Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"BURLESQUE TO BROADWAY" Sequins, Feathers, and Fans... Oh My!

Sequins, Feathers, and Fans... Oh My!

How could you not love a stage full of beautiful, eager-to-please women treating the audience to such campy one-liners as, "I've seen it all.  I've been in more laps than a napkin!"

Recently, a few lucky members of the New York press were treated to a sneak preview-- a "tease", if you will-- of "Burlesque to Broadway", the upcoming new musical produced by Live Nation and starring the magnetic, flame-haired dynamo Quinn Lemley. The 30 minute sneak "peek-a-boo"-- complete with lovely and talented showgirls, feather boas, pasties, and many all-out, no-holes-barred musical numbers -- packed a real wallop.  And, like any good tease, it left us begging for more!

Just what is burlesque?  The strict definition is "an absurd or comically exaggerated imitation of something, especially in a literary or dramatic work; a parody"... but most often people know burlesque to be "a variety show which typically includes striptease".  As we enter 2014, burlesque has enjoyed a lot of attention as something of a "new old" art form.  It has been a part of American culture for a long, long time. (If you go by one of the characters in the show, it was born circa 1893.)  Burlesque reached its height of popularity in the early 20th century before languishing in the 40’s.  By the sexual revolution of the '60's and '70's, it all but died out as audiences moved to more explicit entertainment.  Today, however, burlesque is enjoying a bold and sexy new life with the neo-burlesque movement in New York City and elsewhere.  It's no mystery why.  Younger audiences, including many potential neophyte performers themselves, have discovered just what makes burlesque unique: the combination of humor, pageantry, creativity, spectacle... and, of course, sexuality!  "Burlesque to Broadway" promises to give this "new old" art form the big, glossy, high-spirited tribute that it deserves.  The show features 19 high-energy tracks with favorites like "Let Me Entertain You", "My Heart Belongs to Daddy", "Big Spender", and (of course) the song that says it all without saying a word: "The Stripper".  There are also titillating costumes and some dynamic choreography.  And, best of all, the show features the curvaceous talents of singer/dancer/show conceptualist Quinn Lemley, who is no less than a revelation.

The new bold and baudy musical, like its name suggests, is a celebration of our icons who brought burlesque from its origins (which have included some, shall we say, "houses of ill repute") to the big-budget world of Broadway... and beyond.   Betty Page, Lili St. Cyr, and Gypsy Rose Lee are mentioned.  In addition to being a celebration of burlesque, it is also-- as one of the show's Producers pointed out-- "a celebration of women-- the POWER of women!"  He also pointed out that the over-the-top comedy pageantry, spectacle, and naughty sex appeal of burlesque have paved the way for much of our American culture in the last few decades -- including the variety shows and sitcoms of the 70's and 80's, and such flamboyant, sexy pop icons as Beyonce and Lady Gaga today.

"Real women have curves"-- and "Burlesque to Broadway" intends to show just that... However, as admirers of burlesque will tell you, the art form has never been solely about showing skin.  In addition to sex appeal,  burlesque has always incorporated lots of laughs into the shows as well.  While some of the vintage jokes may seem corny or only mildly suggestive in 2014, many of them would have been actually considered outrageous or even vulgar "back in the day".  Alongside the singing and dancing, the preview was peppered with many sassy zingers, many courtesy of the lady who brought sex to the screen, Mae West.  Ms. West never showed any skin, but still managed to get the uptight citizen's brigade all fired up (and not in the good way!) with her infamous one-liners.  How about, "I used to be Snow White, but I drifted!"  Or, "I only like two kinds of men, domestic and imported."  And... just one more for good measure: "'You only live once... but if you do it right, once is enough!"

There may be a nine-man band on stage for "Burlesque to Broadway", but this is "Ladies Night (Oh What a Night!)" all the way.  As the ultimate musical tribute to the power of a beautiful woman, the climax of the preview showcased a total of FIVE ladies on stage for an all-out, funked up, rock-and-roll version of the Tom Jones hit "She's A Lady"-- with some slightly tweaked lyrics: "She's a lady!  And the lady is YOURS!"  These girls twirled those pink feather boas so energetically that by the end of the act,  the stage looked like it was molting season at a flamingo colony. Whew! 

