A British invasion took hold of our city recently. Alan Bennett’s marvelous “The History Boys,” opened on Broadway, and Bennett appeared twice at Lincoln Center’s Performing Arts Library. On April 22, he read from his new memoir, “Untold Stories,” proving that the seasoned comic timing of his “Beyond the Fringe” days is completely intact. Diagnosed with cancer in 1997, he never expected to be alive for its publication, and confessed, “I was franker about my homosexuality than I would have been fifteen years ago. But I’ve made a complete recovery and decided not to change what I’d written. Who cares now, anyway?”
There was much mention of his lover, Rupert Thomas, editor of “World of Interiors,” and thirty years his junior with whom he’s been since the 1990s. But what I really enjoyed was his memory of film director John Schlesinger (“Midnight Cowboy”), who “although very stout and resembling your typical movie Nazi, managed to do quite well in the sex department. But there was that time when he was at the baths and lying in his cubicle when a young man approached him in the darkness and then said, ‘Oh, no! I couldn’t possibly! What do you expect?’ Still lying there, with closed eyes, John intoned, ‘A simple “no” will suffice.”
On April 24, Bennett was back, with Eileen Atkins, Christine Ebersole, Philip Bosco, Richard Easton, and Robert Sean Leonard performing scenes from his plays, directed by Jack O’Brien. It was a treat to see Atkins assay the madwoman who actually moved into Bennett’s life in “The Lady in the Van,” which has never been produced here, but no one was better than Bennett, himself, with a glowing, rueful remembrance of the objects on a family mantelpiece.
Another gay Brit playwright, Samuel Adamson, whose “Southwark Fair” is currently at London’s National, directed by Nicholas Hytner, came over for the U.S. premiere of his first play, “Clocks and Whistles” at Chashama (217 W. 42nd St.) written ten years ago when he was 26. A funny, heartbreaking tale of three young Londoners sorting it out artistically/sexually, it’s informed with a lovely sense of discovery and youthful brio. At the premiere (May 9), Adamson said, “It’s strange to watch something I wrote so long ago, a bit painful, actually. But the actors are wonderful and my director, Talya Klein, has worked for nearly ten years to do it, so I’m very grateful. Our original production starred Kate Beckinsale, who’s actually very good on stage, although she hasn’t done anything recently.” Indeed, the character she played, an ambitious actress who goes from the auditioning grind to big fat movie star, mirrored Beckinsale’s eventual real life.
There were Brits everywhere at the May 1 press preview of the Metropolitan Museum’s “Anglomania” fashion exhibit. Oswald Boateng, Phillip Treacy, Stephen Jones, Manolo Blahnik, a diva-ishly late Vivienne Westwood and The Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten lurked around the dazzling show, which is in the museum’s British period furniture rooms. Rotten tirelessly proclaimed himself “the real King of Punk” and told me, “Yeah, I told the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to go fuck themselves! But this is real, this is art! But to talk about me in fashion is shite! I’m an artist and no one has ever told me what to wear. I’m an idea man, you see.” Judging from his attire—the ripped punk style bondage trousers in which Westwood and Malcolm McLaren first dressed him—he’s had the same idea for nearly 30 years.
Calmer seas will prevail at the Algonquin’s Oak Room when Andrea Marcovicci takes the stage with her show “Just Love By Request,” running through June 10. The title derives from the fact that a large part of the act will be requests from the audience, which will be written down and pulled from a hat. When I interviewed her at arts patron Frank Skillern’s charming East Side brownstone, the basement of which is outfitted as a mini-cabaret itself, Marcovicci lugged out the four books of song music she has in readiness for all comers. “A favorite request, like ‘These Foolish Things,” I have no trouble with,” she said, “but if someone asks for “Did You Ever Cross Over to Sneden’s,” I want to be prepared!”
The ever youthful, lovely Marcovicci is often referred to as the “Queen of Cabaret,” to which she responded, “I love it! When I first heard that, I said, ‘That’s ridiculous. What about Julie Wilson? But, lately, I’ve come to embrace it more and more. Julie and Mabel Mercer are really the Empresses, so I’m happy to be queen!”
She has put together a show about another cabaret goddess, the “Incomparable” Hildegarde, she of the girlishly caressing voice, the G.I.s’ favorite “Darling Je Vous Aime Beaucoup,” and rumored lesbian. “All I know,” Marcovicci said, “is that for years she lived with her manager, Anna Sosenko, who was like a Svengali. Then they had a terrible falling off, and Hildegarde was never really with anyone after that. I am not entirely certain if theirs was a physical relationship the way we think of it now, but I definitely play with all that in my act. I get to be really glamorous, striking all these poses, and of course working her famous gloves. But it’s expensive! I wish people would realize how much it costs for me to look the way I do. Fashion designers should get behind the cabaret community as they do with movie and television stars. Oscar de la Renta would be a perfect fit for me.”
Speaking of de la Renta, he was honored at the Parson School of Design’s 58th annual benefit fashion show on May 8, at Chelsea Piers. Having judged the senior students’ fashion collection days before with Patricia Field and Peter Som, I thoroughly enjoyed this elegant affair. At one point, I got up from my table and ran smack into Bill Clinton—with two short-ish Secret Service men—glad handing people. I asked him, “Why are you here?” and he said, “Hilary had some senatorial business to attend to, so I showed up to give this award to my good friend, Oscar.” In one of those oxygen-sucking Manhattan moments, de la Renta, Diane von Furstenberg, and Anna Wintour suddenly materialized, the latter beaming like a schoolgirl over her proximity to The President and not at all miffed over being bumped as replacement presenter.
The senior fashion show was literally dazzling, and the Parsons kids—especially the innovative Ayrin Poor, and Designers of the Year, Brandon Sun and Bijan Kazem—did themselves proud. And how droll to hear our Senator’s husband wrapping his big butch drawl around the words “Balenciaga” and “Lanvin” in his presentation speech!
Contact David Noh at Inthenoh@aol.com.