(First gallery image via Chippendales, all others by Matthew Rettenmund)
I went to see the Chippendales in Vegas a few years ago, and was surprised how gay-friendly it was. Returning this past week to catch the final night of Nyle DiMarco's residency as celebrity host, it had only gotten gayer—while still maintaining its unique status as the premier male burlesque stop for ladies.
The Chippendales Theatre at the Rio, plus Nyle's sexy-as-hell promo poster! (Images by Matthew Rettenmund)
The show is a nonstop parade of irresistible, hypermasculine clichés designed to elicit scream after scream—Marines, construction workers, motorcycle gangs, they're all there, as are the mostly hairless, uniformly muscled, TALL, sometimes tattooed men who thrust their way through the numbers.
So many men, including my Chippendales hubby, John, center (Images by Matthew Rettenmund)
As bulky as they are, most of the guys are terrific dancers, the music is up-to-the-minute, the costumes are on-point (and half-off!) and the newly installed LED displays let you check out every flex.
Last night, I did something new after 24 years in NYC—I went to Staten Island, the fabled most conservative borough.
I was lured there by a siren's song: Miss Sophia Loren was making an unusual appearance on her Q&A tour, An Evening with Sophia Loren. I find it odd that she would appear on Staten Island, but I think the tour is economically driven (she wants the money, not just remind us of her fabulousness) and the venue—the St. George—was probably much cheaper than anything in Manhattan. It certainly felt cheaper—it was frankly like the event had rented it out and the venue provided little more than a skeleton crew to move things along.
She's actually appearing in Detroit next.
Getting there wasn't half the fun, but it wasn't too much of a bother, and the ferry ride cooled me off. You may have heard that New York was stultifyingly hot recently. I went in and got my VIP pass, which was the very first moment I was notified that Sophia would not sign autographs at the $400 photo op. That seemed pretty stingy to me. I went back outside and spotted some autograph hounds by the stage door, listening in as one guy bent the ear of a security guy who could not have cared less as he talked about the various celebrity encounters he'd had in his life. I decided to hang there on the way, way off-chance that she would be accessible upon entry since only five or six guys were waiting and I had a nice pic for her to hopefully sign.
If you gotta be 81, you wanna be 81 and look like this.
Her manager walked by us, never mentioning the inevitable—that she planned to be driven straight into the building and would enter without anyone laying eyes on her—until he was finally directing her SUV into the back entrance. At this moment, these pigs who hadn't been waiting at all physically pushed past us to get closer, but they got no more a glimpse of her than we did. My motto is to try, because I'd rather have her autograph than not have it, but I wasn't going to lose sleep. I think the nice guy who had roses for her might have.
Marc Sinoway, R. Scott Williams, Joseph J. Menino & Brian Gligor (Image by Zach Job)
I was lured to the Lower East Side for a second day in a row, this time to take in the new play Boys of a Certain Age, written by Dan Fingerman and directed by Dan Dinero. Part of the Fresh Fruit Festival, the 90-minute piece nails down four very different, very similar gay Jewish men sharing a tense weekend that's supposed to be a chance for old friends to get reacquainted and new acquaintances to become friends, but which winds up being a knock-down, drag-out examination of what motivates members of different gay generations.
Think of it as Boys in the Sand, if that porn movie hadn't stolen the title, because this beachside play has some of the verve of Boys in the Band and far more likable characters.
Three sisters: Kim Kat (Carmen Mendoza), Kourtney Kat (Bridget Kennedy), Khloé Kat (Elliott Brooks)
Okay, like, I got invited to this super exclusive new Off-Broadway show called Katdashians: Break the Musical, and it was seriously the funniest thing everrr or, like, at least, it was a funny thing, you know? Bible.
Katdashians: Break the Musical is the very funny creation of Bob and Tobly McSmith, the warped minds behind past romps like Bayside! The Musical!, Full House: The Musical! and Showgirls!: The Musical. With the McSmiths' perverse combo of legitimately complex songs and gross-out humor, tight direction by tight John Duff (who we would all like to see attempt to break the Internet with his own fame-ready caboose), and Broadway-level choreography by Viva Soudan, the show has more to offer than just cheap laughs at the world's most famous Armenian-Americans.
