Saturday, November 10, 2007


Last Thursday night we saw Terrence McNally's play called THE RITZ at Studio 54. Starring ROSIE PEREZ and KEVIN CHAMBERLAIN, the comedy follows Gaetano Proclo (played by Chamberlain) who fears that his mobster brother-in-law is after him and hides out in a place where he thinks no one will find him. The place turns out to be a gay bathhouse. Confusion followed as his fantasy persona (he claims he's a Broadway producer) becomes the focus of everyone's attention. The play was funny (at times) and the performances by ROSIE PEREZ and KEVIN CHAMBERLAIN were wonderful. Other cast members include BROOKS ASHMANSKAS, ASHLIE ATKINSON, and adult film star turned "stage actor" RYAN IDOL. Overall, I thought that there was something lacking in this revival even after the second act.

From the New York Times’ Ben Brantley:
Seeing Rosie Perez’s act as a talent-free chanteuse in the sporadically funny revival of “The Ritz,” which opened last night at Studio 54, provides the guiltless bliss of eating a slab of vegetarian foie gras that tastes like the real thing. When Ms. Perez sings — off-key, off-cue and off-balance, but with a menacing determination that threatens nasty reprisals if you don’t applaud — you know you’re in the hands of a woman who appreciates just how good bad can be.
When “The Ritz” first opened in 1975, establishing Terrence McNally as a high-profile playwright, its selling point was that it was bad in another way. That’s bad as in “naughty, naughty.” Set in a gay bathhouse, “The Ritz” arrived on Broadway at a moment when gay culture seemed to embody the most advanced evolution of the sexual revolution. Heterosexual theatergoers who never made it to Plato’s Retreat or wife-swapping parties could dip a vicarious toe into baths where you went to get dirty.
Well, yesterday’s dirt, as is often the case, has become today’s dust. This latest revival of “The Ritz” (the first, since an ill-fated stunt production at the discothèque Xenon in 1983) is cute, cuddly and often oddly inert. (There was also an unloved film version in 1976.) Stripped of the amyl-nitrite-scented clouds of novelty that clung to it 32 years ago, the show is exposed as a friendly, conventional sitcom for the stage. And though it features ace performances by Ms. Perez and by Kevin Chamberlin as a visitor from the planet of the heteros, Joe Mantello’s direction rarely revs up to the dizzy velocity that farce demands.
Mr. Chamberlin is Gaetano (Guy) Proclo, a sanitation company president who is the play’s protagonist and, yes, its straight man. On the run from his homicidal brother-in-law, the corpulent Guy seeks refuge in the seedy, steamy Ritz. There he attracts the unwelcome attentions of a chubby chaser (Patrick Kerr), who wants to jump Guy’s well-padded bones, and of Googie Gomez (Ms. Perez), the club’s singer in residence, who mistakes Guy for a theater producer.
Guy is also being stalked by Michael Brick (Terrence Riordan), a virile-looking private detective with the voice of Mickey Mouse, and by the end of the first act Guy’s spitting-mad brother-in-law (Lenny Venito). Mistaken identities abound, as do silly disguises, unexpected alliances and Mack Sennett-style chases, all spiced with the ethnic humor known as Gay.
The script has been retooled slightly. The advent of AIDS in the early 1980s dampened for many years the prospect of reviving a frothy piece set in a place devoted to the exchange of bodily fluids. Mr. Mantello’s version does its best to banish mortal specters by presenting the baths as a sort of abstract farce machine, populated by benign cartoon characters.
Jokes about sexually transmitted diseases have been eliminated. The musical background has been pushed forward chronologically to allow the inclusion of Donna Summer-era disco hits. And the parade of bath-towel-wearing gay stereotypes who slink, swagger and sashay through Scott Pask’s multitiered red set seem less like sexual predators than quaint, and sometimes perfectly sculptured objets d’art. (You get the feeling that what they really do in the private rooms is compare exercise regimens.)
Without erotic frissons, the heart of “The Ritz” reads mushy instead of racy. Guy is befriended by Chris (the adept Brooks Ashmanskas in a part improbably created on Broadway by F. Murray Abraham), a kindly sexual compulsive who maps out the lay of the bathhouse for Guy and teaches him that homosexuals are people too. Chris is a forerunner of the naughty-but-nice gay jester, who has become a staple on prime-time comedy. Mr. Ashmanskas plays him with self-delighted charm. But for anyone who watched “Will & Grace,” Chris will seem like a rerun.
The appealing Mr. Chamberlin (“Dirty Blonde,” “Seussical”) exudes a sweet, passive quality that is softer than the embattled masculinity of Jack Weston, who originated the part, and that fits in with Mr. Mantello’s conception of a family-style “Ritz.” This Guy is ultimately an open-minded mensch, which fortunately doesn’t prevent Mr. Chamberlin from registering curiosity, shock and dismay with disarming comic finesse.
But for “The Ritz” to come across as more than a sanitized tour of Ye Olde Gay Land, it needs a furious momentum it never achieves here. The show has the basic ingredients for farcical frenzy, including a large cast and a whole lot of doors. Yet the chase sequences feel more dutiful than hysterical. We’re given the wiring of farce but, for the most part, none of the wild electricity.
The exception is Ms. Perez, who makes the ambitious, angry Googie an electrical force indeed. Googie was created by Rita Moreno, who won a Tony for the part, and Ms. Moreno is really all that I remember from seeing “The Ritz” in college. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime comic turns that you don’t expect to see replicated or matched.
Ms. Perez, however, comes close, endowing Googie with a rabid self-belief and willpower that lasso your attention and hold it tight. More than the boys in the club, this gal (and don’t mistake her for a transvestite, or you’ll be sorry) burns with the conviction of her desire. That’s the desire to be famous. And it turns Googie’s misbegotten medley of show tunes, which concludes the first act, into a few of the funniest minutes on Broadway.

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