The Film Society Can’t Quite Make the Leap From Past to Present

What happens to a political play that’s three decades old? Can it keep its emotional charge, or does it wither when its social relevance fades? You may be asking these questions after seeing the Keen Company’s revival of The Film Society, a play by Jon Robin Baitz that depicts power struggles in a Durban boys’ school as a microcosm for social tensions gripping 1970s South Africa.

Jonathon (Euan Morton) is a failed actor turned teacher, hoping to shake things up at his old high school by founding a film club. But his colleague Terry (David Barlow) has grander plans for change, shocking the stodgy administration by bringing a priest from the local black community to address the students. Will Jonathon help Terry drag an apartheid-era institution out of the past—or support his mother (Roberta Maxwell), an imperious spokeswoman for the bad old days who’s maneuvering to get him installed as headmaster?

Originally, The Film Society must have been a moving meditation on the forces that keep conservative institutions intact. Those themes remain—and Keen Company’s cast is excellent—but the drama feels dated, its scenes long, its monologues preachy. Like its protagonist, this play means well, but can’t quite make the leap from past to present.


Leaves of Glass Far From ‘In Yer Face’

London critics have dubbed the rude, shocking playwrights that came of age there in the 1990s the “in yer face” school. But while Philip Ridley is counted among their number, his 2007 play Leaves of Glass—now receiving its American premiere from the Origin Theater Company—hardly even musses your hair. A brooding dysfunctional family drama, it traces the seesaw relationship between two adult brothers in the wake of their father’s mysterious death. Steve has it good at first: He’s an aspiring yuppie running a construction business, his wife’s got a baby on the way, and he’s diddling his secretary on the side. Barry, a recovering alcoholic and eccentric painter, begins so steeped in mourning that he has to be rescued from squalor. With Steve’s help, Barry gets his act together—but at a great cost to Steve’s marriage, his business, and his sanity. 

As the brothers, Euan Morton and Victor Villar-Hauser make for an engaging odd couple, delivering intense yet nuanced character portraits. But under Ludovica Villar-Hauser’s static direction, this already-meandering script plods along for two intermissionless hours. Ridley displays some richly descriptive language—but it never leaps off the page, and instead we get several inert monologues. Like the title’s inconsequential pun on Whitman, the play strives for poetry, but to empty effect.



If you’re one of those girls (or boys) who sang “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” or “On My Own” in front of your mirror relentlessly from the ages of 13 to 18, this festival is for you. The Fourth Annual Broadway Cabaret Festival–which includes a tribute to Lerner & Loewe, an evening with Les Miz‘s original Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson, and a Broadway Originals concert the producers liken to “having your musical-theater CD collection come to life”–is a geek-fest of the highest order. Infusing Town Hall with an unprecedented amount of belty vibrato are mainstays of the biz like Brent Barrett, Lucie Arnaz, and Max von Essen, as well as newbies to watch out for, like Celia Keenan-Bolger and Euan Morton. “I love him, I love him, but only on my . . .”

Oct. 17-19, 2008


Even Bad Is Better ‘Off’

It was terrible, it was deadly, it was the worst. Why they chose the plays they did, why they produced and cast and directed them as they did, why I had to sit through them, I’ll never fully understand. The season, if you go by seasons, was the worst within living memory. Everybody says so. In fact, they say so every year. If we took them at their word, we’d have to conclude that the theater in New York has been getting steadily worse since the day in 1866 when they stuck a French ballet troupe into a gothic melodrama at Niblo’s Garden and invented musical comedy. There hasn’t been a good new play in town since Boucicault gave us The Shaughraun, and there hasn’t been a great performance since Mrs. Fiske gave up playing Becky Sharp.

I’m deliberately talking antiquated nonsense, of course. Because it’s still the way we all talk, at the end of another theatrical year: Just insert today’s names in place of the ones from the theater-history textbooks. You’ve heard this song before. George Bernard Shaw, when he was practicing drama criticism over a century ago, summarized it in one elegantly precise sentence: “The theater is, was, and eternally will be as bad as it possibly can.”

