An Amusement Column

Boys in the Band – A Half Century Later


By Harry Haun



Mart Crowley and the Original Bandsmen


BOYS TO MENIt took half a century, but an unbroken gay line of The Boys in the Band finally formed last April for its first Broadway revival—to name Names: Jim ParsonsMatt BomerZachary QuintoAndrew RannellsMatt BomerRobin de JesusBrian HutchinsonTuc WatkinsCharlie CarverMatt Bomer and Michael Benjamin Washington. . . . Likewise, it took Mart Crowley 50 of his 83 years to win a Tony for that play and become the oldest American playwright ever to receive a Tony. . . . Another industry first: only Tony voters got to vote. “It was decided”—that is, producers decided–that the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominators and their voting members could not possibly be shoehorned into such a limited run. . . . Consequently, these critics have to wait till 2020 when the movie, re-directed for the cameras by Joe Mantello, emerges on Netflix. . . The original Off-Broadway cast who reprised their roles in a 1970 movie had two, maybe three, straggling straights in it. AIDS decimated the cast a few short years after the film’s release. Three are still alive. Peter White, 81, who was Alan (the hetero who stumbled, Bambi-like, into this gay party-in-progress), and Laurence Luckinbill, 84, who was Hank (the pipe-smoking schoolteacher Alan took for straight), still act if asked, but Reuben Greene (the African-American Bernard), 80, called it a career after three films and no longer cares to discuss his Band days. . . . In celebration of Stonewall’s semi-centenary, hordes of LGBTQ actors charged forth to participate in the “Pride Plays” at the newly renamed Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Five times those nine Bandsmen popped up to play (read, actually) Some MenTerrence McNally’s cavalcade of queer life. It closed the event, and McNally was in attendance, basking in applause from audience and actors alike. . . . This particular “Pride Play” was a dual-Plano affair, produced by Michael Urie and starring John Benjamin Hickey. Both are native sons of Plano, Texas, but neither saw the play called Plano, which was recently presented at the Connolly. Its author, Will Arbery, is a man from double-down Macho Country (“Texas + Wyoming”), even though Plano overflowed with giddy, girlish front-porch palaver. (Did I mention Arbery grew up in Dallas the only boy among seven sisters?) . . . . His next stop will be Sept. 13 at Playwrights Horizons with Heroes of the Fourth Turning. It’s to give equal time to boys and to Wyoming. Actually, these “boys” are four young conservatives emotionally duking it out over today’s generational politics.


Will Arbery



Lucie Arnaz

Gloria Grahame – The Greatest Show on Earth


IF YOU KNEW LUCIE: Mrs. Laurence Luckinbill—Lucie Arnaz to you and the rest of the world—will be musically recapping her career in I Got the Job! Songs From My Musical Past Sept. 30-Oct. 1 at Feinstein’s/54 Below. There is much to tell, or sing. . . . For starters, her famous parents waited 11 years for her and defied a couple of cinematic czars to have her.  “Desi Arnaz is the only person in Hollywood to ever screw Cecil B. DeMille and Harry Cohn,” said wags at the time. . . . Cohn, the tyrannical kingpin of Columbia Pictures, had Lucille Ball under contract and was determined to get one last picture out of her. To punish her for complaining about the quality of material she got, he concocted a cheap Arabian Nights fantasy for Grade-B producer Sam Katzman to execute in one quick hurry.  The Magic Carpet, with John Agar and Raymond Burr, was shot in eight days, and still they had to let out her gossamer gowns so pregnancy wouldn’t be so apparent. . . . C. B., an Old Testament authority who had an issue with issues himself (his daughter, Katherine, was adopted), suggested an abortion so Lucy could play The Elephant Girl in The Greatest Show on Earth . . . The actress he cast as Angel, who routinely received an elephant foot on her face from sadistic trainer Lyle Bettger, was Gloria Grahame. She got an Oscar that year—not for that but for The Bad and the Beautiful. Stunned, she galloped to the stage, quickly gulped her thanks and got off. Remarked Oscar host Bob Hope, “She almost didn’t make it.” His line is the ironic tagline to the Grahame biopic that Annette Bening did in 2017, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. The 57-year-old Grahame succumbed to cancer shortly after her plane arrived in New York. . . . Other 1952 Oscar winners: C.B. won his one and only Oscar for Best Picture for his circus spectacle, and Katherine DeMille Quinn accepted the Best Supporting Actor prize for her husband, Anthony, who was movie-making in Mexico with Gary Cooper, the Best Actor winner for High Noon.



