Slavish for Lavin; Tel Aviv diva; a howl that’s genuine; some nice star turns
Inspired to dust off her musical chops by Jim Caruso, who produces this concert series featuring Broadway stars at Birdland, she got to be the jazz diva she has obviously always yearned to be. This self-described “Jew from Maine” began her career singing in a number of sketchy venues, “which all had the word ‘downstairs’ in their name”, and professed to be thrilled to be finally singing on street level.
Accompanied by Billy Stritch and her new husband, drummer Steve Bakunas, Lavin performed an appealingly quirky range material that included an ancient Al Dubin song, “So Is Your Old Lady,” inspired by the old “Maggie and Jiggs” comic strip, the sheet music of which she bought for a quarter in a junk shop. She reminisced about auditioning for the part of Lois Lane in “It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman” (1966), only to be told by Harold Prince that she was too ethnic. She borrowed a blonde wig from pal Sylvia Miles and landed the secretary role of Sydney, which only incurred Miles’ wrath as she thought she should have gotten that role herself.
Lavin sang her song from that show, “You’ve Got Possibilities,” as well as another ditty she introduced that same year in “The Mad Show”––“The Boy from…” With a tune by Mary Rodgers, this has to be the campiest song Stephen Sondheim ever lyricized: “Why are his trousers vermillion?/Why does he claim he’s Castilian?/Why do his friends call him Lillian?/And I hear at the end of the week/He’s leaving to start a boutique.”
Naturally, she sang, “There’s a New Girl in Town,” the theme from her TV show, “Alice,” extolling that character for all it did for her career-
wise and how much she related to it personally. She mentioned how, over the show’s nine seasons, she tried to vary her rendition of it, even going disco at one point, but all the producers would use was the same old, straight version.
From Israel comes Meital Dohan, with her utterly beguiling “Bath Party,” at HERE, seen August 31. A veteran of countless theater, TV, and film productions in her homeland, Dohan’s major assets include exquisite, sexy looks and a brazen comic flair she puts to uproarious use, playing, well, herself––a desperately egomaniacal newcomer to the U.S., who will leave no stone unturned in her quest for stardom.
Claiming that the first McDonald’s opening in Tel Aviv inspired her mission, she cleverly mixes live performing, Britney-esque song and dance, and video in this show, which is the perfect kind of absurd, chic piffle to happily while away a late summer’s eve. With the remnants of a Big Mac streaming from her mouth, she is filmed, storming Times Square, sacking H&M for bargains and eliciting bemused head-shakings from tourists. She auditions for NYU’s drama school but is rejected by a professor, played by Louise Lasser (on video), who shows that her inimitably dry comic talent remains fully intact.
Hilarious video clips of Dohan’s extensive Israeli film career are shown, in which she plays, as she describes, “a sexy blonde, a sexy brunette, a sexy lesbian, and a banana.”
“I got a part here at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center,” she proudly announced. “Do you know what that is?”
Dohan is superbly supported by two aides-de-camp. Fetching P.J. Mehaffey, who has the longest eyelashes on the New York stage, plays her gay assistant, Robbie, who somehow inserts a gay porno loop––featuring the ugliest actor I have ever seen––into Dohan’s video autobiography, eliciting major diva shrieks. Susan Hyon is Dohan’s Korean manicurist, whose droll, meek manner masks all kinds of crouching tiger possibilities.
At the after-party, Dohan told me that she has permanently moved here and hopes audiences will get her special brand of humor, which she co-wrote with her director, Karen Shefler, and Ayelet Dekel. When I told her that New York gay men will no doubt adore her, and she should do promo venues like Therapy and Splash, she adorably asked, “And what is Splash?”
Dohan cast Mehaffey after meeting him working at the place she used to make her videos.
“So my day job really paid off here,” he told me with a laugh.
Hyon replaced an actress who didn’t quite get the satire of her part––subsequently making her treatment by Dohan too cruel.
“I started acting on 9/11,” Hyon told me. “I had majored in economics and was working at the Stock Exchange that day. I was trapped in a building, thought I was going to die, and decided that, from then on, I had to do what I really wanted to.”
These summer dog days always present a mixed bag of entertainment. My few forays to the Fringe Festival proved less than rewarding. Although I applaud the incredible effort which goes into this annual marathon of non-stop productions and the opportunities it gives to so many striving artists, I dearly wish there were a little more quality control to alleviate at least some of the onstage haplessness. After all, we don’t want to have to refer to it in future as more cringe than fringe.
“The New Bohemia,” purporting to be the history of burlesque and a murder mystery, was just embarrassing, while “The Irish Curse” was truly lamentable. A bunch of white guys sitting around, endlessly talking about their tiny Gaelic penises, this was the sort of obsessive, one-track minded stuff that gives gay plays a bad name. Yeah, yeah, I know there were straight characters involved, but, as written by Martin Casella, they all came off gay, and unconvincingly, at that. (There’s a description of two heteros comparing hard-on sizes in the locker room at one point.)
The play achieved its nadir with all of the characters—including a similarly afflicted Catholic priest—yelling things like “Englishmen have small dicks!” “Frenchmen have big ones!” “Japanese, Chinese, Koreans have small ones!” etc., etc. Under these horrendously annoying circumstances, it was something of a miracle that one actor, Roderick Hill, managed to impress with his sensitive, strong presence and flawless Irish brogue.
The only thing I caught at the HOWL Festival was, fortuitously, the band, coincidentally named The Howl on August 25 at Bowery Poetry Club, which is a terrific, dirt cheap––when not completely free––reminder of what Allen Ginsberg’s neighborhood stood for before all the gentrification. The band is fronted by singer Andrew Katz, and includes Brer Brian, familiar to many as the angelic blonde dude who used to sing and play guitar on the Times Square/Grand Central shuttle every morning, soothing the nerves of many a harried nine-to-fiver. The band’s set was pure rock and roll––noisy, sloppily fun, and quite wonderful.
Portraying a full-fledged star on stage or screen, especially when you are not one in reality yourself, is always a huge challenge. Daniel Sunjata did this with breathtaking aplomb in “Take Me Out,” as gay baseball hero Darren Lemming, and in the just-released “Undiscovered,” Shannyn Sossamon, who was so good in the underrated, very homoerotic screen version of Bret Easton Ellis’ best novel, “The Rules of Attraction,” does a takeoff on supermodel Gisele Bundchen that is spot-on.
In the just-extended “Once Around the Sun,” at the Zipper Theatre, seen August 21, Maya Days has all of the requisite glamour, assurance, and gorgeous voice as singing sensation Nona Blue. The book of this show is as corny as can be, but the cast is winning and much of the music is very appealing, far more so, than anything Adam Guettel, Ricky Ian Gordon, Andrew Lippa, Frank Wildhorn, or Michael John (“I’m too good for Broadway”) LaChiusa have bored us blind with in the past.
One doesn’t really expect to hear great live music on Fire Island––well, not since France Joli introduced her classic “Come to Me” at the first Pines Party an epoch ago––but I was blown away by Porsche, who performed on August 27 at Sapin. This blonde bombshell rocked the room with her party personality and major pipes, especially on a balls-out rendition of the Janice Joplin classic, “Ball and Chain.” Her music fully united a happy, drunken crowd, cutting through all that Pines fou-foufery and making a splendid alternative to the ho-hum, usual business going on next door at the Sip and Twirl, where the dance floor, with its sliding doors and weird diagonal layout, has always had the claustrophobic feel of a suburban rumpus room.
Contact David Noh at [email protected].
Susan Hyon and Meital Doahn perform in Dohan’s beguiling “Bath Party,” which has nothing to do with the old regime in Iraq.