Hello, I’m Michael Dorothy Ginger Spice Kardashian. No, I haven’t just been through some life altering changes. I simply feel it’s helpful to zero in on one’s persona by determining which of various girl groups and/or TV casts you happen to resonate in tandem with.
As part of this helpful game, you can figure out which Charlie’s Angel you are, as well as which OITNB inmate, Sex and the City character, and Dance Mom/Real Housewife. You can even start wondering whether you’re an Ariana or Frankie Grande. But that’s just gravy. You can skip all that and go right to the big three — the Golden Girls, the Spice Girls, and the Kardashians — and learn who you are by deciding which member of each of those ensembles you happen to have the most in common with.
I’m definitely a Dorothy Zbornak (played so memorably on Golden Girls by the formidable Bea Arthur). Dorothy is the slow-burning, know-it-all divorcée who could tear you down with one look, but who actually is masking a lot of heart and caring behind those appliquéd blouses. Dorothy radiated such girl power that even when the episode was about someone else, she centered it with her glowers and wisdoms, and it seemed to be all about Dorothy. Her now-decades-old comebacks and harsh truths seem as fresh as ever, her characterization not even seeming like a nostalgia piece, but like someone who could easily be a guest judge on a talent reality show this very minute.
Other people might find themselves in literal-minded widow Rose Nylund (Betty White), but I doubt anyone would admit it. Or some could easily see their souls mirrored in Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), the sex-crazed Southern belle who simply wants to be loved, or in the pungently honest grand dame Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty), who is full of stories, recipes, and zingers, pussycat. They’re all incredibly rich and vivid characters, brimming with laughs and love, but it’s hard to not to want to be a Dorothy, who can use words to get out of any situation, expert teacher (and linguist) that she is. Pick any line at random—her telling Blanche, “The Kama Sutra had to publish a supplement because of you!” — and it’s clear that Golden Girls is Dorothy’s world and the others merely float around in her orbit.
The Spice Girls give you even more characters to choose from, including snooty, glam Posh Spice, bouncy Baby Spice, and butch Sporty Spice, but I favor Ginger Spice (Geri Halliwell), who mixed up the glitz with a bit of realness, and who’d clearly been around the block a few-and-a-half times without losing a shred of glamour. I didn’t care much for her at the time of the group’s ascendance, but sometimes you can recognize yourself in something you’re not crazy about. And I’ve grown to appreciate her role more with time, since she was an integral link in the group’s matrix, as well as a novelty persona of the type the kitsch-addled U.K. populace can’t get enough of. Besides, you can’t really be a Dorothy Zbornak and a Baby Spice. That just wouldn’t gel.
As for the Kardashians, I can assure you that Kim is the center of that world — possibly of the whole world — and I can’t imagine wanting to be anyone who’s a sidebar, an asterisk, or a footnote. I want to be the covergirl. And so I am Kim (with a strong hint of Caitlyn Jenner). I am someone whose every gesture should get boffo ratings, and that’s mixed with the wonderful tongue lashings of Dorothy and the show biz smarts of Ginger Spice. So if you want my full credentials as of this minute, I am Michael Dorothy Ginger Spice Kim Sabrina Lorna Carrie Mary-Kate LuAnn Ariana Musto. I‘m also a Rhoda and a Tootie, if you need to know. Learn it — and get your own name. And add a Powerpuff Girl to it!
Photo by Carol Rosegg
TINA, GET THE AXE!
By the way, when I said I’m a Rhoda, I meant Morgenstern, not Penmark! Rhoda Penmark is the devilish little slice of bratwurst in the camp 1950s classic The Bad Seed, and she’s mercilessly spoofed—along with other camp classic characters—in the show Ruthless!, which is back for an affectionate Off-Broadway revival at St. Luke’s Theatre. The musical — which debuted 22 years ago — has bratty Tina Denmark stopping at nothing to land the part of Pippi Longstocking in her school show, with the help of a stage mother of dubious background named Sylvia St. Croix, who always seems to be played by a man in drag, fittingly enough. But it’s the part of Tina that obviously has some practical magic to it. Back then, the role became a launching pad for none other than Laura Bell Bundy (who originated it), plus Britney Spears and Natalie Portman (who understudied her). Clearly all three of those gals stopped at nothing to become stars, lol.
