Brian’s bravado, Rex’s grudging admiration, Bruce’s leering charm
Tears poured down Brian Stokes Mitchell’s face at his epochal New York cabaret debut at Feinstein’s at the Regency. He was singing Maury Yeston’s “New Words,” a tribute to his little son, Ellington, and, such is this performer’s total involvement, that it became an ecstatically overpowering moment of emotional purity. Actually, we were all crying tears of sheer joy over his artistry, beneficently warm presence and stupendous voice.
His love of jazz, on which he was bred, emerged in glowing renditions of “The Best is Yet To Come” and a daring, elegant-hustler version of “Love for Sale,” which he introduced with “This show is called ‘Love/Life’ and Cole Porter had an interesting take on life, and certainly his love life.” A 1940s medley, which included the radiant “The Very Thought of You” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” transported the audience to heaven, with his voice at once recalling both the creamiest tones of Luther Vandross and the great Al Hibbler.
Mitchell’s acting talent, which made the revival of “Kiss Me Kate” such an event, evinced itself in Bruce Hornsby’s “Hooray for Tom,” in which he transformed himself into a heartbreakingly gawky adolescent. He dedicated that song, and Joe Raposo’s “Bein’ Green” to all the childhood misfits in the audience, saying that he was once a fat kid. And, for his encore, he did a little number called “The Impos-sible Dream,” which he now officially owns, and the power of that, in this intimate cabaret room, must have stopped traffic on Park Avenue.
After the show, I jokingly told him, “I am from Hawaii, and you were so good tonight, I forgive you for playing [Olympic champion] Duke Kahanamoku in that Doris Duke TV movie, with Lauren Bacall.”
“Didn’t that film suck?” he replied. “I got into so much trouble over that. You know, I grew up in the Philippines and Guam, and Hawaii is the only place in the world I feel at home. Duke Kahanamoku was my idol, and when there were so many protests there over me not being Hawaiian and playing him, I had to meet with all these political activists. It was headline news and, when I was filming there, I had my favorite Hawaiian radio station on, when I heard the DJ Brickwood Galuteria, saying, ‘We’re gonna call Brian right now and get to the bottom of this!’ I was, like, ‘What?’ and then my phone was ringing and I had to tell them, ‘You’re absolutely right. I also think a Hawaiian should be playing this, but they told me they couldn’t find one.’”
I asked his lovely actress wife, Allyson Tucker, who will be singing and dancing in “Chita Rivera,” also present, written by Terrence McNally and choreographed by Graciela Danielle, what it was like to have that around the house all the time. She laughed, “You know that lyric, ‘The way you sing off-key’? Well, that’s what Brian does all the time, washing the dishes, whenever. He knows it just cracks me up!”
Rex Reed was beside himself, saying, “I never really cared for him and that ‘Impossible Dream’ stuff, but his jazz singing was extraordinary and should be recorded.” He was there with dance star Marge Champion, who will be celebrated herself with a special evening at Film Forum on February 28. She said, “We’re discovering all this rare film for it. I found my 1938 movie, ‘Honor of the West,’ with cowboy star, Bob Baker, the worst picture for Universal. I was then billed as Marjorie Bell, and still have the jeans I wore in that. They didn’t make jeans for girls then, so I wore men’s, with the buttons on the wrong side, and I still have those!
Bruce Vilanch positively killed as host of the annual entertainment marathon known as The Nightlife Awards, at Town Hall on January 31. He described CBS’ upcoming schedule which includes “CSI: Fire Island” this way: “An arm washes up onshore. But it’s wearing bad jewelry, so nobody cares.”
This night, which traditionally clocks in at a minimum of four hours, had Kate Clinton, saying, “When it started I was a Stonewall dyke, now I’m Stonehenge. Catheters are available under your seats.”
The reason we steel ourselves and our bladders every year for this is the awesome wealth of talent which turns up onstage. I was a judge this year and thrilled that Keely Smith won and favored an idolatrous audience with her late husband Louis Prima’s hit “Just a Gigolo,” as well as a shimmering “I Wish You Love.” She bawdily asked her presenter, Tony Danza, if he were carrying a squash in his tuxedo, causing Danza to blush and flee offstage and Vilanch to comment: “I want an update on that squash situation. Telephone operators are standing by.”
Jeff sang athunderous rendition of “Once Upon a Time,” prompting Vilanch’s “The last remaining wall of the Henry Miller Theatre across the street just fell.”