Viewed from the commercial perspective, via Broadway, these last few years in the New York theater have been boom years. The numbers tell a happy story, if you’re only in it for the money: More people than ever are paying higher prices than ever to spend between 90 and 150 minutes in the presence of actors on a stage and musicians in an orchestra pit—fewer of either than in days gone by, to sweeten the profiteers’ deal even further. A fairly large percentage of these high-paying people are tourists, who spend money while they’re here in a great many places other than Broadway theaters, bringing New York incalculable economic benefits, blah blah blah, and so on. You’ve heard this song before, too; either the mayor’s Department of Cultural Affairs or the League of American Theatres and Producers issues a press release reprising it every two weeks or so. I’m not complaining. I think it’s great that our big bad blue city rakes in all those red-state shekels. They keep the big theaters bankrolled, and I for one am glad they’re here, no matter how difficult it gets to battle through the crowds in Times Square on my way to a Friday- or Saturday-night press performance.

But I have to admit that there’s a technical problem with Broadway in the new tourist era: It’s mostly boring. It seems to me to resemble theater, the art form I’ve spent my life writing about, less and less. Old plays dredged up for celebrities from the mechanized media, new musicals based on not-so-old movies, old musicals rehashed, everything loaded down with glitz and blandness and overexplanation (tourist audiences are not thought to be very bright): This is not a recipe for exciting theater. The days when tourists came to a Broadway show precisely because it didn’t reflect what they could see in Omaha or Butte or Flagstaff are long gone. In that era, a far less expensive Broadway had its own homegrown audience, and the New Yorkers told the tourists what New York taste was, not vice versa.

But New Yorkers still do shape the taste of the New York theater, only—oh irony—the Broadway theater isn’t the New York theater anymore; it’s just a centralized clearinghouse for the various corporate notions of what makes theater a tourist attraction. Its taste is really to a large extent L.A. taste, which is to say none at all. It imports products from Off-Broadway, from the regions, from London and Dublin. The production that’s actually nurtured exclusively for Broadway is a rarity.

Off-Broadway, in contrast, has its own ways and means, Off-Off even more so. Yes, the media infection has spread even there: The press releases now play up actors’ TV cameos, or their single sank-without-trace movie credit, rather than the five or six stage roles by which New York has come to know and love them. But every year, as we bicker our way through the Obie award meetings, I’m staggered by the number of actors who manage to impress their abilities on the public consciousness without benefit of celluloid. Look at the roster of this year’s outstanding performances. If playwriting was a little on the low side, acting ran high; it was a hectic season crammed full of terrific work: Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson in Grey Gardens; Peter Francis James and Byron Jennings (plus a dozen others) in Stuff Happens; S. Epatha Merkerson in Birdie Blue; Lois Smith in The Trip to Bountiful; J. Smith-Cameron and Reed Birney in Pen; Euan Morton and Michael Stuhlbarg in Measure for Pleasure; Michael Cumpsty in Hamlet; Kate Forbes and Laurie Kennedy in All’s Well That Ends Well; Dana Ivey in Mrs. Warren’s Profession; Kristine Nielsen in Miss Witherspoon; Stephen Lang and Margaret Colin in Defiance; Marian Seldes and Nathan Lane in Dedication. And that’s only the first batch of names off the top of my head. Imagine how long the list would get if I’d gone about it systematically.