Well, lightning could strike a fourth time with the new production’s Tori Murray, who’s sassy, funny, and well sung as tawdry Tina, tapping and slaying with equal aplomb. The Mama Rose-influenced Sylvia is played by Peter Land, who’s lots of fun, blessed with a natural way with a swirling double take. And the intentionally overcooked plot also involves Tina’s mother’s latent talent, the Eve Harrington-like character who’s after mama’s life, and the granny slash theater critic (Rita McKenzie), who sings the winningly acidic “I Hate Musicals.” (The bit about how to solve a problem like Maria is a scream.) Book/lyric writer Joel Paley—who directed the original production—also helmed this one, with its composer Marvin Laird as musical supervisor, and the aim was to reinvent the show for the Toddlers and Tiaras generation. The result—while no classic—is zippily entertaining, at least until the focus becomes more about mom than Tina. There are plot holes, contrivances, and too much similar sounding music, but it’s also very self-mockingly spoofy, sort of like an extended Carol Burnett Show sketch, and it’s hard to not start rooting for the petite demon as she gets her moment onstage and absolutely kills.
THE LORD HAS PROMISED GOOD TO ME
Far less zany is Amazing Grace, the new Broadway musical which tells the story of a relatively unknown Brit named John Newton, who as his slave tells us, was a wretch who happened to create something beautiful — namely the title tune. The sweeping tale has Newton grappling with issues involving his slave trader dad as he hits the high seas, sings power ballads, and de-wretchifies in time to create what the notes call “a bracing anthem of hope that will finally guide him home.” Yes, it’s a show about a song—but what a song, which the cast gamely sings at the 11th hour. (Don’t think about the fact that Newton only wrote the lyrics; just enjoy.) And up until then, the evening—co-created by Christopher Smith, an ex-cop delivering his first piece of professional writing—is nicely produced, cast, and staged, with gorgeous costumes and a few deft theatrical effects. Josh Young can belt and has the requisite long hair and wide chest for the Newton role, while Erin Mackey bristles (and sings) well as his proto-feminist sweetie and Chuck Cooper brings tons of dignity to the slave role. But the whole thing still reeks of misfire, because it’s generally too dully earnest for its own good. Stick to the song instead.
Aaron Clifton Moten, Louisa Krause, and Matthew Maher in 'The Flick' | Photo by Joan Marcus
Godless people circle each other in The Flick, Annie Baker’s Pulitzer-winning play set in a small Massachusetts movie theater filled with spilled sodas and quiet desperation (currently at the Barrow Street Theatre). Watching their possibilities fizzle before them like old celluloid are a trio of deadbeat staffers engaged in minor power plays and messy behavioral stratagems. Sam (Matthew Maher), a 35-year-old who lives in an attic above his parents, is vying with the new guy, Avery (Aaron Clifton Moten), an earnest but depressed college student who also lives with his family, for attention from the bisexual Rose (Louisa Krause), as well as for the chance to learn how the projector works, even though that piece of equipment may be on the verge of obsolescence as digital takes over. The three-hour play — basically a series of blackouts, all taking place when there’s no audience in the movie theater (except for one sleeping customer) — is directed with a purposely slow, deadpan pace by Sam Gold to emphasize the dire mundanity on hand, full of mopping, long pauses, fear of body fluids, miscommunication, and six-degrees of-separation games. There are flashes of mordantly comic inspiration — like a brilliant dance explosion for Rose — and the point is well driven home that life isn’t like the movies, but I had to wonder if ushers and janitors need to be this mundane.
Let me leave with you something short and campy: Mrs. Smith’s Broadway Cat-tacular, an Off-Broadway pastiche created by and starring the talented David Hanbury. He plays Mrs. Smith, a daffy dame who got separated from her cat, Carlyle, and is going to belt her way through a bunch of Liza/Judy/Barbra songs en route to getting him back. Hanbury has a strong voice and energetically goes through six costume changes, knowing “the Broadway boys”, Brandon Haagenson and Ken Lear, will pick up any slack. It’s all very fluffy, if thin, with things at their best when Mrs. Smith is at her most tremulously needy and observant about her life, her career, and her kitty. And that reminds me: I’m a Grizabella!
Photo by Dan Norman