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Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Abominable Showman, April 1, 2012

Alice Cooper (courtesy Alice Cooper)

Vaudevillain
Theatre villains on the stage and off. And who is the queerest of them all? With cameos by Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Sarah Bernhardt, The Joker, Michael Ondaatje, Groucho Marx, Judas and Garth Drabinsky 
By Richard Burnett
“I love Montreal,” Alice Cooper once told me. “I’m so looking forward to playing Montreal and walking along Ste-Catherine Street, man.”
You are forgiven if, after reading that line, you think Alice Cooper is full of crap.
Thing is, The Coop isn’t: His favourite street in his favourite Canadian city really is Rue Ste-Catherine. And he’s walked the length of it many times over the years, from the old Montreal Forum, where he headlined several times during the 1970s, all the way past the Main, where he’s headlined at Métropolis, an old skating rink that was converted into a grand vaudeville theatre back in 1885.

David Bowie headlined the venue and freaked out when he saw her ghost backstage.

Today Mé`tropolis is not only ranked as one of the world’s Top 10 rock venues, but it is also supposedly haunted by the ghost of the late, great French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt. In September 1997, nearly 74 years after her death, David Bowie headlined the venue and freaked out when he saw her ghost backstage.
But I digress.
When I was blabbing with Alice Cooper, he was thrilled to learn – after I told him – that he was headlining a genuine theatre, Théâtre St-Denis. And that was totally appropriate because Cooper is the original shock rocker and a veteran member of the Friars Club of Beverly Hills, the famed private show business club founded by Milton Berle whose members over the decades have included everybody from Benny Goodman and Dean Martin to Johnny Carson and Cooper’s good friend, the late Groucho Marx. 
“Groucho saw a lot of vaudeville in Alice Cooper,” Cooper told me. “The Rat Pack thought of me as being one of them. They put me in the Friars Club, the Hollywood booze club. I was the only rocker in there. You had to get past the old guard. Today I’m the old guard.” I like to call The Coop one of the great “vaudevillians” of all time. But mostly I adore a queer villain and Batman’s nemesis The Joker has to be the most fabulous villain of them all.
In Hollywood and quite often on the stage, if you want your audience to instantly recognize a bigoted Southern sheriff, for instance, all you have to do is portray him as a tobacco-spitting, N-word-spewing caricature. This same kind of shorthand was also used to portray The Joker. Batman creator Bob Kane and his early successors used Joker’s appearance, from his ruby-red lips to his lavender zoot suit, as code for “faggot,” which in those days was a term interchangeable with “criminal.”
This is offensive in and of itself. But at the end of the day I don’t have problems with celluloid or stage villains being queer, especially when they’re as entertaining as our Joker, who by the time Frank Miller redefined Batman in 1986 in The Dark Knight Returns, had grown into a, well, fully-fleshed character. 
“You know, you look so pretty when you’re mad!” Joker cackles to a fellow inmate in the 1989 graphic novel Arkham Asylum. “Kiss me, Charlie! Ravish me! But no tongues, ya hear? Not on our first date.”
...who can forget Joker donning Wonder Woman’s tiara on the delicious eye-popping cover of the August 2004 edition of Wonder Woman?

Also in Arkham Asylum, Joker tries to stick his fingers up Batman’s ass through his cape. Then there is Joker’s unnamed boyfriend in Devil’s Advocate and Joker even goes into detail about the sexual nature of murder in Dark Detective
There is the more recent introduction of Joker’s fag hag Harley Quinn in Joker’s Favor because the script called for a female stripper at a police party, a role The Joker was originally supposed to do in drag. 
And while we are on the subject of drag, who can forget Joker donning Wonder Woman’s tiara on the delicious eye-popping cover of the August 2004 edition of Wonder Woman
Only thing is, when I insist The Joker is a fabulous faggot, some straight folks still mock me: “Yeah, according to you everybody is gay!”
To which I can only reply, “Why do you insist that everybody must be straight?”
I mostly blame Hollywood and Broadway for this because Tinsel Town and the Great White Way have helped make life a living hell for real and imagined gay people. 
We will likely never witness the true love lives of such gay people as Alexander the Great, Abraham Lincoln and Florence Nightingale on the big screen. 