"Burlesque to Broadway" takes off (ahem...) at New York City's Gramercy Theater on February 5th through the 8th.  Visit for more info. Here is this critic's advice: Drop everything... and get your tickets!

(The illustration of Ms. Lemley is by Robert W. Richards. The photos are courtesy of Century Artists Mgt.)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

INTERVIEWING THE TRANSMAN: Buck Angel's New Year's Revolutions.


Buck Angel's New Year's Revolutions.

When Buck Angel walks down the street, people take notice.  With his rugged features, seriously muscled body, tattoos, and commanding aura, Buck is a man who clearly makes an impression. (Add a cigar, and the effect is no less than... well, smokin'!)  But, as his friends and fans (of which Buck has many) know, there is more to Mr. Angel that meets the eye-- WAY more!  When looking at Buck today, it is hard to believe that the  41-year old sex star was actually born female... and still proudly has a vagina to prove it.  Mr. Angel achieved fame, notoriety, and a generous helping of controversy as an adult film actor and producer.  As something of a one-man show, he founded  Buck Angel Entertainment to create and distribute his unique brand of erotica.  Buck performs with both men and women, although his work with men seems to be the most popular.  In 2005, he broke new barriers when he appeared in the release "Cirque Noir" for Titan Media, a high-end gay porn studio.  Also in 2005, Buck performed in "Allanah Starr's Big Boob Adventures", directed by transsexual Gia Darling.  The film included another "first" in the breaking of cinematic sexual boundaries: a scene between a transwoman (Allanah Starr) and a transman.  Buck received the 2007 Adult Video News Award as Transsexual Performer of the Year.  From 2010 to 2012, he created an award-winning series about transmale sexuality called "Sexing The Transman XXX".

Buck Angel has acted in movies with titles such as "The Adventures of Buck Naked", "Buck Off", "The Buck Stops Here", and "Buckback Mountain".  (Are you starting to detect a trend?) Indeed, Buck's larger-than-life persona often breaks through any role he plays in his films.  However, the sex star's latest role may be the most revealing-- and challenging-- of them all.  In Dan Hunt's award-winning documentary "Mr. Angel", new to DVD, we learn all about Buck's journey from frustrated child to the renegade role model and icon he has become today.  Shot over six years, "Mr. Angel" truly shows ALL of Buck: body and soul.   The movie is fascinating-- bolstered by Buck's idiosyncratic sense of humor and charismatic nature which come off so well on the screen.  However, the film is also difficult to watch at times.  It gives us an unblinking look at Buck's past experiences with gender confusion, addiction, homelessness, suicidal thoughts, and a society which, as we enter 2014, still just doesn't "get it" about many matters of sex and gender.

Buck took the time to speak to me about "Mr. Angel" and much more... 

JR: Hi Buck!  Congratulations on the release of "Mr. Angel" on DVD.  How did the idea for the documentary originate?
BA: Thank you so much. We are pretty happy with the success of the film. Dan Hunt contacted me about 7 years and asked me if I wanted to make a documentary. I wasn't really prepared at the time to do this. I was really into my porn work at the time, and that is what I wanted to concentrate on. So Dan said we can make the doc reflect my porn work, though I think he just said that to get me to start the filming...
JR: (Laughs)
BA:...Because, as the filming progressed, so did my work. As you see in the film, I started becoming more of a pubic speaker and educator. This is how the film became what it is. Dan is a very smart man. I am pretty sure he knew this would happen. I never wanted to involve my family, but that was inevitable-- and it really makes me happy that we did.