There goes Times Square (again). (All images in this post by Matthew Rettenmund)
Though there are plenty of cheap laughs, too.
The show follows—wallows in?—the regrettable ascension of the Kardashians, ending somewhere just beyond Caitlyn Jenner's transition. The songs are, as the title suggests, frequently parodies of famous numbers from Cats (which is returning to Broadway in the near future—that legendary musical is as bad as Keeping Up with the Kardashians and apparently just as hard to euthanize permanently), but there are also clever re-workings of tunes by Beyoncé, Madonna and other suitably fabulous fame whores.
And yes, it was “better than Cats.”
A Chorus Feline
Speaking of which, if there is anything limiting about doing a parody of the most famous, most polarizing people alive, it may be that the show works best if you know everything about the Kardashians and also have the Cats original cast recording memorized. Thing is, very few people probably check both boxes. Luckily, the show does work if you're only into one or the other, and even seems to work if you're a novice regarding both. I surveyed some patrons and was surprised how few were well-versed in Kardashian lore, though a girl behind me who claimed she knew nothing knew all the terms in the “How to Speak Kardashian” insert from our program. The guy next to me, who knew zero about the Kardashians, laughed loudly throughout. I mean, jokes about pubic hair and anal sex are pretty universal.
Finding North: Vogue cover subject Kim vogues.
The cast/cats are purrfect, led by Carmen Mendoza as busty, bratty, dusky-Baby Doll Kim Kat. She has her look down pat and has the star quality necessary to function as the epicenter of an attention-logged sect.
Bridget Kennedy as Kourtney Kat is a riot, offering a deadpan, personality-free take that reminded me of the fun femme performances in the late, great American Psycho. She channels a Selma Blair monotone and has the requisite bombshell looks, the exact recipe for Kourtney.
Standing out from an already stellar group is Elliott Brooks as Khloé Kat, whose character gets the Cher-in-Moonstruck treatment as we follow her from Khloé's birth status as a softer, potty-on-me-mouthed version of The Thing to the voluptuous blonde work-out fanatic that she is today. With manic, verbal-diarrhetic glee, she spits out shocking one-liners about anal sex, anal beds, “Shit on a dick!” and projectile vaginal discharge—singing hysterically at one point about the seemingly drug-resistant strain of pubic hair she hosts—and yet still makes the audience root for her. Definitely pick of the litter.
When Mama Jenner introduces her new boyfriend, Corey Gamble.
Bailey Nolan is Kris Kat/Kris Jenner's doppelgänger thanks to the perfect wig and a great vocal imitation; it felt like Kris was appearing in the show herself, which is not something I would put past her. Her counterpart, Peter Smith as Bruce/Catlyn/Caitlyn, nailed the transgender trailblazer's guyish speech and was able to make us cheer for her transition all over again, even though in real life, Caitlyn turned out to be kind of a dud in the inspiration arena. Smith's take on a parody of “Memory” was a show-stopper.
They call me Bruce: Smith's Catlyn was the cat's meow.
Knee-slapping, mutinous scenes featuring choreographer Soudan as Kylie Kat and Ariel Ash as Kendall Kat (in a mask and peek-a-boo unitard, she was the spitting image) had some audience members howling. Alexis Kelley and Jenyvette Vega serve as ass-tastic Dash Dolls.
Let's hope the litter-box office is strong!
Best thing about the show, though, might be the innovation of encouraging (non-flash) photography, and especially selfie-taking, throughout. So if your mind wanders, take a great selfie and let your followers on social media know that you're doing looking good.
In the end, this sometimes almost admiring, more often catty, hoot has its claws out mostly for you, the audience that pretends to revile a family famous only for being famous ... all the while watching their every move like a cat watches a bowl-bound goldfish.
Katdashians: Break the Musical is at the Elektra Theatre at 300 W. 43rd St., NYC, through July 16. Tickets are $25-$45. Visit the site here.
Keep reading for video and pictures from the opening-night champagne toast ...
When I first started going, the show was loud and clear about not wanting photography. There even used to be printed banners asking us to respect the dancers; perversely, I own one. (A sign, not a dancer.) But in spite of the stern warnings, photography was never policed, attendees indulged in it liberally, photos and videos littered the Internet and—in spite of protestations from the powers that be concerning the dancers' feelings—the dancers loved everyone's cellular attention and tagged themselves in photos across social media.