Such a roster isn’t a mere morsel of acting; it’s a banquet, with a menu chosen only from actors who are already known quantities. The real list is much longer. If you prefer being thrilled by the art of acting to being left neutral by the sight of media stars in mediocre revivals, New York is an incredibly lucky place to be, teeming with artists of this high stature, who love the theater and make it their life. Yes, they all do their movie and TV bits, their voice-overs and commercials; I realize that they subsidize their stage careers that way, as well as paying off the mortgage, putting the kids through school, upgrading the computer or repairing the boiler. Well, my thanks to those who hire them. We should probably give a special Obie to the producers of Law & Order. But we haven’t even got the scope to give one to everybody on the list. I for one sincerely wish we could, but the ceremony would run longer than Wagner’s Ring.

Mentioning Wagner reminds me that acting isn’t the only realm in which Off-Broadway has been glorious lately. Musicals are Broadway’s stock in trade, but Broadway’s musicals are increasingly either foreign imports or “properties” manufactured in some corporate corridor. An actual Broadway musical, even one nurtured, like The Wedding Singer or The Drowsy Chaperone
, in nonprofit venues across the country, is almost as rare a creature as an actual Broadway play. Our little downtown theater, meanwhile, has been busy creating the kind of original musical that revitalizes and challenges the form. The Broadway year has been dismal, or at best so-so, for musicals, but Off-Broadway’s come up with an appealingly varied crop: The year of See What I Wanna See, The Seven, [title of show], Grey Gardens, Miracle Brothers, Bernarda Alba, Fanny Hill, and I Love You Because can hardly be called a dull one in the musical theater. If the musical as a form is about money, then, no, most of these shows will never rank with Hair or Cats as worldwide phenomena. But if the musical is about pleasure and excitement—and it is—I’d say that even the worst of them has The Woman in White or Lestat beat all hollow.

Nor is that the end of Off-Broadway’s accomplishments this year. The downtown theater stuck its neck out far enough to give us events like Poor Theatre, Heddatron, Abacus Black, and Peninsula; experiment leapt into the mainstream with the stunning In the Continuum. Broadway’s sense of the classic repertoire has shrunk, in recent years, to a few plays by Shakespeare and the standard school texts of O’Neill, Miller, and Williams. Off-Broadway, contrariwise, was venturesome: You could see The Revenger’s Tragedy and The Gentleman Dancing-Master, or plays by nearly forgotten writers like Dawn Powell and Rose Franken. The same night Hot Feet opened on Broadway, just after the Obies’ cutoff date, Off-Broadway offered up a trifecta of powerhouse classics: Howard Brenton’s Sore Throats (a New York premiere) at the Duke, Schiller’s Mary Stuart at the Pearl, and the two parts of Goethe’s Faust at CSC. I have a slight involvement with the first two, but that’s not why I mention them: Such plays give the theater stature and meaning, of a kind that uptown’s money-system theater can never provide; they give intelligent New Yorkers reasons for going to the theater that an Odd Couple or Pajama Game don’t supply. The danger of Broadway is that its monolithic love of profit squeezes a little more density and vibrancy out of New York’s idea of theater every year. Off-Broadway and Off-Off exist for the sheer joy of keeping that idea alive in all its richness. Whatever their failings, I’m happy they’re here: They make a theater in which I can live and work, without feeling that my sense of adventure, my intelligence, and my imagination are always being crammed into some unworthy, prefabricated object.


NY Mirror

I am now going to prove my noble sense of ethics; my deep, resounding integrity; and my openness to write the most horrifying truths in the name of equal time. I am going to report information that suggests a major star might actually be straight! Just the thought of this sort of thing kills me (and worse, nauseates me), but fair is fair—if not fairy—so get out your barf bags, peel off your knee pads, and here goes:

VIN DIESEL has a hetero past! JAMES ST. JAMES—the Disco Bloodbath author who knew Vin when he was a mere doorman at the Tunnel—feels the action star doesn’t take it up the butt after all. “I hear the gay rumors too,” James tells me. “And he does look the part. But Mark, er, Vin, was always straight. And believably so. He would sing show tunes and flirt outrageously with me and the other drag queens, but he wasn’t overcompensating—he was totally comfortable with his heterosexuality. I remember the girls he fucked! Every queen at the Tunnel was always after him, and I would have heard it if one of them finally had him. Of course he was only 19—and maybe he’s come out. But I really think he’s straight!” Blecccccch!

