Good news in time for Thanksgiving: Actor-comic Drew Droege is coming back to New York with his barbed and witty one-man show Bright Colors and Bold Patterns. The Michael Urie-directed play—which has Droege as a tipsy single guy who goes to a friend’s gay wedding and mouths off about the horrors of the assimilation process, while sprinkling in pop culture references and downing canapes—comes to the Soho Playhouse starting November 12. Drew—whom I’ve appeared with on Logo’s Cocktails & Classics—is also known for his deft video spoofs of Chloe Sevigny and also for playing Rose Nylund in stage takeoffs of The Golden Girls. On top of all that, he’s the drama teacher in the upcoming TV version of Heathers. Amazingly, he found time to talk to me about all the above.
Hello, Drew. I loved your play so much. When people see it, do they say they related to it?
When I first did it, it was 30 seats in L.A. We kept expanding it. Especially when it was in New York, we got a great write-up in the Times and a lot of people came from all walks of life. A lot of straight people came, which was touching. I always thought I was targeting the gay community in what I wrote. It was cool to hear, “I never heard that take on gay marriage before” or comments agreeing about what we could stand to lose, what makes us queer and gay. An old straight couple said, “Our friends got boring when they got married too.” A lot of younger people came and seemed to enjoy it, even though they didn’t get all the references. But that’s built into the play—that part of being gay is showing them the movies and telling them our history.
I think it was my write-up, not the Times’, that garnered the crowds, by the way.
You were first.
I’ve got to do a show about how I’m always the first. How does it feel to be alone onstage?
The other shows I’ve done are very different. This is a fourth wall play and I’m playing a character, so I have to interact with three chairs and pretend to interact with these people. I’ve done it so many times now that it changes, depending on the audience. I can feel the energy off of those chairs and can almost feel that an audience is a fan or not a fan of the people I’m talking to. Some audiences cheer me on and some are appalled or turned off by me, and I use all that and use the chairs as a way to talk to the audience. I can feel people gasping. “Can we laugh at that? Is it OK?” There’s nothing better than an uncomfortable audience.
New York audiences seem to love it. L.A. audiences are sometimes shocked that I go after some names. It’s so taboo to say anything remotely critical of any of our stars. In New York, it’s more, “Please. We’re here for it.” I didn’t know if it would work in New York. It’s set in Palm Springs and there are a lot of references to things in L.A. But people in New York have heard of things in L.A. and they know that character, they know that guy. He’s had his years of being beaten up by the city and they related to it.
As for an ensemble piece: You play Rose in Golden Girls shows. Do you go by the theory that she’s not stupid, she’s just trusting and naive?
I think she’s pretty stupid. She doesn’t really get a lot of laugh lines. She is the joke. The other three get the zingers. I had to recognize that I’m setting people up a lot. When you watch it, Betty White is really real, she’s very honest in her portrayals. Being a drag version of that, I‘m not a good impressionist. I like to do a weird Rorschach painting of who they might be in their craziest moment. I look at Betty now and she’s a lot broader and very much aware of what makes Betty White work, and she plays into that really well, and I tap into that more.
The one time they had Dorothy do a St. Olaf story, it came off really wrong. I felt violated, and I bet Betty White did, too.
I never saw that one! [Author’s note: I then sent Drew the YouTube clip and he shared in my dropped jaw.] There’s such a formula to Golden Girls. The couple of times they have given Rose the zinger, it’s odd.
I know. One time, she said she and Miles went to a Chinese-German restaurant and an hour later, they were hungry again—“for power!” It was so wrong because the other three might have said a knowing witticism like that, but never Rose.
That’s crazy writing. There’s the one where everyone realizes her teacher back at school was Hitler.
I love that one. It’s so crazy, I adore it.
Congrats on Heathers. When does that air?
It starts in March on the Paramount network. As far as we know, it’s replacing Spike. We finished 10 episodes. It’s so dark, it’s so mean, it’s really funny. There are a lot of stars in the making.
I hear it’s very gender-open.
We have a non-binary Heather—there’s a very sexually fluid cast of characters. They play on what’s happening now with kids—“It’s who I fell in love with.” I’m the drama teacher, Mr. Maurice Dennis. I’ve written a lot of original plays and musicals that I make them perform and sometimes I perform them in front of them. It’s a really sad character. Really horrible to women. He’s gay. He’s not sexual at all. He’s more judgmental than to have those impulses. He’s very anti-drugs.
I don’t think there are many teachers that are pro-drugs.
Yeah, but none of the characters are doing drugs, but he suspects it. He’s paranoid.
Do you figure into major plotlines?
Yes, I do. Basically, I’m trying to build them into stars because I could have been, but I teach drama.
How Mama Rose! What are the shows he comes up with?
