Dance New Amsterdam is one of the first cultural companies to relocate to Lower Manhattan post 9/11, and they held a rousing, Chanterelle-catered celebration at their fantastic new space in the Sun Building on March 27. The performance, in honor of company founder Lynn Simonson and done twice, began with Donna McKechnie doing her “Music and the Mirror” from “A Chorus Line” and went from strength to brilliant strength from there.
“She’s Crazy, I’m Not” was a rapturously witty, romantic, lesbian pas de deux for Carol Dilley and Jill Spiewack Eng. Emmanuel Pierre-Antoine and Joanna Zacharewicz left burn marks on the new stage with a blazing mambo, Savion Glover tapped his way through “Love Me or Leave Me,” and Desmond Richardson displayed the most beautiful body in the hemisphere in an impassioned solo, set to Stevie Wonder.
Simonson, a veteran performer and teacher, whose career has spanned Vegas nightclubs and Broadway, gave an eloquent speech, saying, “May we never forget the joy and healing power of movement. This space is a dream come true, filled with light and space. Let’s take this opportunity to renew and recreate community through active caring and supporting. That doesn’t mean just donating money, it means picking up a coffee cup left behind and throwing it away.”
If you still haven’t seen the best musical on Broadway, catch “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” which I saw March 8 with terrific replacements Jonathan Pryce and Rachel York having the time of their lives with Norbert Leo Butz, whose hilarious sexy/cretinous performance is the stuff of legend. “It’s hard out here being a pimp,” he ad-libbed during one number emblematic of the loosey-goosey style of the show. As York said at Seth Rudetsky’s Chatterbox at Don’t Tell Mama on March 23, “He and Jonathan just try to crack each other up on stage every night.”
Why York, with her lovely face and figure, and huge, belting voice isn’t the most humongous star is a mystery—and she proved herself a witty impressionist as well. In “Victor Victoria,” she used to warm up by singing “It’s a jolly holiday with you, Bert,” from “Mary Poppins,” until her exasperated co-star Julie Andrews said, in exquisitely pear-shaped tones, “Can it, Rachel! Fuck off!”
York recalled the infamous Wednesday matinee with Andrews’ replacement Liza Minnelli, when Tony Roberts quit the show. “Ooh, Liza’s somewhere else today,” she remembered, “Let’s be prepared. She was going up on her lines, but what was surprising was, she’s a dancer, and she was going up on the choreography, too. I shouldn’t be telling this. She was throwing me around like mad, but her eyes were completely dead, and she’d slap her thigh and do a ‘Now, you take it!’ gesture at me. It was a total train wreck, but what really sent things over the top was when she told an exasperated Roberts, ‘Oh, Toddy, even when I was a first-rate hooker I had a maid.’
She’d meant to say hoofer.
Feinstein’s at the Regency is swinging into spring with a plethora of song. On March 13, I saw Jane White give a special one-night only performance, in which she recounted her thorny career as a pioneer black actress on Broadway, and sang perceptive readings of “Harlem on My Mind,” “Looking at You,” and her Wicked Queen song from “Once Upon a Mattress,” “Sensitivity,“ exquisitely accompanied by the great Alex Rybeck. On March 23, Daryl Sherman with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks delighted me—not to mention Elvis Costello—with their “Park Avenue Whirl” compendium of classic tunes. Irving Berlin’s “Slumming on Park Avenue” was an especially apropos choice and done to a treat by an absolutely fabulous horn section. Upcoming at Feinstein’s—gigunda-voiced Linda Eder (through April 8), Diahann Carroll (April 18-29).
Robert Cuccioli has always found it difficult to shake off his Broadway “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” identification, but the man has always possessed more range and charm than that role would suggest. Even curmudgeonly John Simon, who panned him, told me that he ran into him at an upstate resort and, rather than socking the critic, was so delightful that they hung out together the entire weekend. Cuccioli definitely brings mucho flair to the revival of the 1968 review, “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.” As a survivor of too many bad renditions of “Carousel” and whose idea of hell is being trapped in a room listening to Brel’s arch, hectoring anthems in English translation, I wish the show gave more information about Brel the man and what made him manically tickticktick so, but Cuccioli and the lovely Gay Marshall certainly worked their derrieres off trying to make me a believer.
Documentarian Edgy Lee brought her film, “The Hawaiians,” to the Walter Reade Theatre on March 21. Trenchantly telling the story of these real native Americans in an hour’s time, the movie provided a veritable luau of thought. How their native land—so commercially precious today—was wrested from them by the greed of white financiers from the mainland, and then the American government itself—is a fascinating, heart-wrenching tale too little-known in our own country. Absorbing interviews with native healers and outrigger vessel builders attest to the ongoing relevance of ancient Hawaiian culture even today, amid all the tourism and monstrous development.
Definitely lower on the cinematic scale is “Take the Lead,” which purports to be the story of Pierre Dulaine, the ballroom dancing instructor who initiated school programs for inner city students. The movie suffers from a prime cinematic crime when it comes to filming dance—incessant editing that breaks up the choreographic flow. MTV popularized this aesthetic, but the success of Rob Marshall—a choreographer himself, who should know better—and his “Chicago” film has made this desecration common in movie musicals.
Tonight, as the premiere feature of its festival, “Against the Tide: Rebels and Mavericks in Contemporary Japanese Film,” Japan Society is presenting Isshin Inudo’s “Maison de Himiko.” The story of an aging drag queen—legendary Butoh artist Min Tanaka—who opens a retirement home for gay men, it’s a moving, kaleidoscopically funny work that addresses homophobia, the problems of growing old and gay, and physical desire in a variety of manifestations. Like Sachi Hamano’s little-seen, lovely lesbian film “Lily Festival” (2001), it doesn’t shy from presenting seniors as passionate, not always lovable human beings, rather than cutesy cartoons. Also screening April 12.
Contact David Noh at Inthenoh@aol.com