Pride and Prejudice

As the star of The Chronicles of Limp Dick—calm down, Michael—let me regroup and go back to my insular world of out queens playing fast and furious with each other’s Lubriderm. In fact, it’s so insular I’m the only one I know who went to the Gay Pride parade (though it drew swarms of other eye-popping, rhinestone-wearing DUBYA snappers, if not Ms. Diesel). The press, of course, once again greeted the event with either horror or indifference. Last year, Pride perversely prompted overeager coverage of “bug-chasers”—the supposedly vast legion of guys who actually want facial wasting for Christmas. This year, there was an equally inspiring spate of talk about how things were better when everyone was deep in the closet and full of shame and signifiers! But I’m sticking to the out-and-proud shit, only because I’ve been doing it so long I just know it’ll come back again soon. (The same reasoning has led to my closet full of ’80s appliquéd blouses.)

Highlights from the foofy festivities included a procession of “flaggots” (gay men twirling flags to BRITNEY SPEARS‘s “Toxic”), a studly queen wearing a “Queer Pole for the Straight Hole” T-shirt, and another sophisticate hawking a memoir and screaming, “I used to be a homo basher, but I went to prison and now I’m a homo lover!” For most people, it’s the opposite trajectory.

The bars that weekend brought homo lovers to all the homo bashes, and I turned into a giant flaggot at each entrance. The Pyramid’s mixed Friday-night 1984 event had a Madonnathon, which got us plastered on cone bras and kabbalah water (though, as Esther danced on the video screens, TONI BASIL intriguingly blared out of the sound system). The amazing Area 10009 party at Opaline starred three wonderfully disaffected go-go boys wiggling their exposed heinies while looking like they were thinking about the next day’s vacuum-cleaner-bag shopping. And over at the Park’s Rambles party, one of the place’s former dancers, Avenue Q writer JEFF WHITTY, came back as a patron (and a Tony winner) on Gay Pride night. Was that old man they showed on the Tonys telecast as Whitty gushed about his boyfriend really his special one? “No, that was my dad!” Whitty told me, clarifying—not his sugar dad.

At the Maritime, the Cabanas party was unspeakably festive, and a level below at La Bottega, NICOLE KIDMAN looked ultra-glam and animated dining with two female friends. Happy Pride!

Panic in the Year Queero

In the movies, especially dimwit comedies, straight male characters have been overengaging in lesbian fantasies (i.e., watching the sapphics exchange tongue and then miraculously getting to nail one of them) and gay panic (you know, having paroxysms of terror that every queer pole out there desires their straight hole—which generally happens to be grotesque and misshapen, by the way). Another backlash against gay visibility? You got it, sister. (At least cool-hetero Vin seems above all that. Blecccccch.)

As for the straightest story ever told, is The Notebook still running? Yeah—and so is my nose, but not from the anticipated empathy sob. They gave out Kleenex at the screening, but I cried mainly because, after an intriguing beginning, the flick falls into such shameless pulp-novel plotting, it makes a Diesel drama look like Beckett. (Uptight rich girl meets guy from wrong side of the tracks and Mom disapproves, ugh.) This flick is so low it even uses Alzheimer’s as a plot device! Let’s just forget it!

But back, as all things must go, to the queers and the fourth annual Miss L.E.S. pageant at Fez, which I helped judge in order to give the dykey delight some femininity. (There were diesels here, but no Vin; he must have been elsewhere, singing show tunes.) Last year, as host MURRAY HILL mistily remembers, one runner-up was so tanked she ripped the curtain on her way to the floor. This year, Murray had the crowd on the floor with suave singing, foot-synched soft-shoe routines, and remarks like “Feel free to heckle and objectify the guests. We’re in a safe place tonight!”

