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Michael Musto

Lesbian Musical Crushes Gershwin Show, and Other Tony Awards Revelations

Alison Bechdel
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Plus: Why Caitlyn Jenner owes the LGBT community a lot

Pictured: Alison Bechdel and the cast & creative team of 'Fun Home' | Photos: Getty

At the Tonys last night,Fun Home won Best Musical over An American in Paris (starring the rare male ballet dancer who's married to a woman, lol), and gays cheered from here to the hinterlands. Yes, a lesbian coming of age musical grabbed the spotlight from Gershwin not showing his age. A cross-generational story of emotionally discordant gays trumped the artily conceived movie adaptation about boys, girls, and jukebox songs. But let's save that discussion for our 11 o'clock number.

First, let's tackle the all-important Best Actress in a Musical category. All year long, we knew that Broadway stalwart Kelli O'Hara was going to finally win the Tony for The King and I, which was inevitably going to be her sixth nomination. I mean, if Kelli was ever going to surpass Audra McDonald's six-Tony-win record, she'd have to do a lot of serious catching up if they didn't start by giving her one already! But then Kristin Chenoweth opened in the On The Twentieth Century revival and was dazzlingly funny and spirited as the willful diva Lily Garland. But she'd won already, so maybe it was still Kelli for the gold, though Kristin's win was way early in her career and it was for featured, plus she wasn't even nominated for The Apple Tree and Promises, Promises. (I know this kind of stuff.) And then Kelli opened as the British/Indian schoolmarm Anna who liltingly changes hearts and minds, and was her usual solid self. ("A sterling star turn," gushed one critic--no one called it "An American in Palace"). But of course, the 82-year-old legend herself, Chita Rivera, followed in Kander and Ebb's The Visit and worked it out for her rabid admirers. And how are you gonna not give an award to Chita, especially when she's playing someone on a serious vengeance kick? Then again, she'd already won twice, and even if there was talk that this could be her last musical, I didn't buy that any more than I believe Cher has been on any kind of farewell tour. What's more, The Visit isn't exactly killing 'em at the box office--it lacks for visitors--whereas The King and I is selling loads of tickets and was extended. (Not that things like that should be factors--just quality alone is what counts--but I'm just sayin'.) So we came back to Kelli winning. I mean Kristin winning. (She was suddenly slated to cohost the Tony telecast, after all. They could save all that time where the winner parades to the stage while shaking the hands of old boyfriends.) I mean Chita winning. I mean a three way tie. Or maybe even a five-way tie. (Let's not forget the two other nominees, Beth Malone and Leanne Cope. They were good, too.) So congrats to the actual winner, Kelli O'Hara! As a gay man, when I say I admire her body, I mean of work! And in her speech, she showed mounds of spunk and personality I hadn't been alerted to before, especially when wackily dancing off the stage, but not too quickly. And Kristin was a riot feigning being pissed afterwards. Now that was acting, lol.

I must say I enjoyed the Tonys overall (except for all the extraneous "names" brought on for ratings; can't we keep this about Broadway? And the In Memoriam segment was like an eye test. But anyway, I enjoyed it.) Kristin and Alan Cumming were funny and suitably freaky, and though I wasn't exactly shocked when Alan emerged in a King and I gown at one point, I was happy it had felicitous results. I also loved the tap dancing sound (courtesy of the Twentieth Century porters) that was used in lieu of the usual orchestra noises when King and I's Ruthie Ann Miles got too long winded.

Alan Cummings Christin Chenoweth Tonys 2015

Presenter Neil Patrick Harris was smart to spoof his glass box shtick from the Oscars, and in a more serious tone, Fun Home's Michael Cerveris was great to mention the imminent Supreme Court decision about gay marriage (but less great in citing his competitor "Robbie Fitzgerald." Whoops--it's Fairchild.) Of the numbers, the An American in Paris medley (with Fairchild) was a wow that showed off the production's best assets, and the belty It Shoulda Been You song made it look like that show's a smash, not something a friend of mine just got a $4 ticket for.

As wonderfully touching as "Ring of Keys" is, I feel Fun Home should have done one of the group numbers if they were going to focus on selling tickets. But who cares? For one thing, the song is a landmark ode to lesbian recognition that resonates with LGBTs of all ages. Furthermore, the show won stuff like Book, Score, Director, Actor, and like I said, Musical, so it hardly lacked for quality airtime. The awards pileup represents a triumph for lesbian cartoonist/graphic novelist Alison Bechdel, book writer/lyricist Lisa Kron, and even some straight people, who collaborated on an organic and quirky musical about a girl who's changing her major to sex with Joan. (See it. It'll make beautiful sense.)

