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In the Spotlight

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New York! New York!

by Brian Sands, New Orleans, Louisiana

So I was going through Central Park on a Sunday afternoon and all of a sudden I heard "The Voice" handing out awards to the top finishers in a 5K fund-raising run for God's Love We Deliver. Sure enough, in the flesh, was Joan Rivers doing her thing and looking fabulous. You go girl!

Such are the delights and endless surprises New York City has to offer on any given day. From a free sidewalk buffet offered by a gourmet deli celebrating its twentieth anniversary to seeing celebrities hawking wares and auctioning off goodies at the annual Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Shubert Alley flea market, Manhattan can entertain all but the most world-weary travelers.

The following provides an up-to-the-minute sampling of New York's broadly defined cultural scene. Better hurry, though - fifteen minutes from now, things could be completely different.

With a plethora of good shows to choose from, there's no region to waste time or money on drek. Forget about all its awards, ignore the hype, just go see Rent for what it is-an old-fashioned love story. Of course, set in the bohemian world of the East Village with its gays, dykes, druggies, drag queens and club kidz, it reconfigures its "boy meets girl/boy loses girl/boy gets girl" theme in ways that Rodgers & Hammerstein could not imagine.

Despite a muddled second act, Jonathan Larson's vibrant, knowing songs and a spirited cast let you leave the theater on a complete high.

Star power doesn't get much brighter than Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria. Yet she's not the only reason to see this "egregiously overlooked" show. Good if not great songs, fabulous costumes, an engaging story and Rachel York's phenomenal turn as a ditsy blonde gangster's moll make for a highly enjoyable evening of theater. And the show's overall message of "being true to yourself" should place it among other gay pride standard-bearers.

Two British imports, though each somewhat verbose, offer stylish entertainment. Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband displays his customary wit ("Youth isn't an affectation. Youth is an art.") ( "When the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.") as lovers and politicians scheme to find happiness. Peter Hall's Company, particularly Anna Carteret, elegantly brings Wilde's dialogue to life as only the British can.

David (Plenty) Hare's new play Skylight pits a conservative entrepreneur (Sir Michael Gambon) against his former mistress (Lia Williams), now teaching underprivileged kids, in a battle of hearts, minds and how Britain should comport itself in the post-Thatcheite era. Seeing the Great Gambon perform in this challenging role is an opportunity not to be missed. And Williams matches him blow for blow.

After one has enjoyed Rent, Victor/Victoria, Master Class and other Broadway offerings, rush uptown to see them skewered in Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back. Featuring New Orleans' own Bryan Batt, Forbidden's satire is so on-the-money funny, my face ached from laughing hysterically for two solid hours.

Also off-Broadway, is a bracing revival of The Boys in the Band. Its portrayal of gay life in 1968 is half still achingly relevant -- and half like a history lesson of what it was like "back then". One wishes that Mart Crowley could have found a better resolution than the game-playing that takes up most of the second act, but the fine cast, led by the superb David Drake, holds your attention throughout.

Grandma Sylvia's Funeral, though not as sharp as its spiritual forebear Tony n' Tina's Wedding, still provides interactive fun with a full complement of queer characters and currently features the professional acting debut of the Supreme's Mary Wilson.

In Full Gallop, Mary Louise Wil- son portrays fashion's empress Diana Vreeland, the legendary editor of Harpers Bazaar and Vogue who wanted to be surrounded by "only beautiful things." Though she loathed nostalgia, she was a "great believer in vulgarity." After all, "we all need a splash of bad taste. NO taste is what I'm against." In a life not untouched by tragedy, for her style was "the great thing. You've got to have style. It helps you get up in the morning." Before its stylish audience. Full Gallop may be a bit short on substance but, with tales of Balenciaga and Chanel, Wilson's captivating incarnation of Vreeland more than compensates.

Style of another sort is on dis- play at When Pigs Fly, the late Howard Crabtree's paean to gay sensibility, imagination and sheer pluck. Felled by AIDS five days after finishing costumes worthy of a gay Mardi Gras ball, Crabtree's spirit lives on in this delightful revue. Poking fun at "Newt, Strom and Rush," Don Ho and even Samantha of Bewitched, Pigs celebrates the triumph of the spectacular over the mundane.