Natalie Portman – The Astronaut


ROCK ‘N ROLLING:  Stylishly decked out in her signature shades and white fedora, a wheelchair-bound Yoko Ono was in the first flood of fans greeting Elton John’s musical biopic, Rocketman–a sentimental journey for her. . . . At Elton’s Madison Square Garden concert on Thanksgiving of 1974, the sparks of a lasting reconciliation with John Lennon were struck after his 16-month “lost weekend” without her. When they met backstage, he once said, “it’s like in the movies, you know–when time stands still.”. . . Lennon suddenly showed up midway through the concert as a means of paying off Elton’s bet that “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” would give Lennon his first solo No. 1 single. . . . After their duet of this, they did “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” (Lennon introduced the latter as a number by “an old estranged fiancée of mine called Paul.”) . . . He’d live six more years, but this was his last live concert appearance. “When I came off stage,” he told David Scheff, “I said to the waiting journalists, ‘It was good fun, but I wouldn’t like to do it for a living.’” . . . “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which John wrote with his aforementioned “fiancée,” Paul McCartney, was based on a nursery-school drawing by his three-year-old, Julian Lennon, but it was widely believed to be Beatle code for LSD (and banned accordingly by the BBC—much to the amusement of the authors). Now shortened to Lucy in the Sky, it will adorn movie marquees in October. Natalie Portman plays an astronaut—literally, a Lucy in the Sky—who loses contact with reality on her return to Earth. The film vaguely echoes Lisa Nowak’s criminal activities in her amorous pursuit of fellow astronaut Bill Oefelein. You see, isn’t that a better handle than the original working title, Pale Blue Dot? . . . McCartney, after 60 years and 1.000+ songs, is turning over a new leaf—two, in fact. . . . On Sept. 5 (via Penguin Books), he and illustrator Kathryn Durst are coming out with a children’s picture book celebrating the joys of grandparenting. It’s called Hey Grandude! after what his own grandkids call him. . . . Then, there’s his stage-musical debut. He’s tuning up It’s a Wonderful Life for the London stage (circa late 2020). A Broadway transfer should crawl over later–leisurely. Bill Kenwright will produce, and the book is by Lee Hall, who wrote Rocketman and the screen and stage versions of Billy Elliot. . . . Of course, musicalizing Frank Capra’s Christmas classic of 1946 is hardly a new idea. Sheldon Harnick did the book and lyrics, and Joe Raposo the music, for a version called simply A Wonderful Life that played the Paper Mill Playhouse in 1986—and there’ve been others, says Harnick, “mostly, by people who are unknown so they don’t get performed much.” He expects all will quickly sink like a rock after this new Beatle invasion. . . . McCartney has confessed that he’s not been all that keen to write a musical, although he fared beautifully with his first film score (for Hayley and John Mills’ 1966 The Family Way). Being a Beatle by then, he was hired for his box office so the producers brought in Bernard Herrmann to school him in the ways of dramatic screen scoring. Herrmann got a Chagall for his trouble, and moviegoers got a haunting, heartbreaking main theme. . . . Currently in movie houses is a sweet, fanciful fantasy scripted by Love Actually’s Richard Curtis and directed by Slumdog Millionaire’s Danny Boyle that delivers the Beatle ditties in bulk–fragmented bulk, but bulk. Their Yesterday imagines a world without Lennon, McCartney and the entire canon of Beatles songs. Himesh Patel has the film’s focus as a resoundingly mediocre music-maker who gets smacked by a bus and wakes up to a reality where everyone takes the Beatle evergreens he sings as his own inspired creations.  . . . Story-wise, this is a hard box to get out of, but the film is not above a truly astonishing “surprise appearance”—and we’re not talking here about Ed Sheeren, who turns up as himself, awed, to mentor this dazzling new discovery and suggest that “Hey, Dude” might work a bit better than “Hey, Jude.” . . . Staying true to the film’s eccentric premise meant some post-production name-removing from the sign at the “Liverpool John Lennon Airport.”. . .  Finally, there is Only Yesterday, a play by TV scripter by Bob Stevens (The Wonder YearsMurphy BrownMalcolm in the Middle) that will be pulling into 59E59 Theaters Sept. 7-29. It imagines a world with Lennon and McCartney—in fact, in the same cheap Key West motel room, boozing, laughing, harmonizing, seriously reflecting and generally Beatlizing the night away after months of performing in the states for arenas of fans.


James Stewart – It’s A Wonderful Life