Saturday, September 9, 2017

News of the Rialto

So Miss Peters is set to succeed Miss Midler as Mrs. Levi.  It seems a fully respectable, but somehow deflatingly predictable, sort of choice.

Beyond that, I've had to add it to the list - alluded to, in a way, in the last post - of things that seem to be drawing me into the past.  Because it was the first time I ever really paid attention to her, Bernadette Peters is strongly associated in what passes for my mind with her appearance in the master's Sunday in the Park with George, a work that seized my imagination back in my college days despite my never having seen it - still haven't, for that matter, except on video.

It's funny to think of, now, in this world of instant technology and infinite omnipresent ways of devouring what we now are led to think of as "content," how voraciously once upon a time we listened, over and over again, to those spinning black vinyl disks. Hours and afternoons would go by, listening and turning, listening and turning, and Sunday was that kind of album for me.

This part of the show - it's not really right to call it, or anything except possibly, possibly the first-act curtain song, a number in the old Broadway sense, as the whole flows together so organically - is especially remembered and in its way especially dear.  Being college years, those days were of course fraught with heightened emotion of every kind, and somehow "We Do Not Belong" became a kind of leitmotif for one especially fraught relationship in particular. Not my first crush, or even my first love, but very much and for a very long time The Big One.

His name (well, his name for the purposes of writing this - changed, as they say, to protect the ostensibly innocent) was Michael (one way or another, it's always Michael, isn't it?). We were college chums, he a transfer student my sophomore year. Something unspecified hadn't quite gone right in his first go at university, so he'd taken some time and now was coming back. He was - as The Big One so often is - tall, dark, and undeniably handsome; a younger Jeremy Irons, perhaps, with a touch more Caravaggio in his Italian eyes, dapper with his black moustache, his long black bangs forever being swept aside.  He had the kind of arms that look particularly good in rolled-up sleeves. He was intense and brilliant and moody (aren't The Big Ones always that way?) and we had a kind of coup de foudre that wasn't precisely romantic (we never really were, in any sustained way, intimate in that sense), but earthquaking in a way that, as I think about it thirty or so years later, I don't know that I've ever again experienced. We talked for days, we went to movies and argued about them; we drank prodigiously and danced in the way one can only when it's 1983 and your favorite club, Key West, is playing its trademark 25-minute remix of "Jump," which always ended with cannons just below the ceiling firing feathers and glitter.

And then, as The Big Ones generally do, a few years on it all went bad. We still argued, but no longer about the movies, and we ended up in one of those melodramatic, social-circle exploding bust-ups that can only happen when you're 20-something and probably, unconsciously, more than anything, just testing out how extreme things can become. And for a while, that was that; a long era of "I'm not coming if he's there," and of finding all sorts of new ways of testing one's friends' patience and fortitude.

And of listening, over and over again, to Sunday in the Park with George. "I am unfinished," sings Bernadette, as Dot, "I am diminished," and her words cut through the pain and anger and frustration. What made it all right really was what made it all wrong, and while perhaps there ways in which we should have belonged together - I still don't know anyone with whom I connected, in the way that E.M. Forster meant, so quickly and entirely - I indeed had to move on.

So the word, after all of that, that Bernadette Peters will play Dolly seems, if only to me, a little odd, somehow; she's always seemed to have to me more of a gift for expressing loss (which is after all, I argue to myself, one element of any good Dolly) but not so much for celebrating life, brass-band-style (which is a basic essential for the part). I'm sure she'll be fine; but I wonder about how it will all balance out. I'm underestimating her, I suppose, and overplaying my own impression of her skill with vulnerability and pain. Perhaps she can kick up her heels with a gaggle of waiters with the best of them. I hope, if nothing else, that she sells tickets, so that the show goes on and on and we get the opportunity to sample any number of Dollys.