He’s seen Cats and Les Miz and Phantom, and that’s probably it, but he does bastardized versions of those big flashy musicals.
Did you get cast because they knew your stage work?
They did. Jason Micallef, who is the creator, has been a friend for years. He’s always been great to throw me in his projects. I had auditioned for it, but a lot of producers and writers knew me, and once I was cast, they really started to write for me.
In the 1960s, who would have played your part? [Gay character actor] Paul Lynde?
Yeah, probably. Charles Nelson Reilly.
Thank God they’re dead. Winona Ryder was great in the movie Heathers. Why do you think she got caught shoplifting back in 2001?
I don’t know. I find that so fascinating. I love that impulse that stars who have everything want to steal. I don’t know if it’s “I want to rebel” or “It’s exciting because it’s given to me all the time.” Sometimes they feel entitled and take things.
My theory is her career was on a downslide at that point and stealing things was a way to reclaim power.
Here’s a shocker. In college, I had a girlfriend. [Stunned silence] She loved to steal lipstick and little things. I thought that was really cool.
Why did you steal Chloe Sevigny’s persona? Kidding. Why did you start doing her? (And I’m glad you did.)
I looked in the mirror, and I had a blond wig on my head for another show I was doing. I couldn’t place it, then I realized, “Chloe Sevigny!” Then I read an interview with her and she was name-checking the most obscure bonkers references. I was like, “I have to do something with it.”
I put something onstage 15 years ago and it bombed horribly. I got zero laughs. But I believed in it. I begged my director to let me have another night. I tried it again and it went really well. Before the videos came out, it was so hit or miss. The videos took it to the next level. It’s so weird, you never know. People have to keep putting things up. I used to really bomb at drag shows because they do numbers and people couldn’t reset their minds. “Oh God, this guy is doing what, spoken word? The drag’s not very good. Strange.” But the nerds got me. And as Chloe became more famous, people began to connect…That culture, that everyone is cooler than you.
I love it because it’s so inspired and seems to have nothing really to do with Chloe.
Everyone’s sending me articles about her, and I don’t even consider her anymore. I know I resemble her in a way and I’m fascinated by that world. I respect her and think she’s great, but that’s not why I’m doing this. But it’s been fun and I’m always touched when people know what it is.
A Rose Marie Is a Rose Marie
A real-life Golden Girl, Rose Marie went from being a four-year-old singing sensation with a mobster father to a funny lady on The Dick Van Dyke Show to a Hollywood Square, all of which is chronicled in Wait For Your Laugh, a new documentary about the indomitable showbiz icon.
We learn that the producer of the film Top Banana offered to show Rose Marie various sexual positions she could take with him, but she declined, and as a result, her songs were left on the cutting room floor. (I guess he was the original Harvey Weinstein.) Also, on Dick Van Dyke, Rose Marie became peeved to realize she was a supporting player and Mary Tyler Moore was the main female attraction. (Writer Carl Reiner told her that audiences wanted to see Mary’s legs more than her legs. I guess the whole world is Harvey Weinstein.)
When it comes to a 1970s live revue called 4 Girls 4, it’s revealed that Rose Marie was bossy, calling the shots as far as suggestions, which were taken. (About the same show, we’re told that Margaret Whiting said she’d love to rip off costar Helen O’Connell’s nails and put her hands over fire. But Rose Marie and Rosie Clooney got along famously.) And about Rose Marie having been cast as the voice of Norman Bates’ mother in Gus Van Sant’s 1998 Psycho remake, her daughter sardonically says, “As her daughter, I felt it was typecasting.” But despite the bumpy parts, you end up loving Rose Marie and her spunk, tenacity, and talent.
On the (Christopher) Street Where You Live
More yummy nostalgia: John DiLeo’s new book, Ten Movies at a Time, is an insightful look at 350 fascinating American films from 1930–1970. And DiLeo picks up on lots of gay subtext, and just plain text, too.
About My Fair Lady (1964): “Why doesn’t anyone ever wonder about Higgins and Col. Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White), two middle-aged confirmed bachelors living together?”
About the Oscar-winning historical drama The Lion in Winter (1968): “The stars’ three sons include Anthony Hopkins as a gay Richard the Lionheart…Hopkins is in love with Timothy Dalton (Philip II of France), meaning that The Lion in Winter brings the simmering gay subtexts of other Peter O’Toole historical ventures, such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and, yes, Becket, out into the open. Hopkins and Dalton are actually about to have sex when O’Toole interrupts. (The script includes the cliché of Hopkins having been close to Mommy, distant from Daddy.)”
As for Mister Scoutmaster (1953), starring the eternally prissy Clifton Webb: “When he goes ‘camping,’ it’s not the kind you may be hoping for. (But here he is breaking the ban on gay scout members, leaping decades!)”
