Dish And Divas

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Maupin’s movies, Laurent’s gossip, Paris’ fan club

There is something almost saintly about Armistead Maupin, whose book, “The Night Listener,” has been made into a film. He is a centered, generous soul, a total dream of an interview.

“As well as screenwriter, I am also listed as one of the executive producers,” he chuckled. “I was present at all times, but ‘producer’ these days means a whole lot of things; I don’t know how many we had on this film. The book came out in 2000, and I really didn’t think it would be possible to film it, or that it would attract movie folks because of the number of phone calls in it. That was the biggest dilemma in the adaptation – how do you not bore everybody to death, and yet represent the person on the other end of the line? In the novel that’s not an issue because the reader supplies the visuals for you, but in film you have to be quite literal about it.”

Laura Linney, who played Mary Ann Singleton in “Tales of the City,” was an instrumental force. “We’re good friends and we were sort of between boyfriends at the time. She asked me to be her escort for the 2000 Oscars when she was nominated for ‘You Can Count On Me,’ so I had every gay boy’s dream come true, to sit in the front row of the Oscars. She was there with her producer, Jeff Sharp, and he got curious about the book. He read it by the pool at The Four Seasons, while I was upstairs with Laura, helping her pick out her Valentino gown. A couple months later, Jeff emailed me and we were off and crawling—it only took six years.”

Maupin has known Robin Williams, who plays his movie alter ego, since the late ‘70s. Williams’ agents weren’t giving him the script “because they weren’t interested in the preposterously low salary we were offering, so I called him directly. As for straight actors like him playing gay, I just believe the role should go to the best actor for it, regardless of their sexuality. But I support gay actors coming out of the closet; we need that kind of courage. For years, I tried to get my friend, Rock Hudson, to do it—it was a real bee in my bonnet—but he wasn’t ready. I talked with Ian McKellen a lot, and helped to convince him to do it.”

Sandra Oh plays Williams’ friend and Maupin said, “When it came to casting Anna, I thought of Sandy. She played Bambi Kanetaka in ‘Further Tales of the City,’ and, actually, this character of Anna is the grown-up version of the little daughter of Didi Halcyon. So Sandra is the only actor to play two different ‘Tales of the City’ roles! She’s just adorable—I love her.”

Next summer will see the publication of “Michael Tolliver Lives,” which reflects the current happiness Maupin is enjoying—“In the book, Michael is 55, HIV-positive, living and thriving in San Francisco with a younger husband whom he marries at City Hall. As for me, I am in the happiest relationship of my life; we’ve been together two years now.”

A handsome, talented cast and Duncan Sheik’s throbbing, lyrical music for Atlantic Theatre Company’s reworking of Franz Wedekind’s “Spring Awakening” are the best things about this production, which will be brought to Broadway by producers Ira Pittleman and Tom Hulce next season. I spied Kristen Johnston and two generations of eminent gay playwrights, Douglas Carter Beane and Arthur Laurents. Laurents is never short of opinions and when I asked him if he was looking forward to Patti Lupone doing ‘Gypsy’ at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival, he said, “No. She begged me to do it back in 1989, but I wouldn’t let her and cast Tyne Daly. She has no consonants!”

“Neither does Joan Sutherland,” I interjected.

“But she sings opera! Also Patti has no sense of humor. But, do you like any of these revivals? I thought the last ‘Gypsy’ was terrible. It wasn’t Bernadette [Peters]’ fault. [Director] Sam Mendes doesn’t know anything about music. And did you see the recent ‘Sweeney Todd’? Like a high school dissertation. But I’ve actually come up with a new idea for ‘West Side Story’ which will bring it into the 21st century for young audiences. I can’t tell you what it is, but when I told it to Steve Sondheim, he said, ‘I can’t believe no one has ever thought of that before!’”

Do not miss “Offenbach!!!,” at Bard College—845-758-7900—through Aug. 12, a trio of short operas, brilliantly staged by director-choreographer Ken Roht. Roht has taken these supremely silly divertissements, which satirically pare opera down to its basic elements—love, politics, mistaken identities—and transforms them into a sumptuous, entertaining spectacle. Irina Kruzhilina’s costumes recall Russian Art Deco designer Leon Bakst crossed with Christian Lacroix and the cast couldn’t be better. Waco-born soprano Tonna Miller has a spun-glass voice and the perfect soubrette spirit, tenor James Schaffner gives spirited power to the nonsense lyrics of Ludovic Halévy (“La Juife”) and is adorable as a Chinese mandarin and, later, as a tomboy. Matthew Burns was a blustery joy as the villain Ko-Ko-Ri-Co, and Stephen Goldstein was hilarious, giving a puppet show that was like an ironic comment on Julie Taymor’s work. Under Roht’s discerning, rigorously detailed guide, the opera singers move as if a great choreographer had instructed them.

I’ll probably get fired for this, but I like Paris Hilton. “The Simple Life” is a consistent hoot, and her CD release, “Stars Are Blind,” is the perfect summer dance anthem—sexy, funky, in short, everything Jennifer Lopez fans might have wanted on her last, tired outing. Hilton actually has a dippy, modernized Carole Lombard quality and glamour to her; she is that wacky heiress Lombard played in “My Man Godfrey.” Although she didn’t show up at the fun 49 Grove/Friends with Benefits release party, diva puppet Madame was there, with her new handler Joe Kovacs standing in for the late Wayland Flowers. Maybe I had too many cosmos, but I thought Madame bore something of a resemblance to Paris in, say, 100 years time. Hopefully, by then someone will be writing material for her like this vintage bit from Hollywood Squares.

[Host] Peter Marshall: “Madame, is it true that people who smoke get rear-ended more often?”

Madame: “Hi sailor, got a light?”

Contact David Noh at

Contact David Noh at