I would guess this only broadened the show's reach and helped sell official DVDs and tickets to future performances.
This year, the show's director, the indefatigable Nick Kenkel, granted a fantastic interview to Billboard. Kenkel noted the show is loosening up on its approach to photos. Even without that official word, the photo-friendly atmosphere last night couldn't be missed—no announcement was made, no signs were spotted. Let the games begin. (Within hours of posting a video consisting of 60 seconds of snippets from the show, I received a friendly take-down notice, the first time I've ever heard of this happening after the fact. Perhaps it was because it was video, but Instagram has plenty of that up already, too. Hm.)
With stand-outs Erik Altemus (top), Mark MacKillop (L) & Ben Ryan (R)
I was front-and-center for the June 19, 2016, midnight edition of Broadway Bares 26: On Demand at the Hammerstein Ballroom. The theme was TV, which is kind of like radio doing a special about TV in the '50s considering TV is theater's biggest rival! It seems like millennial gays are increasingly addicted to their shows, like old ladies used to be to soap operas—it's a wonder they can be counted on to buy tickets to anything, even a show like Bares, which is a reliable taint buffet.
Hotness at the show, but not part of the show
In line waiting to get in, an adorable young guy from Utah was trying to remain spoiler-free, looking away from the phones of the guys ahead of him ... they were watching Game of Thrones. He later had to put up with a precociously smashed guy groping him and asking him such long-lost Proust Questionnaire queries as, “How are you even here?” and, “Where do you sleep?”
Not-so-secret stache: Erik Altemus
The show kicked off with “Bares TV,” setting up the plot: Failing TV station (fronted by Lesli Margherita and populated by Morgan Weed, Erik Altemus and Michael Longoria) decides that sex sells, so decides to sell sex from within every offering on the network: News, weather, soaps, VOD and more.
Months ago, I bought my mom and I tickets to see Carol Burnett's latest show, a traveling Q&A about her life and career aimed at plugging her upcoming book, In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox (Crown Archetype, September 2016). It was as much a gift to myself as it was to her, and the event ensured I'd visit more than just at Christmas for a change.
Having parted with my original tickets (to my good buddy Shaun and his partner and a mutual friend) in favor of reasonably priced front-row (!) seats, we sat waiting for Carol to emerge, just like we had waited for her show to begin each week over 40 years ago. This time, we were side-by-side. Back then, I was usually at the end of my parents' bed, or even hidden at the foot of it (if I wasn't supposed to be up), where I would sometimes fall asleep and trip my dad in the middle of the night.
I once wrote Carol to tell her it was her fault I didn't have more brothers and sisters, because my parents were too engrossed in her show. I also wrote her to ask her to contribute a one-word description of Madonna for my Encyclopedia Madonnica 20, a request you might think someone of her generation would ignore or even find annoying. Instead, Carol was the very first star to reply—with a handwritten note, no less. Her word? TALENTED!, with the exclamation point.
Now, waiting for Carol to come on, the man we sat next to kept asking me, “Are you excited?” I think he was using me to talk to himself. He also wanted to compare ticket prices, as older men love to do.
I had a blast at On Your Feet!, exactly the kind of Broadway musical/revue I would normally find tedious.
Based on the life stories of Emilio and Gloria (in that order, it seemed at times) Estefan, the show is driven ably by Jerry Mitchell and features crowd-pleasing fancy footwork courtesy of choreographer Sergio Trujillo (nominated for a Tony for his work), but the main course is a litany of most of Gloria's hits with and without Miami Sound Machine.
(Image via On Your Feet!)
The book, by Oscar-winning Birdman writer Alexander Dinelaris, is straightforward, following young Gloria (effervescent 15-year-old Alexandria Suarez—give this girl her own Nickelodeon or Disney Channel series!) as she matures into a sassy dynamo. Given life by a radiant, confident Ana Villafañe, pre-fame Gloria is musically fixed up with ambitious charmer Emilio (Josh Segarra). The two quickly make beautiful music together in both senses of the phrase, leading to a first act heavy on the excitement of watching a pair of young dreamers as they successfully figure out how to persuade U.S. radio that their fusion of Latin beats and American pop can't miss.
I never expected “Doctor Beat” to be so emotionally resonant.