Or were we? The Lower East Side contestants ranged from a sex-toy addict to a Marxist theory deconstructionist, but the winner was Miss Allen Street, who dressed like a crazy old Hispanic woman and threatened to start a sex dungeon for the ancient. She won in the voting, but fellow judges the WAU-WAU SISTERS and Le Tigre’s JD SAMSON wanted to rethink that, and another judge, MARGA GOMEZ, was also freaking because she’s been accused of having slept with the winners before, and Miss Allen had announced her love for Marga onstage. Still, we stuck with it since tampering, after all, led to our lovely president’s reign.

By the way, another judge, LINDA SIMPSON, is restarting My Comrade, her East Village gay political mag, with a testy test issue. If that publication doesn’t get some appetizing dirt on Diesel, I’m gonna hurl again, folks.


The King and Oy

Fire, ice, and horses are the stars of King Arthur—along with the large appendage of a character who describes it as “too much to handle. It’s like a baby’s arm holding an apple.” I used it to vault to the after-party at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where Renaissance Faire types served glogg (and apples) as I asked spunky co-star KEIRA KNIGHTLEY if she feels the movie is basically Camelot without songs. “It is not like Camelot at all,” balked Knightley, “but you can have a Camelot legend and you can have this movie. Variety is what we live for!” No, I prefer the Hollywood Reporter. “I hate watching myself,” she went on, “but the movie is magically done, so it must be good.” OK—poof!

I vaulted back into the present by wandering into SCOTT NEVINS‘s Broadway night at Therapy, where Taboo‘s EUAN MORTON was spewing fire and ice, telling the crowd, “I pay taxes so Bush can kill innocent people. I should be a citizen!” I don’t know if Morton’s hung like a baby’s arm, but he definitely has wonderful balls.

And so do the fun patrons at Marie’s Crisis, where you drunkenly belt out Vin Diesel-ish show tunes while praying no one catches you there. Alas for him, I instantly spotted the aforementioned Jeff Whitty, who gamely squealed, “It’s my first time!” Yeah, and I’m straight!


NY Mirror

On Broadway, it was the season of deaf musicals, self-destructive gay singers, bisexual cunnilingus, guns pointed at the audience, and (completely separate from that) SEAN COMBS‘s debut, and critics still said it was a bland year! Puffy’s performance (in A Raisin in the Sun) remains the defining stunt because it showed that wanting to be a theater actor is not the same thing as actually being one, though you could admire the effort, and not just out of abject fear. Alas, it was a wildly uneven performance made up of moments, seemingly directed individually, much like that model who reportedly once recorded a disco album one note at a time!

But I loved this season—even when The Boy From Oz‘s budget required HUGH JACKMAN to high-kick it with one Rockette, and conversely, when Bombay Dreams turned out to be a glitzy, empty bowl of mulliga-tawdry soup about how glitzy and empty showbiz is. (By the way, that musical’s big song, “Shakalaka Baby,” has virtually the same melody as “If I Were a Rich Man.” I’ve been going to too many shows.)

The culmination of all the happy hoopla was last week’s Tony nominees’ brunch at the Millennium, where so many formidable thesps were being paraded around that if a bomb had dropped, Prymate would win by a landslide. (That play opened with a dreadful disadvantage—the curtain was up.) To counter all the bravos, I trotted out my most annoying theater-queen queries, delivered with Playbill in hand and food in mouth. Does JumpersSIMON RUSSELL BEALE understand every word of that densely witty play? Sure, the sardonic Brit said, “but maybe not the part about Bertrand Russell’s theory of descriptions.” Oh, please, everybody knows that! “The play is a delight,” chimed in sireny co-star ESSIE DAVIS. “It’s never boring! It’s so roller-coasterly written.” And Tilt-a-Whirly acted.