JR: For the viewer, it was definitely provocative to watch: that level of intimacy and candor.  So..."Mr. Angel" was created over six years.  Out of all the many experiences you must have had, what was the biggest change in your life in those six years-- aside from becoming even more muscular?!
BA: The evolution of my work. I would never think that I would become a public speaker or advocate. That was never my intention as a porn producer. I never even thought of my work as educational. So, that is probably the biggest and most exciting thing for me: to see that my work has transcended porn.  I don't really think that is an easy thing to do. The other big change for me was the split with Elayne. That was not something I would have thought would ever happen. We grew apart in so many ways. I think that relationships are learning experiences, and that is super-important for people to know. I learned so much from Elayne and will always thank her for the many things that she taught me. But when a relationship becomes "sour", it is so important that you know this and learn to move on, if that is what you choose-- if it is not salvageable. That was a big lesson.

JR: Thank you for sharing that.  Now, I remember when you were on the Maury Povich show many years ago, and you described the experience to me as being very "restrictive": You weren't allowed to use your full name or to reveal your profession, among other things.  Fast forward, and the documentary has a clip of you on the "Tyra" show, and the atmosphere seems to be much more open.  Has the so-called "mainstream" media become more interested in hearing your unique life story?
BA:  Well, I sure would like to say "Yes."  But the truth is "No."-- especially in the USA. I would say that Europe has been much more open-minded in having me on mainstream TV. That said, I do take shows in the USA even if they are sensationalized such as "Tyra".  I got lots of good PR from that show. People learned from me, and I still get emails from that. It's so funny how mainstream TV tries to act all prude around someone like myself, when they have tons of hit shows about sex and drugs. I am not sure why I am so taboo still.

JR: When you find out why, let me in on it too!  I'd like to believe that society has become more enlightened about transgender issues.  But being on the front lines yourself, do you think we really have?
BA: Boy, would I like to as well... but sad to say, No that is not true.  I think that's for many reasons, but one of them is that people are still taught that sex and gender are the same thing-- and that a boy has a penis and a girl has a vagina. This is the hardest part of breaking through to the world: That gender is not as black and white as you think it is. I have been getting so much positive feedback from people who have seen "Mr. Angel" and had no idea about someone like myself. That is so awesome-- and it gets people thinking about these issues. I am sure one day this will just be a normal thing to be a man with a vagina, and I hope it happens in my lifetime.

JR: The movie has some very revealing moments, such as when you talk about your struggle with depression and addiction and even homelessness.  Was it difficult to be so candid about your life in this film?
BA: Yes and no. It was hard because it's just always hard for me to talk about those times in my life. They were horrible, and I hate re-living them. But that said, it is so important for me to tell my story of struggle with my addiction and my gender. So many people will benefit, and I know this. If I would have seen this, it possibly would have given me hope and I would have not felt alone. So, I have to put aside my own feelings and remember that I am lucky to be alive and to be able to tell my story. My life is full of gratitude now and part of that gratitude is giving back.

JR: The audience is also grateful for that!  In the film, we also get to meet your parents, and they display a lot of their emotions on screen as well.  How do you feel about that?
BA: That was super-hard for me. Like I said earlier, I did not even want to bring my family into the film. I have always tried to keep them separate from my work, for many reasons but one in that it just was not important for them to know what I was doing. They are pretty conservative people, and have really been amazing in accepting me as their son. But they might not understand when I tell them that my work is about sex, or my  showing my body to the world.   But then I realized that they really love me, and when I told them what I was doing they were super supportive. So when Dan approached me to talk to them, I said "OK" and they agreed. It was really hard seeing my dad break down.  He is still dealing with this whole thing in his own way. I know he tries really hard to understand, but as you see, it hasn't been easy for him. I think that is one of the strongest parts of the film.

JR: Yes, I agree.  You mentioned how audiences in Europe were far more receptive to your erotic films than those in America, and it was difficult to find Stateside distribution of your movies.  Do you see this situation changing?
BA: I have distribution now, and that's because I have made a name for myself-- not because FTM porn is something that is flying off the shelves. That said, DVD sales are also not on the up. As you know, everything is going digital-- so you don't really need distribution like you used to. I have worked very hard to build my brand, and it is finally paying off. My "Sexing the Transman XXX" series is my best seller yet, and I am sure it has to do with the growth of the trans and queer communities.

