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Michael Musto

Gypsy's Worst Song, Angela Lansbury's Raunchy Shtick, A Gay Marx Brother & Other Broadway Tidbits 

Gypsy's Worst Song, Angela Lansbury's Raunchy Shtick, A Gay Marx Brother & Other Broadway Tidbits


Also: Gloria Estefan Has No Affiliation! Lady Bunny Won’t Discuss Hillary’s Style!

Remember the last Bye Bye Birdie revival? Well, one of the female stars was so bad they actually tried to add auto-correct to her voice, until that made the sound even more muddy for the other actors onstage. Tidbits like that abound in Show & Tell: The New Book of Broadway Anecdotes by Ken Bloom (Oxford University Press; October) and it definitely adds up to a three-act Eugene O'Neill drama, with songs mixed in. I've compiled some of the most flavorful nuggets into a more digestible snack, for the delectation of you Broadway queens:

*Jerome Robbins, the director of the original production of Gypsy, hated the song "Little Lamb" and desperately wanted it cut. But it was not to be a sacrificial "Lamb" after all. Composer Jule Styne happened to be dating Sandra Church, who played Gypsy and sang that sweet (if not exactly electrifying) number. It was sliced once, then immediately put back when Styne threw a Mama Rose-worthy fit. I'd actually be fine if they axed it forever (while leaving in Caroline the cow, of course).

*One of the newsboys in the 1970s revival of Gypsy was moaning to everyone in sight that he didn't have a boyfriend. After one performance, star Angela Lansbury went to a gay bar, came back with a guy, threw him into the cast member's hotel room and said, "Have a good time!" Angie sounds like a great person to know.

*Here's more proof of that. During Sweeney Todd, whenever the audience wasn't being responsive enough, Angela would play dirty, funny tricks on them. During her song "The Worst Pies in London," she'd shape the dough she was playing with into a large cock and balls, stretching the penis on the cutting board until it eventually reached out and the head touched the floor. The gays in the crowd must have been drooling--and reaching.

*Gay actor Robert Horton tried to overcompensate for his effeminacy by being overly macho when he played a cowboy in 110 in the Shade. Noel Coward saw the musical and remarked, "The vagabond queen has to go." He told Marlene Dietrich, "Robert Horton's idea of acting the cowboy is to push his pelvis forward and swagger. I wanted to shout, 'Show us your cock and get on with it!' "

*On the opening night of Peter Pan, Mary Martin sent a telegram to her old South Pacific costar Ezio Pinza, who was opening in Fanny. It said, "Hope your Fanny is as big as my Peter."

*After a performance of Minnie's Boys, the 1970 musical about the Marx Brothers, the real Groucho Marx came backstage to meet the cast. The actor who played Harpo Marx said, "Tell me about Harpo." "He was really funny," replied Groucho. The actor playing Chico wondered, "What was Chico like?" "A great guy," said Groucho. And then, the actor who played Gummo asked, "Can you tell me about Gummo?" "Fag," responded Groucho.


Future Broadway stars--and some current ones--were on hand for Rosie O'Donnell 's annual Rosie's Theater Kids gala at the Marriott Marquis last week. Sadly, Rosie wasn't there, having come down with the flu, and no, she didn't get sick after watching the debate, lol. The event was still a success, centered by Gloria Estefan getting an honor, as presented by Ana Villafane, who plays the Cuban-born singer in Broadway's On Your Feet! Surveying Ana's willowy height, Gloria cracked, "This is what I look like in my head." She urged the crowd to help promote theater for kids, saying, "Open your wallet, baby, and do the conga!" And she talked about how music, art and theater are always the first subjects to get cut from school, though they're actually the most important ones because they connect the left and right sides of the brain.

After the presentation wound down, I asked Gloria and hubby Emilio Estefan to pick both sides of their brains and tell me if they're really Republicans, as I'd heard. "No," said Emilio. "We have no affiliation. We believe in the person, not the party." Gloria echoed that, saying, "I'm for the candidate that will do the best job, and I won't have to worry about their finger on the button." So that would be...? "Make your own conclusions," she said, smiling. I think the fact that she was at an event created by her friend Rosie O'Donnell was a pretty strong clue.


Meanwhile, drag star Lady Bunny has been outspoken in criticizing Hillary Clinton, but she wouldn't take the bait when I asked for her opinion on Hillary's style. (Lots of solid colored pant suits and tweedy jackets from European designers.) Said Bunny, "It's sexist to criticize a female candidate on her wardrobe when you'd be less likely to criticize a man. There are valid critiques about Hillary--about her policy--so if I talk about her wardrobe, I'm playing into the hands of people who think her opponents must be sexist." "Well men's clothes are just so boring," I moaned, meaning it's hard to even critique them. "That's why I'm a drag queen," replied Bunny. "Caftans and sequins!"

lady bunny

Photo by Jeff Eason

In other drag news, fully sequined insult comic Bianca Del Rio hinted on Facebook last week that she'd shot a TV show, though details weren't given. Elsewhere, a well known TV series star also murmured about her involvement. Maybe a guest-host/guest judge kind of thing? Or perhaps a flat-out comedy? I'll update you asap.


On Broadway, Best Performance By A Sound Crew definitely goes to The Encounter, a remarkable experience at which the audience is given headphones that help create a sensory audiovisual trip to the Amazon. Inspired by the book Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu, The Encounter is the creation of theater/movie actor Simon McBurney (Kirsty Housley is his co-director), who alternates between portraying himself and the person he's storytelling about--National Geographic photographer Lore McIntyre, who became lost in Brazil's remote Javari Valle in 1969 to dizzying effect.


The set initially seems like nothing much--a gray backdrop, some mics, a table, and bottles of water, but Paul Anderson's lighting makes it come alive, and McBurney tirelessly works the entire stage with dexterity and range. As he narrates and enacts, there are also pre-recorded voices, music, and sounds including rain, a camera clicking, thirsty mosquitos, and a crinkling bag of Cheez Doodles, the noises sometimes layering in ways that are so intimate you feel like turning around and telling the person behind you to hush before realizing it's actually being piped into your ears and part of the show. The intermissionless hour-and-50-minutes, with themes about natives and the power of nature, comes off like a long sit (I also thought the exchanges between McBurney and the voice of his daughter were a tad too cute), but generally, this is a hypnotic work that breathes new life into the one-man show genre. Loud kudos-in-the-headphones to McBurney and cohorts, who include Michael Levine (design), Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin (sound).

Another novel trip awaits with Cirque de Solei's Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities on Randall's Island. After mixed-bag ventures into narrative with Paramour and Toruk, the Cirque is back to basics with a big tent show full of magically costumed creatures who seem out of Tim Burton, Harry Potter, and Lewis Carroll, and in one extraordinary sequence that involves an upside down dinner party, Bunuel. (Top that, Sondheim and Ives.) The contortionists, jugglers, aerialists and juggling aerialists are all top notch, making for a cabinet that's even wackier than the Trump Cabinet would be, and way more fun. A too-long mime sketch in Act II is made up for by some wonderful "hand theater" full of dancing fingers, plus I got an extra thrill talking to Debra Messing, sitting behind me. She and her son were excited to spot one of the Impractical Jokers crew in the crowd. I personally was excited to spot her.

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Michael Musto