Sunday, October 14, 2007

The second of two articles on The Ritz on Broadway

(Kevin Chamberlin, starring in The Ritz and William Ivey Long, five time Tony award-winning costume design, inset)
A Cartoon from the '70s

The theater is very gay, they say, but it just doesn't get any gayer than the Broadway revival of Terrence McNally's farce The Ritz opening October 11 at Studio 54. The playwright, the director, the costume designer, the musical director, the lead actor, and much of the cast are all at the top of their field and they are all gayer than geese.
Originally produced in 1975, the play was embraced by straight audiences and became a hit on Broadway. It was subsequently filmed as a movie with its stars Rita Moreno, Jack Warden, and Jerry Stiller, successfully making the leap from the stage to celluloid. The play has languished since then, as its depiction of pre- AIDS sexual hijinks in a fictional Manhattan bathhouse was deemed in poor taste with HIV ravaging the gay community."
It's a celebration of pre-AIDS sexuality," said McNally. "I think we can enjoy that now without minimizing what has been suffered though the AIDS epidemic."
Joe Mantello, Broadway's current hottest director - he helmed the musical "Wicked" which remains the Great White Way's highest grossing show, as well as "Three Days of Rain" with Julia Roberts and "The Odd Couple" with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick - always wanted to bring "The Ritz" back. He suggested the idea to McNally who had worked with actress Rosie Perez on a revival of his play "Frankie and Johnny."

They thought she'd be perfect for the role of Googie Gomez, the bathhouse'sin-house chanteuse who has more ambition than singing talent."She's tremendously hardworking as an actress," said the play's star, out actor Kevin Chamberlin. "
This is the most strenuous play I've ever been in, just physically. With farce, you need to be at the top of your game and Rosie is just terrific."Chamberlin received kudos for his role as Horton the Elephant in "Seussical The Musical" and playing Mae West in drag in "Dirty Blond." "I've been nominated for two Tonys in plays where the fat balding guy gets to be the romantic lead, can you believe it?"
The handsome Chamberlin is highly regarded by his peers for his acting chops and is starring with Lily Taylor in the Lifetime series "State of Mind" that debuted this year. In "The Ritz," he plays a straight, Midwestern schmo who married into a Mafia family and hides in the bathhouse to escape the homicidal wrath of his brother-in-law. "It's really a wonderful ride," Chamberlin said. "Sometimes you do plays and the mood in the cast set by the lead actors is a not so good, but Rosie andI knew we wanted this to be fun and the entire cast is a joy to work with."
That cast is made up of some top talent, including Broadway musical maven Seth Rudetsky, who was a writer for the Rosie O'Donnell show and masterminded the popular Broadway Backwards fundraisers for the LGBTCommunity Center. He has a hilarious moment as one of the bathhouse clientele who enters an amateur talent show and sings "Magic to Do" from the '70s musical "Pippin." Rudetsky pulls double duty as the revival's musical director and put together Googie's '70s montage musical number that brings the house down. The comic actor Brooks Ashmanskas, last seen stealing scenes from Martin Shortin "Fame Become Me," plays the bathhouse's most flamboyant denizen wearing a flowing purple kimono into the steamroom. Eighties porn legend Ryan Idol is also in the cast, adding a big helping of daddy flavor to the group of mostly young actors who make up the mosteye-catching of the bathhouse's patrons.
All the this plays out on the stage of the notorious Studio 54, another survivor from the '70s, on a set that is like a Chinese box of doors, perfect for a farce that is all about entrances and exits. The costumes are designed by William Ivey Long, who has created the outfits for more than 60 Broadway shows and won five Tony awards. Long cites the '70s gay magazine After Dark as a prime source of inspiration for the sidepanel underwear, tight pants, and polyester quiana shirts.
Long recently reminisced about moving to New York in 1975 and living in the Chelsea Hotel at the time that he snuck into the second act of the original production of "The Ritz."Asked how gay men's presentation of self through clothes has changed since then, he said, "Gay men's bodies have changed. They are much more muscular now.The director was very careful with his casting of the patrons of "The Ritz" to not have men be too built up. I was able to use a lot of vintage clothes inthe show, so what you are seeing is straight from the '70s, including that purple kimono that Brooks wears!"
The representation of gay life from that period is very much skin deep in what Chamberlin called the "cartoon" vision presented in a farce like "The Ritz." But both McNally and Ivey, who both lived the New York gay life back at that time,are quick to point out that the piece has evolved into a comic homage to a time more innocent and certainly one full of wonderful sexual celebration for gay men.

©GayCityNews 2007


breatnyS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
breatnyS said...

Never seen Wicked on theater, I was not going to see it, Wicked tickets got sky rocked thanks to stupid brokers. But even if I had seen it, I wouldn't buy it. I'd rather wait and see it on DVD. Well suprise I changed my mind and I got 2 tix for the Wicked show I was looking for tickets thanks god there sites like Ticketwood which work as comparators here is the site
Wicked Tickets . So any body going to the Wicked theater??