that Sheldon has killed off his popular character, Misery Chastain.

In this production--directed by Will Frears--a cleverly rotating set by David Korins houses all the action, which cinematically unfolds in short scenes between the victimized Sheldon, his doting but dangerous admirer, and occasionally a snooping sheriff. The resulting pas de deux--while better than King's last Broadway outing (the disastrous Carrie the Musical)--has a sort of hollow feeling to it, with less menace and less at stake than necessary to make it fully potent. A lot of this is due to the performance of Bruce Willis as the writer; he doesn't offer a whole lot to the role, not providing an ample sense of desperately trying to trump Annie's mind games to save his life. In fact, Willis and fellow movie star Keira Knightley (in Therese Raquin) give two of the season's more recessive performances, almost acting as if they think there's a camera in the room.

Fortunately, Laurie Metcalf plays Annie with her customary brio, serving a seemingly sensible demeanor that masks a sinister side, complete with unnervingly cutesy sayings like "feeling oogie," "cockadoodie medicine," and "Mr. Man" (not to mention her hilarious rendition of what her pet pig Misery said on hearing that Sheldon was there). While never harrowing like Bates, Metcalf is pretty much the whole show and does a solid job naturalistically representing the diabolical edge the unwashed masses can attain as they reach for their version of purity. No one too famous should see Misery--or be in it, obviously.

Holly Woodlawn


But some magic can come out of captivity--or at least one can occasionally hope that's the case. I was reminded of that when I recently got a message from actor Sean Bresnahan about his dealings with Andy Warhol star Holly Woodlawnand movie/Broadway diva Glynis Johns, as their various worlds collided. Wrote Sean:

"I'm an L.A. actor doing volunteer hospice duty for the indomitable Holly Woodlawn. Well, the other night, on the way back from the dining room, we met up with none other than Glynis Johns at the elevators. I knew she was living at the facility, otherwise I never would have recognized the now 92-year-old actress. For some reason, I thought it would be a cool idea to introduce the two uniquely diverse performers...big mistake. Holly turned shy on me, and poor Glynis is both deaf and suffers dementia. Needless to say, the intro fell flatter than a bad audition. But I gotta say there was something cosmically fantastical about waiting for an elevator with the two aging, ailing stars. I half expected the doors to open and find Clifton Webb in angel wings waiting to greet us! PS: Happy to report that Holly just celebrated her 69th birthday and continues to surprise everyone with her resilience."

Amazing. She's not ready for her musical curtain call by a long shot.

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Michael Musto