The third youngest "dame" participating in the Nothing Like a Dame '98 gala was the first to zzzzzonk out at the post-show celebration at John's Pizzeria. Catherine Hurlin, all of 2 and totally tuckered from her second annual Dame do, nodded off on the shoulder of her mom, Denise Roberts, and was sleeping sounder than Baby LeRoy after W.C. Fields spiked his milk with gin. "I told you the kid was no trouper," I graveled in my best W.C., as I passed the little napper.
Otherwise, the joint was jumping--and with cause: The third annual Dames "games"--benefiting The Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative of The Actors' Fund of America to the tune of $177,000--was practically an all-girl orchestration, 160 or so on stage and off.
One diva, though, needed a little manhandling from some "honorary dames": That monumentally untalented bathhouse chanteuse, Googie Gomez (i.e, Rita Moreno, back in her Tony-winning role from The Ritz), required two backup boytoys AND a male scene-partner (Kevin Chamberlin, passing plausibly for Jack Weston) to set up and execute her witheringly funny deflowering of "Everything's Coming Up Roses."
Christine Noll, the blonde fiancee of Jeykll & Hyde, jumped in at the last moment for an under-the-weather Judy Kuhn and did a positively rowdy rendering of "Mr. Paganini."
Another Christine, Forbidden Broadway's Pedi, trotted out The Life's prize-winning prostie, Lillias White (tres white, in fact), and sang the fate of midtown hookers who've been taken off the street and put on the stage--"Easy Women" all, from Les Miz to Chicago. Bebe Neuwirth, who got the whole show off in high-gear leading a leggy ensemble through her scorchy "All That Jazz," maneuvered her way back to the mike to defend her Chicago tart. "Velma Kelly is not a prostitute," she said. "She's a performer." (Yessir, that's our Bebe.)
Half of Neuwirth's "Class" act in Chicago, Marcia Lewis, performer "So What," a number she did in Joel Grey's last Cabaret tour. Incidentally, Lewis is telling people she'll probably leave Chicago in June when Bebe says byebye, and who'll replace her as that show's prison matron is anybody's guess. The rumored Lea DeLaria wasn't talking, but she was singing up a storm, belting across her "I Can Cook Too" showstopper - figuring that'll hold folks until September when On the Town finally lands on Broadway ("I just signed the contract. I gotta believe that.")
Yet another high of the night was the Woman of the Year duet, "The Grass Is Always Greener," in which the dowdy first wife compares notes with the glamorous second wife. The original rendition won Tonys for Marilyn Cooper and Lauren Bacall; its reprise here won the evening, creatively recast with Glenn Close (stooping to conquer as the mousy housefrau) and Elaine Stritch (personifying easy elegance). Apropos of everything, is there anything sexier than Stritch striding across a stage in sleek black slacks?
Bacall herself then stepped out to bring out the event's "piece de resistance," Phyllis Newman. She, in turn, dedicated the night to Laurie Beechman, who performed in the two previous Dames events but was ailing this year.
Also on the sick list, but otherwise amply represented on the program: lyricist Fred Ebb, mending from surgery. Marcia Lewis suggested dropping him a get-well card at Mt. Sinai. In case you haven't looked around lately, he is musical theatre's premier wordsmith. Get well, Fred!
-- By Harry Haun