A Halston Musical, Billy Porter as Mama Rose, and Other Tonys Dish

Also: “Drugs are killing the gay bars!” says ex-bar owner.

Theater awards mania has given us a three-act drama, complete with singing and dancing, to feast on these last few weeks. The Drama Desk Awards brought the surprising trajectory of Tootsie winning Book, Music, Lyrics, and Actor, and then Best Musical going to The Prom. As expected, the beloved Elaine May won Best Actress for her shattering performance of a woman with Alzheimer’s in The Waverly Gallery, though she didn’t show, a producer telling me, “I think she was afraid not to win.” (Ah, shades of Katharine Hepburn, who missed out on accepting all her Oscars.)

May also happens to be wonderfully eccentric and apparently distrustful of events, awards, and media. But many were there and beaming. At the Drama Desk after-party at the Ribbon NYC, I hung with host Michael Urie, was greeted by an ebullient winner, Stephanie J. Block (The Cher Show), and was told by a creative of the gay musical Midnight at the Never Get, “We got a lot of mileage out of your positive quote when we played Provincetown.” “Oh, yes, I’m big up there,” I replied. “It’s in New York that I can’t seem to get noticed.”

Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions
The cast and creatives of The Boys in the Band at the Tony Awards.

At the Tonys, Elaine May showed, she won, and she was adorable. Hadestown swept the most categories, and gay ruled the night, thanks to the lesbian kiss in The Prom, The Boys in the Band nabbing Best Revival, Andre De Shields winning for Hadestown, Choir Boy showcasing queer people of color, Bob Mackie winning for his flashy Cher Show costumes, Sergio Trujillo copping Best Choreography for Ain’t Too Proud, and Taylor Mac (who wrote the multi-nominated Gary: A Sequel To Titus Andronicus) and Billy Porter looking like true divas. As Ben Platt aptly noted, if you were watching this telecast, you’re gay.

Even the commercials were more LGBTQ than usual. The one for Truvada used a trans person, making me realize what it takes for Madison Avenue to finally go for some inclusion.

Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty
Billy Porter.

At the fabulous Tonys after-party at the Plaza, I told Taylor Mac (who uses the pronoun judy) that judy looked brilliantly ready to star in Hello, Dolly! “Get off the stage, Betty Buckley!” Taylor replied, laughing. “Meanwhile,” judy added, “I think we have a new star of Gypsy.” The writer explained to me that during the commercial breaks, Tony host James Corden had entertained the live Radio City audience with karaoke numbers by various celebrities, and that included Billy Porter belting “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy. Michael Urie (Torch Song) told me they also did a number from In the Heights, and when Trump was referenced in a lyric, actor Christopher Jackson made a sort of coughing gesture to punctuate the moment. I might have to get nominated next year so I can get in the live audience to see these extra bits.

Also at the bash, Erich Bergen, the Jersey Boys movie costar who’s currently in Waitress, told me he just got the rights to Halston’s niece’s book about the late, great gay designer, and he will play him in a Broadway musical based on that book. “It cries out for George Michael music,” Bergen said, “but he’s not around anymore.” In lieu of his old hits, this show will actually have original music, like Hadestown, The Prom, and Tootsie. And that already makes it a winner.

Marsha, Marsha, Marsha

While we’re talking about honors, you’ve surely heard that late activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera will be sculpted into statue form in a commemoration that will be placed across from the Stonewall Inn. Well, Michael Kasino, the director of the doc Pay It No Mind—The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson, told me, “My friend Jimmy Camicia once asked Marsha, ‘If they build a statue of you, do you want it to be male or female?’ ‘Both,’ Marsha replied.” Get to work, folks.

GHB Is Killing NYC!

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In less celebratory news: “The gay nightlife in New York is gone!” former club owner Vlada Von Shats just told me, with a sort of glamorous exasperation. But relax—I’m sure she meant just Manhattan.

First, some background: In 2004, when there was barely a handful of gay bars in New York’s percolating Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, Vlada opened one called, aptly, Vlada, and it became a popular West 51st Street destination for schmoozing, cruising, and drag shows. At a swanky birthday party for Vlada at her restaurant Russian Samovar the other night, the Saint Petersburg-born entrepreneur told me that the 2008 crash helped kill the place, because big corporate sponsors were suddenly scared to spend money and stopped booking special events there.

There was also the growing competition, as bar after bar opened to cater to the growing HK twink population and their hunger for cocktails and comedy. But there was another problem, which she says continues in bars today and is helping destroy the nightlife: Drugs! No, not because the customers are utterly wasted, but because the kinds of drugs they’re on today don’t encourage them to also buy booze! “In the old days, the guys did coke and meth,” said Vlada, “and they drank alcohol with that. But now that they do alphabet drugs like GHB, they only drink water. They go in the bathroom, do their drugs and drink tap water. They don’t buy drinks! Because of this, clubs are going to have to start charging admission or they will surely close.”

Vlada shuttered in 2014, but to date, there are still at least 14 gay bars in the neighborhood, none of which charges a cover. (One of them, Therapy, recently had to vacate because the neighboring building was deemed hazardous, but the feeling is that the bar will eventually be able to reopen.) But Vlada feels the casualties will keep coming unless the bars start charging or the gays stop their drugging. “I also had a bar called Vlada Lounge in Miami,” she related, “where the gays are only gay once they’re in a gay bar. The second they leave, they suddenly act like they’re straitlaced Catholic schoolboys.”

Would she dare to open a new gay bar in NYC? “Well,” she replied, “I’m 55 and I just got a new hip. No one wants Mother in a bar. The kids are getting younger and younger. But I want to open a gay bar on the Upper West Side. The rents there are still accessible. Also, a lot of people moved uptown, and, unlike HK, there is less competition. They’re lacking good entertainment over there.” But yes, there might very well be a cover charge. Horrors!

So, come on, you gays. Go back to coke and meth and save the nightlife. Kidding. Stop drugging and buy a freaking drink.

Michael Musto is the long running, award-winning entertainment journalist and TV commentator.
@mikeymusto