Oh, and Michael? Actually, we reconnected, for a while. When I was living in New York, we turned out (what with it being Manhattan and a tiny planet and all) to be connected by friends of friends - he had moved to the big city himself (it seems in memory we all did, in those days) - and we were thrown together at a party. For a while, we tried it out as friends at a somewhat calmer level, hitting the cabarets and running around to exhibitions and spending long evenings eating cheap Indian in the East Village. The '80s had turned into the '90s, and we felt very adult and worldly, listening to Marie Blake at the Five Oaks and getting drinks bought for us by generous gentlemen d'un certain âge at the Townhouse and places even more louche (head out into the night with a looker like Michael, and the world is, if not your oyster, at least your vodka and cranberry).  Little by little, though, the rot crept back in, hurt feelings and unmet expectations, clipped words and thunderous silences. One night I threw a beer at him, the bottle shattering on the brick wall of the low dive we had ended the evening at, and that was that (but oh, did he deserve it, even if I don't remember why).

And a year or so after that, I was off to Africa; not because of Michael, precisely, but because he was just one more reason not to look back or get too connected, even to the beloved city and its infinite variety.  If I were going to be a stiff-necked, obstinate, self-centered sort of cuss, a permanent confirmed bachelor, I reasoned, I might as well go see the world, and so I did.

And the world being what it is, within what in retrospect seems a very short time, I got swept up by my very own Louis the Baker, and Louis it was - and still is. I don't regret a moment of that, that much I know, and fourteen years on, he still very much, as that other song says, makes me feel present. But as always, Sondheim knows best, and in even the most blissful of relationships there is always that haunting little minor strain: we lose things, and then we choose things. And Michael is one of those.

Of course I've looked him up. Michael's still impossibly handsome, still living in New York, distinguished and politically active (he was an original ACT UPer, once upon a time). We even still, the world remaining impossibly tiny, turn out to have friends of friends. I really don't think of him all that often, and I expect the same is true for him of me. But we were young together once, and that must always mean... something. What, precisely, I'm still pondering.

So that's what I thought when I heard the news, and I wish Bernadette Peters great joy of Dolly and her audiences great joy of her. But I'm not sure I'm going to go; the world being what it is, I have a sinking feeling I know who might be in the next row.


  1. Take Peenee with you, he's made for popping lead balloons for his very own amusement, yet able to re-frame his antics as benevolence presonified and actually get away with it (at least that's my take from reading his musings).

    1. Oh, he's been involved in more than one bottle- and/or cocktail-throwing incident in his long and checkered life, of that I'm quite sure... But he would be a handy ally to have on hand in that kind of situation, that much I know, too.

    2. well, thank you both. I think.

  2. You take my breath away with your erudition sometimes, Muscato, you really do. That was a beautiful read... Jx

  3. We must have walked pass each other any number of times in 1983.

  4. "head out into the night with a looker like Michael, and the world is, if not your oyster, at least your vodka and cranberry"

    This is the best line I've read all summer, if not all year.

    Another wonderful musing. My Michael is (well, truth be told, there are two of them) named Andrew...both of them. Both friendships were wonderful and deep and abiding and fraught and dramatic and never quite all that I wanted them to be. And they are each married and have families, and as life so often works it, things turned out for all of us just as they should have.

    And, like you, there is still that funny little "what if?" aspect. But, since I never threw a beer, mon dieu, it passes for me rather quickly. Of course, one of mine is no longer impossibly handsome. The other, goddammit, hasn't aged a bit, not one bit, since college.

    And like Jeffrey, I feel rather certain that we might have rubbed elbows (or more) at The Townhouse, or watching Dynasty on Wed nights at Uncle Charlie's, or at Tunnel Bar, or Private Eyes, or Ty's (how I loved Ty's), The Eagle, The Spike, or at The Monster (I once caused a minor scandal at the bar, window side, natch; and was summarily tossed out on one other occasion).

    And as for Bernadette, well, I was really hoping for Harvey. But when I told him that, he said his money was on Bernadette. I'm hoping to go see Ms. Murphy before she's gone. That's where my money will go.

  5. When the original production of SITPWG was running, I complimented Sondheim on We Do Not Belong Together. He was in a particularly sour mood so he ridiculed the song, calling it: "I'm singing my biggest number!" I don't think he feels that way in the main, but he did that day.

    PS: Michael is a louse!

    1. I do hope he doesn't still think so; to me it seems the linchpin of what is others a rather cut-and-dried plotline in Act One. If you don't get a sense that Dot really cares (and so, in his way, does George), it doesn't mean nearly as much.

      As for Michael, well, I suppose we're all a louse to somebody. The world being what it is, you probably know him!