With The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time copping Best Play and four other categories, it was clearly a night to honor works about young outcasts who find their place in the world, despite the uneasiness of certain adults. As a young outcast, I found my place by watching (and even appearing in) theater, so this is a truly lovely development.

I kept the celebration going at the after party at the Plaza, where I heard Darren Criss tell a friend, "Let's make a beeline to those elegant lobster rolls I keep hearing about!"

Hand To God's wacky mother, Geneva Carr, said she likes my stuff, then slapped my wrist and added, "You naughty, naughty critic." (It was the first time I've been slapped by a Tony nominee since Dame Maggie Smith. What's with these broads?)

And Annaleigh Ashford, who won a Tony for her hilarious turn as a modern-dance mess in You Can't Take It With You, tickled me with some dish on her next Broadway role: the title part in A. R. Gurney's Sylvia, about a dog! How did she research this particular role, pray tell? "I enrolled my dog in obedience classes and speed and agility classes," Ashford told me, smiling. "I bought 15 books on Amazon about dog training. I don't even remember the names!" And will she actually be dressed as a pooch? "I wear a dog collar," she revealed. "She pees the floor at the beginning of the play. When people walk in the house, she sometimes likes to give them a kiss. There are elements of physicality that resemble what a dog will do. Dogs have singular motives and not much subtext. It's great to play, and Gurney's work is so terrific!"

I grabbed a lobster roll, then crawled on all fours to another after party, this one thrown by the p.r. firm O&M Co at the Carlyle to celebrate the season and Tommy Tune's special honor. At Bemelmans, Real Housewife Countess LuAnn de Lesseps told me about the time she walked into the wrong floor of a restaurant and entered a gathering for the NathanLane/Matthew Broderick comedy It's Only a Play, which had just been almost shut out of Tony nominations. "It wasn't where I wanted to be," said LuAnn. "They weren't having any fun." With a little guidance, she eventually found herself on the right floor and the good times began.

So did I at this very party, as I sashayed into the penthouse soiree and saw grand showman Tommy Tune sitting in a corner with his sister. I asked Tune what this Fun Home-alicious night was all about. "It's a celebration of inclusiveness," he replied. "It shows how much we can back bend and still embrace."

Six-time Tony winning costume designer William Ivey Long (who did the deco duds for On The Twentieth Century) agreed, saying, "That's my mission--inclusiveness. I want to include the whole family! I include everyone--even my cousins with bad table manners." I started to answer, then could have sworn I heard the threat of tap dancing porters drowning me out, so I made a theatrical exit and prepared for another summer of Playbill wielding. Woof.

Robert Mammana and Will Bradley in 'Twentieth Century Way'

Robert Mammana and Will Bradley in 'Twentieth Century Way' | Photo by Britannie Bond


And already, the new season has begun, with fresh grabs at the gold. Off-Broadway, Tom Jacobson's play The Twentieth-Century Wayat the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater has nothing to do with trains or Kristin Chenoweth. It has two actors (Robert Mammana and Will Bradley) playing a variety of roles in a reality-based fantasia centered on "tea room" sex in 1914 Long Beach. The storyline involves a sneaky assignment to entrap gay men into flashing themselves in public bathrooms so they can be picked up for social vagrancy. (George Michael should definitely avoid this show or he'll be flooded with awful memories!) The result is nimbly worded and historically interesting and the actors are more than game, even to the point of going full-frontal, but I ultimately found the play a tiring exercise in showing off that made me want them to zip it up.

Michael Musto, Kenny Kenny & Amanda Lepore

Pictured: Musto, Kenny Kenny, and Amanda Lepore | Photography by Wilsonmodels


Moving on to the 21st-Century way, there's been even more chatter about Caitlyn Jenner's emergence than about Kristin/Kelli/Chita, but at a Pride event last week, I finally heard something illuminating about it. It was New York fabulosity Kenny Kenny (a wit/photographer/promoter) speaking his mind on the subject. "I have nothing against Caitlyn," said Kenny. "It's more about the media handling of it. But Caitlyn owes more to the community that came before her than the community owes to Caitlyn. In the old days, the community wasn't about celebrity, but about grassroots people--fringe characters of all kinds--coming together and making a change. They made it OK for Caitlyn to finally come out." At this point, he turned to transsexual icon Amanda Lepore, standing nearby, and said, "You came out because it was the right thing to do for yourself, not because anyone told you to. You did it by yourself! You didn't need Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair. You should be on the cover of Vanity Fair!" And with that, I'd found my fun home.

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