What carnival ride is Anna in the Tropics author NILO CRUZ up to next? “Beauty of the Father,” he said, about “a gay father and his daughter, both in love with the same man.” That sounds vaguely Minnelli-ish. Nearby, Anna‘s saucy DAPHNE RUBIN-VEGA had her own scandal story. “Remember when I was wearing a sort of holographic bra,” she chirped to me, “and you said, ‘Flash me’? I did and the next day there was the fucked-up-est picture of me in the paper!” And the article was roller-coasterly written.

Does Fiddler on the Roof‘s ALFRED MOLINA think the brouhaha over his production not being Jewish enough was the fucked-up-est ever? Yep, he agreed, “It would have been outrageous if I’d suggested LIEV SCHREIBER shouldn’t play Henry V because he’s not European or Christian!” (Point taken—but let’s please not pave the way for Diddy in the shtetl.)

Was Peter Allen the gayest man in history? No, said Oz lovebug BETH FOWLER. “Paul Lynde was—but nobody talked about it back then!” (especially CHARLES NELSON REILLY). Did Little Shop of HorrorsHUNTER FOSTER suffer survivor’s guilt when he was the only one not axed en route to Broadway? “Yes, for a long time,” he admitted, “and now that I’m nominated, it’s made me feel even more guilty. That’s the business. It’s up and down.” In other words, roller-coasterly.

Speaking of down, is SANAA LATHAM‘s Raisin character named Beneatha because she’s striving against oppression? “You’re so smart!” she shrieked. “I never even thought of that!” (Honey, I even know about Bertrand Russell’s theory of whatever.) More importantly, what does she call her co-star? “He’s Sean Combs these days,” she said. “He’s coming into his thespian thang.” Just don’t call him not nominated.

Coming into his lesbian thang, Taboo nominee EUAN MORTON loves ROSIE O’DONNELL because she’s paying for his and BOY GEORGE‘s Gotham apartments for a year. But Tony-wise, the haunting Morton feels he doesn’t have a primate’s chance because “Hugh Jackman will win, so I can just enjoy!” But wait, who’s gayer—George or Peter Allen? “George has had a longer life to fill out with more gayness,” said Morton, giggling. “He’s the gay BARBRA STREISAND. No wait, Barbra’s the gay Barbra Streisand.”

Meanwhile, the straight KAREN ZIEMBA stole Never Gonna Dance from the leading lady, who was never gonna hit those notes. At the brunch, Ziemba told me she’ll next play Adelaide in Paper Mill Playhouse’s Guys and Dolls, “and BOB DORIAN from AMC has a part. He sings!”

In another corner, Wonderful Town‘s DONNA MURPHY—she dances!—told me, “There are nights I’ve headed into the conga thinking, ‘I’m so tired. How am I gonna get through this?’ but the energy of the song raises me.” Please—she’s spookily spectacular (though the poor thing was valiantly battling mucus when I spoke to her and didn’t make it through a performance later that day).


Does that one-man conga line JEFFERSON MAYS (I Am My Own Wife) find it weird playing solo every night? “It is bizarre,” he confessed. “Last year, if I’d have said, ‘I’ll be on Broadway utterly alone, wearing a dress,’ you would have had me committed.” And now it’s too late.

Did Wife‘s author, DOUG WRIGHT, know he was so definitely nomination-bound? “No, because I’m a fatalist by nature,” said Wright, “so I’m convinced any positive sign must be followed by a condemnation from God.” Well, before I left to be with normal people again, there was a positive sign from TONY KUSHNER, who said that, unlike his producer, he wasn’t at all mad about the Times‘ bad placement of its Caroline, or Change review. “I thought it was a favor,” he said. After all, it was a mixed review!

