Last night, my buddy Jason arm-twisted me into going to the Fifth Annual Broadway Beauty Pageant, a benefit for the Ali Forney Center. The Center does excellent work with homeless LGBT kids and the pageant features five gorgeous chorus boys from some of Broadway's biggest, hottest and/or most controversial shows...why I wasn't first in line to begin with, I'll never know.
Held Uptown at Peter Norton Symphony Space, the show was directed by Ryan J. Davis with choreography by Erin Porvaznika. It was gamely hosted by 58-year-old acting icon Tovah Feldshuh, who looked terrific and was not above milking every double-entendre for all it was worth—and then some. She began by saying she'd just come from a Texas production of Arsenic & Old Lace and had been dying to get out of there. We were lucky to have her (and her 99-year-old mother!), and to have one of the wittiest men alive, James Franco's opinion notwithstanding—Bruce Vilanch—as head judge. (I imagine he'd feel qualified to judge head as well.)
New mommy Rachel Dratch was the next judge, and an expert at pretending to be a fish out of water around all the gay menz. I don't think she'd object to the word "fish" considering she barely flinched when Vilanch used "cooze"; it took him calling her a "straight cunt" to get her already giant blue eyes to widen, but that's what she got for making fun of one of his only lazy jokes. Finally, Carson Kressley rounded things out and was hysterical, I tell ya—if you've found him annoying in the past, give him another try; he seems to have polished his act and was definitely every bit as funny as Queen of Comedy Vilanch.
The boys competing were Matt Anctil of La Cage aux Folles (stop draggin' my heart around, Matt), Michael Cusumano of Chicago (whose leotard revealed that even if we both reached for the gun, neither would come away empty-handed), Raymond J. Lee of Anything Goes (I only wish it did), Brandon Rubendall of Spider-Man (a dark turn-on) and James Tabeek of Mary Poppins (it wouldn't take a spoonful of sugar to get anything he offered to go down).
I got a kiss on the lips at the last Broadway Bares from Tabeek (as did anyone with a buck—anything for charity!), so I went in predisposed to him. But I have to say that despite it being an impossibly close contest (Imagine if the title had been Most Fuckable? We'd all still be there trying to decide.), the right winner was selected—Mr. Chicago triumphed in the end. (And Vilanch made a special note of Cusumano's end when the show had just started. Agreed.)
The show began with a feisty production number starring Lee Roy Reams of The Producers fame and backed up by all five chorus boys cum pageant princes, the guys then introduced themselves and it was on to the talent portion of the evening.
Rubendall did a balls-out (not literally), Broadwayized version of Cee Lo's "Fuck You," Lee did a YouTube-ready medley of showtunes that was beautifully sung (I hate that I only taped the "Tomorrow" segment), Tabeek did a stunning modern-dance piece that showcased his own status as a stunning piece and Anctil shook things up with a most unexpected routine set to Sammy Davis Jr.'s "Bye Bye Brownbird."
But Cusumano's hysterical take on Black Swan, delivered live yet with the manic energy of Lypsinka, totally won over the house and the judges—Kressley flatly stated, "You win." I wish I had the whole thing videoed, and I strongly urge him to get someone to film him doing it and to post it in its entirely. His comedic timing, his characterization as an insane Russian dancer ("Natalie Portman stole my Oscar, my fiancé and my baby!") was worth paying for and his dancing was exquisite; humorous or not, this routine had been worked on laboriously.
Actually, one of the most engaging things about the evening was that while the judges were ad-libbing and enjoying themselves, I felt that each of those five contestants really fuckin' wanted to win.
Next up, the guys took questions:
The best bit was when Anctil was summoned to Kressley's side so the sartorial snarkster could quiz him on his bedazzling (and BeDazzled) jacket, ending with, "And what are you doing Thursday?"
Finally, the boys were called onstage to shake their box-office receipts in their choice of swimwear. I, for one, feel this part of the night went way too fast, but I guess we have Broadway Bares in June for that. I loved their presentations!
Anctil, in a nod to La Cage, came out in drag, stripping down to his actual gender—or at least within a few millimeters of it.
Cusumano emerged in Blue Man Group-inspired lycra, tearing it off to end with a Long Island strut.
Lee vamped in vintage beachwear that did his period piece proud.
Rubendall hilariously sent up Spider-Man by emerging on crutches; thankfully, his hospital gown slipped away to reveal his heart-stopping body.
And Tabeek had my favorite swimsuit-reveal, coming on in a sort of 1890s look (he could get away with a mustache if he wanted to) that he shucked entirely—he spun around to flash his supercalifragilisticasspialidocious, but kept his chim-chim-cher-ee covered with a chapeau.
Everyone voted using envelopes that could be stuffed with extra cash—for every extra $1, your guy got an extra vote. No way they could have counted every ballot on the spot, but no one was second-guessing first-place winner Cusumano, who's adorable, sexy, talented, funny and smart—not bad for a guy who wasn't quite sure if he'd actually finished tenth grade before becoming a ballet pro.
I ran into so many fun people, including my new pal Tim O'Leary and his boyf Robert Rice, who I guess I'm now seeing nightly and the effervescent Frankie Grande—he was the first-ever Mr. Broadway and is now producing Born Yesterday on Broadway.
But after, the photo ops were really flying—I'd spotted Ali Forney Center honorary board member Ally Sheedy in the audience and couldn't resist requesting a pic when she'd made her hellos on stage. She sweetly agreed. It was a big moment for me—The Breakfast Club is one of my for-real favorite films, and my crazy decision to analyze it as part of my application to the University of Chicago probably changed my life.
I also had no problem flagging down Dratch, who was anything but a downer (can't vouch for whether or not she's a "Debbie Goes Downer" as Vilanch accused). And of course I had to nab Cusumano and as many of the contestants as possible.
Dratch brought in some old Playbills from her building's recycling room—and auctioned one off that had been signed on the spot by Feldshuh for over $200!
Outside, I asked Vilanch for a pic-with and he complied, feeling up my back while noting my cute camera man. It was perfectly appropriate—no (made up?) Andy Cohen "twinkgate" to deny here!—but I did feel a bit like the wife who ironically reaps the benefits from her hubby when a hot flight attendant with no drapes moves in next door.
I would have gotten Feldshuh, but at the moment I asked she told me she had to rush to check on her mom, grasping my hand and taking me down the aisle with her a bit while reassuring me, "I won't leave you!" I didn't want to be George Costanza going with J. Peterman to check on his parent, so I bowed out. But she was just lovely, too; everyone was in the right spirit for a night that was all about raising cash for a good cause.
Please consider donating to the Ali Forney Center by clicking here. Sign a petition urging New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to reinstate funding for this valuable resource by clicking here and searching for "Cuomo LGBT."