The glossy soap The Best of Everything (1959): “If only Stephen Boyd, paired with Ms. [Hope] Lange, could match the sexual heat he cranked up for Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur.”
And finally, there was the sex romp A Very Special Favor (1965); “At the climax, Rock Hudson tries to make Leslie Caron think he’s turned gay, but it’s hardly worth the set-up, mostly of interest as one of Hudson’s occasional onscreen winks at his own sexuality. Earlier, in an unrelated scene, Caron tells him, ‘Hiding in closets isn’t going to cure you’. (You can’t make this stuff up.)”
Big Old Ruby Red Dress
Another American classic, Ruby Rims, was the first drag queen to perform at the legendary ‘70s gay sex club the Anvil, where she did naughty, bawdy numbers and wowed the crowd in between their hormonal indulgences. Last week, Ruby had a 64th birthday concert at Metro Baptist Church in Hell’s Kitchen, where he helps with the food pantry for the homeless and impoverished. (He once needed it himself.) And he got standing ovations for commanding the stage with humor and feeling, from his opening (“Will you still need me…’cause I’m 64?”) to his impersonation of Bette Davis singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to his transformation into a misty-eyed male troubadour, namely himself. Ruby gave a lovely shoutout to Brian Cummings for facilitating an interview I did with Ruby earlier this year (which was revelatory). He also talked about how he was diagnosed with HIV in the ‘90s and now only has to take one pill a day. “Back then, we had A-I-D-S,” said Ruby, “and today, young gays have to deal with another problem: G-U-N-S.”
Afterwards, I congratulated the MAC Lifetime Award winner on a great night, but wondered, “The church didn’t mind the risqué material?” “The cross is still up,” he replied, smiling. I looked, and it hadn’t even shifted. “You were fabulous,” I added. “You remind me of a gay Zero Mostel.” “You mean he wasn’t?” was Ruby’s quick retort.
The same week brought more blasting from the past with MoMA’s party for their exhibit about Club 57, an ‘80s East Village performance space that showcased the likes of Klaus Nomi, John Sex, and Holly Woodlawn. The last two were in The Sound of Muzak, a riotous spoof of the Rodgers & Hammerstein family classic, with Holly singing refreshed lyrics like, “Cocaine that stays on my nose and false lashes/These are a few of my favorites, Miss Thing.” The show was done by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (en route to little things like Hairspray), who were nice enough to give me multiple featured roles in the show. But I am now fully willing to admit that as a Von Trapp child, I let out some ridiculous ad lib about Poppers one night, as the room felt silent (except for Wittman emitting an appreciate yelp, though I knew I had failed him). I also messed up as Diana Von Ross in the talent showcase sequence; Wittman had told me to cut my “Love Child” number in half, and I pretended to go along with that, only to pathetically do it the regular length the next night. Forgive me, world! As Drew Droege says, you have to keep trying.
I’ve loved Jennifer Holliday since her explosive Tony-winning turn in the original Dreamgirls and I adored her even more when, earlier this year, she pulled out of Trump’s inauguration, stating that she’d realized her performance wouldn’t unite people, it would actually help Trump’s phobic agendas. And now she’s officially queen of the world because she appeared at a friend of mine’s 40th birthday party and sent the already euphoric evening through the roof with delight. Ice skater-turned-lawyer Rob Shmalo is a friendly and popular guy, especially at Fire Island low and high teas. Well, for Saturday night’s “Les Folies Robert” at Chez Jacqueline, he brought out a crowd of tuxedoed hotties and gussied up glamour goddesses for some spectacular food and spirits.
And then, Holliday took the tiny stage and started belting songs from Chicago, La Cage Aux Folles, and, of course, Dreamgirls. She was extraordinary, as always, and basically turned the place into the Apollo. But cable icon Robin Byrd—sitting next to me—couldn’t see clearly because of the way another audience member had positioned himself near Holliday, so she tried to get his attention to move. When she couldn’t, she simply flung a bread roll about 30 mph towards him and almost got Holliday! Who just kept on singing! “It’s cloudy with a chance of meatballs,” I cracked, as the room went awkward.
At another point, Holliday revealed that Shmalo had contacted her on Facebook, asking for her to perform. He asked her “How much?” She replied, “A lot.” And he came through, making Holliday exult, “I didn’t have no problem getting my money!” She added that Rob is a kind, loving guy who actually cared about the well being of his guests more than about himself. The guests were very caring as well, as it turned out. In fact, there was one handsome man who chatted me up, and when I asked him for his email so I could invite him to another event, he complied, and also wrote, “The best fuck you’ll ever have!!” My, today’s social climbers are so very presumptuous, aren’t they? I guess he wants to throw a roll in the hay at me. The evening ended with Byrd asking Shmalo how he’ll spend his 50th. “Paying off the 40th,” he replied.