Never mind that the tightly-wound closets of the world’s most famous matinée idols continue to reinforce the shame of being gay – a homophobic lie that directly affects the lives of every single homo on this planet. 
No, when homosexuality itself isn’t used as the root of a villain’s psychosis, then gay life is otherwise erased. 
We will likely never witness the true love lives of such gay people as Alexander the Great, Abraham Lincoln and Florence Nightingale on the big screen. 
Don’t believe me? 
Take the life story of famed Hungarian Count Laszlo Almasy in director Anthony Minghella’s 1997 blockbuster The English Patient. Like the Michael Ondaatje novel it’s based on, the Oscar-winning film is a lie: The real-life Count was a gay man passionately in love with a German officer whom he tried to help avoid going to the Russian front. 
Apparently homo plotlines are box office poison. Unless, of course, you’re the cross-dressing serial killer in Silence of the Lambs.
In other words, the dream factory is still all about heterosexual voyeurism. 
On the stage, audiences have witnessed some truly great villains – notably Iago in Othello, Javert in Les Misérables, Edward Hyde in Frank Wildhorn’s musical Jekyll and Hyde, Frank N. Furter in the cult classic The Rocky Horror Show and Donny Osmond playing Gaston in Beauty and the Beast back in 2006. 
(Beauty and the Beast, incidentally, was also Donny’s first return to Broadway since making his 1982 debut in Little Johnny Jones. “I opened and closed that show in one night,” Donny recalls, “and I remember thinking ‘One of these days, I’m going to do it right.’”)
As for the musical Wicked – which finally headlines Montreal’s Salle-Wilfred Pelletier from August 1 – 26 (the North American touring production’s only scheduled Canadian stop this year) – I am happy to note that the real villain is the Wizard, fitting in this paranoid age of stealth governments.
Ted Neeley in JCS film
I never bought the Wizard as the bumbling but big-hearted old coot in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz. Hollywood clearly did not want to alienate moviegoers – Read: scare the kids and thus scare off their ticket-buying parents. But one villain I never thought really was a villain is Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, which I saw in Montreal in May 2010, starring Broadway legend Ted Neeley, best-known for also performing the title role in the 1973 film adapatation. 
On this tour Judas was played by rock star Corey Glover of the band Living Colour and there wasn’t much Glover could do acting-wise to convey what I believe must have happened: That Jesus arranged for Judas to go to Pontius Pilate. Otherwise, how else could the story of the Christ have even happened?
Off the stage, these days the biggest villain in Canadian theatre is former theatre mogul Garth Drabinsky who this past week – on March 29 – lost his bid to the Supreme Court of Canada to hear an appeal of Drabinsky’s 2009 fraud conviction. 
Drabinsky and his business partner Myron Gottlieb were both convicted in 2009 on two counts of fraud related to famed theatre company Livent Inc. after an Ontario court judge found they manipulated the income reported by Livent over a nine-year span with a kickback scheme that dated back to 1989. Livent brought Broadway blockbusters like Phantom of the Opera and Ragtime to Toronto during the 1990s but collapsed in bankruptcy in 1998 with investors losing an estimated $500 million. Drabinsky and Gottlieb are now both serving time in prison.
As for vaudevillain Alice Cooper, he remains a class act. “I never swore on stage,” he says. “I never had to use nudity or bad language. Alice is an arrogant bastard, but he’s a gentleman. When Groucho Marx came to my show he was not shocked at all. He said Alice was rock burlesque.”
When I described Montreal’s Théâtre St-Denis to The Coop, his eyes lit up. Then he said, “When we play a real theatre, it’s our favourite venue. Everybody sees every little detail. I treat every show like it’s special. I wanna kill ‘em. And if it looks like a tough audience, I wanna kill ‘em more.”
Wicked headlines Montreal’s Salle-Wilfred Pelletier from August 1 to 26, 2012. Click here for more details and tickets. 
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1 comment:

  1. Alice is still a great performer even at his age. His studio albums are still terrific and he is still great on stage. Everyone show go.

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