Spectacular is the only way to describe Opening Night at the Metropolitan Opera as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the pop of champagne corks ushered in a new season. In an audience of tuxedos, evening gowns and jewels aplenty, one chap in overalls stood out like a drag queen on Wall Street. Sadly, the evening's opera, Andrea Chenier, left a bit to be desired with Pavarotti's voice no longer able to scale the heights it once did. Bland staging and misguided sets did not help. Still, Maria Guleghina's forceful heroine and Juan Pons' beautifully passionate singing allowed for moments of pleasure.

Far better was Smetana's The Bartered Bride featuring gor- geously rhapsodic music with a dash of Czech folk dances thrown in. Though Teresa Stratas was ill [Surprise!], Gwynne Geyer made for a winning Marenka, while Paul Plishka demonstrated both his prodigious musical and acting talents. With the new Met Titles making operas more accessible and upcoming productions of Cosi fan Tutte with Cecilia Bartoli, Zeffirelli's new Carmen with Denyce Graves, Billy Budd, the complete Ring cycle and New Orleans' Ruth Falcon in Hansel and Gretel, if you have any interest in opera, if you have any interest in culture, if you have any interest in life, make sure to catch at least one performance at the Met.

For cultural life of a different sort, New York's club and bar scene overflows with choices. Some choices will be made for you as New York has a strict, "If this is Tuesday, this is the club to go to" mentality. As things change every five minutes-(seconds?) in the Big Apple, you'll just have to figure out which is the right club on the right day when you get there. (A copy of H/X, a local mag, might help.)

The bar scene, however, offers a little more consistency from night to night. With Christopher Street having evolved into part queer mall/part museum of gay bars, the action has shifted to two distinct locales.

Chelsea is now the heart of NYC's homo-land with a variety of bars within walking distance of each other. Splash (50 W. 17 St.) reminds one of the Pub with videos, go-go boys and a chatty, young-ish crowd. For butch boys, there's Champs (17 W. 19 St.) a cruisy "sports bar" (makes ya wonder if we're becoming a bit too much like them). King (579 Sixth at 16 St.) features a dick dancer on the first floor, a disco on the second and a "private lounge" on the third-with free underwear parties on Sunday nights.

A little more laid-back is The Break (232 Eighth Ave. at 22 St.), a mellow neighborhood bar, while around the corner from it, and even more laid-back, is Barracuda (275 W. 22 St.) with fabulous 1950's decor in the rear. Of course, there's always the Spike and the Eagle (or Speagle) at llth Ave. and 20/21 Sts. for the leather/levi set, but the coolest places to be these days seem to be Big Cup (228 Eighth Ave.), a coffeehouse, and Food Bar (149 Eighth Ave. at 17 St.), a cheap eats restaurant. Go figure.

At the other end of the island is the happening East Village, no longer an outpost, but about as trendy as you can get. (Thanks "Rent") College boys with shaved heads can be found in abundance around the pool table at the Boiler Room (86 E. 4 St.). Around the corner is The Bar (68 Second Ave.) which reminds one of a more intellectualized version of a neighborhood bar. Ditto for the Tunnel Bar (116 First Ave. at 7th St.). The ultimate East Village bar, though, may well be Cake (99 Ave. B at 7th St.) with its red lights, overstuffed sofas, flashing 1950's porn photos, hard rock music, and a pierced and tattooed crowd speaking an array of international languages. Check out its basement, a concept we in the Big Easy are so unfamiliar with, and then for a late-nite or early morning bite head to Leshko's (Ave. A and 7th Street) for potato pancakes and awesome blueberry blintzes.

One pleasant surprise was the classic S & M ("Stand & Model") bar Uncle Charlie's (56 Greenwich Ave.) now has a Noche Latino on Thursday nights with Laritza Dumont hosting first drag acts and then a wet underwear contest. A fun, friendly crowd.

For visual treats of a different kind, check out the Whitney Museum's "NYNY: City of Ambition" featuring homoerotic paintings by Charles Demuth and Paul Cadmus as well as works by Andy Warhol, Diane Arbus, Georgia O'Keefe among many others. And two of the most homoerotic works ever created can be seen in "Giorgio de Chirico and America" at, Hunter Colleges small gallery ( 68th St. at Lexington Ave.) through October 26. "Mysterious Baths" (1936) and "Visit to the Mysterious Baths" (1935) show men in suits staring at naked men wading through a weird kind of canal. Surrealism at its best.

Finally, for one of the most romantic spots in all of New York, be sure not to miss the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Roof Sculpture Garden, open through October 27. Try to get there around dusk as night falls over the city and you're rewarded with a magnificent view of Central Park and beyond. Have a cocktail for me and enjoy.

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