By the way, the stunning Mr. Jackman entered and exited the brunch fairly early, which was good, said a publicist; “Otherwise, he would have tilted the whole room.” I can only imagine what he said in his interviews: “My wife . . . ”


And the winner for best new couple is . . . It’s a tie between Queer Eye‘s THOM FILICIA and publicist GREG CALEJO, and Eternal Sunshine etc. director MICHEL GONDRY and LARRY CLARK‘s ex, TIFFANY LIMOS, who clearly likes older men, especially directors. In fact, Limos recently e-mailed me saying Gondry wanted to do something for the Voice, but the next day she took it back without explanation. A positive sign followed by a condemnation from God? Nah, I didn’t like Eternal Sunshine anyway.


Comments overheard at the Troy premiere party: “Loved the horse”; “Achilles—what a heel”; “The sexpot looked great in a skirt—and so did the girl”; and, from the Monkees’ MICKEY DOLENZ, “I love blood-sweat-tears-sex-women-horse-and-sand kind of things!” Contrarily, DANIEL LETTERLE, the star of the movie Camp, was screeching, “Awful!”—but then again, he also spent the night chewing me out for trashing Camp, and I was the one who liked it!

“You stole my table!” exclaimed Troy‘s adapter, DAVID BENIOFF, the only attractive screenwriter in history. True, but once a giddy BONO sat on JULIAN SCHNABEL‘s lap right next to me, no one would throw me out, thinking I might be—or at least know—someone. What did Benioff cut out of the source material besides the gay love? “The gods!” he replied. “On my tombstone it’ll say ‘Why did you cut the gods?’ But if you saw Zeus standing atop Mount Olympus, it would be a different movie. Even Olivier couldn’t make that not seem cheesy.” So Benioff, basically, is a heathen? “I’m a total heathen, unless the plane hits turbulence,” he admitted, looking quite smooth.


Extra! Extra!: Ben Widdicombe, who works for New York Daily News gossips Rush and Molloy, is getting his own column in that paper on weekends. Great—more competition for me!

In sadder news, Bar D’O, the sleek drag entertainment boite for open-minded oglers, is bye-bye, the rent raise having become a drag.

Moving on to a drag inspiration, I hear crinoline-wearing kook Cyndi Lauper will most likely be the next Audrey in Broadway’s Little Shop of Horrors, casting that’s so perfect it’s amazing it took so long for the “True Colors” gal to be up there singing “Somewhere That’s Green.” But spies say someone that’s Greene—namely Ellen Greene, the original Audrey—wouldn’t mind another chance at the role, though producers have been resistant. What horrors!


Taboo Ought To Be Better, But It Could Be a Whole Lot Worse

As you’ve no doubt already heard, Taboo is distinctly not faboo. Still, it’s a lot more entertaining than you might expect. Its chief problem, aside from its producer’s gift for generating bad publicity, turns out to be dramaturgical: Like the children who waste their nights in dance clubs, it has no particular reason for existing and no particular story to tell. Everybody in it has the same motivation: to be a star. One—Boy George—actually makes it but almost wrecks it; another dies; the survivors squabble and grumble. You’ve seen the inevitable scenes that result many times before, some of them in that other amiable mediocrity, The Boy From Oz; here they’re occasionally pepped up by the zingers in Charles Busch’s shaky but spunky script.

Unlike Boy From Oz, Taboo lacks a star to carry it to the heights. George O’Dowd himself, as the grunge-epic performance artist Leigh Bowery, supplies authenticity rather than conviction. But he gets strongly likable support: Euan Morton makes a touching figure of the young George; Liz McCartney, Sarah Uriarte Berry, and Jeffrey Carlson are lively presences. Raúl Esparza, playing a sort of camp-queen Jiminy Cricket to the hero, seems to aspire to Harvey Fierstein’s vocal impairments, but his Maggie Smith inflections are incisively apt. O’Dowd’s songs, new and old, are unthea-trical but not unlistenable, his lyrics always slightly better than casual pop-radio hearings might have led you to expect. All in all, Taboo feels more like a musical and less like the Chinese water torture than many recent Broadway entertainments.