JR: When you are on the lecture circuit, what was the craziest question you ever got from someone?  Is there a question you'd ever consider "off limits"? 
BA: I get some awesome questions, but one that stands out in particular is when a guy asked me why I decided to remove my penis and add a vagina. Obviously he was not paying attention. I get that question lots on the internet too. I think it's quite a compliment really. As for a question being off limits, no I am pretty much an open book at this point-- or wait... maybe, when people ask me who are you dating!

JR: (Laughs) Documentaries in general can sometimes be a hard sell to the audience.  I mean, God forbid someone might actually LEARN something when they watch a movie! So, in one sentence, why should people see "Mr. Angel"?
BA: Because: becoming the person you have always dreamed to be, without a care of what the rest of the world will think of you, is what you will hopefully walk away with after seeing "Mr. Angel".

JR: How true!  And lastly, what are your New Year's Resolutions for 2014?
BA: Funny you should ask. This is the first year that I have NOT felt the need to do this. My life is amazing and full of gratitude and love.

JR: Thanks Buck... and "WOOF!"

"Mr. Angel" is now available on DVD. Visit for more info!

You can see much more of Buck Angel at:

Sunday, January 19, 2014


The title of Jake Jeppson's searing, highly original drama "The Clearing" refers to a secluded, seemingly idyllic wooded area where two brothers have been periodically retreating for some "brotherly bonding" for 18 years.  It's a ritual between the pair that goes back to their childhood.  As we learn, the location was also the origin of a dark, well-kept family secret which also goes back to their childhood.  In one of the earlier scenes, the men have a contest to see which of them can throw a rock the farthest.  One of them declares, "The loser TELLS her!"  Tells who?  Tells what?  It's a mystery, established early in the play, which keeps the audience wondering just what is going on beneath the surface. Something is clearly brewing. 

Those two brothers are Les and Chris. As dissimilar as they are in physical appearance, they are also just as different in their personalities.  Les (Brian McManamon) -- who is openly gay-- strikes us as tightly-wound and emotionally shuttered.  By contrast, Chris (Brian P. Murphy) comes off as a rambunctious teenager trapped in a burly man's body.  At first, the audience sees Chris' antics as rather harmless-- no different than the brand of loud wackiness that we've seen in a generation's worth of R-rated movies marketed to 17-year old boys.  (An example of his adolescent behavior is how he teases Les about his sexual preferences.)  Chris jokes about having "arrested development"-- but as the play progresses, we suspect that his behavior may not be anything to laugh at. In other words, there may be some dark demons lurking within the man. (The pair's mother Ella, played wonderfully by Allison Daugherty, tellingly reminds Les, "Silence from your brother is like the calm before the storm.")  We also meet Les' new boyfriend, Peter (Gene Gallerano) -- an earthy, charming photographer with a tendency to endearingly spout out self-help platitudes and Zen-like stuff such as, "You love me so much... So OWN that shit!"  The contrast between Les and his potential life partner is striking, and at times we wonder just what the free-spirited Peter sees in the more inhibited Les.  At the same time, Peter also seems to be pushing Ella into a catharsis of her own.  Later on, as the audience slowly discovers the VERY complex (and occasionally disturbing) relationship between the two brothers, we suspect that Peter might just be both Les' and Ella's salvation from the proverbial "ties that bind". 

Directed by Josh Hecht, "The Clearing" boasts many superb and provocative performances from its dynamic four-actor cast. Daugherty, as the long-suffering family matriarch ("You get to this age, and everything closes for the winter."), and Gallerano (almost metaphysical in presence), are revelations.  In any given moment, so much seems to be happening simultaneously in several planes of existence. In one pivotal scene, one of the characters (The one you'd least expect, incidentally...) gets completely naked on stage.  It's clear symbolism for the truly bare emotions about to be displayed. The audience becomes truly mesmerized by the character's revelations, as we gain some long-sought insight into the family dynamics between Les, Chris, and Ella. The climax of the play is truly shocking, as well as truly unexpected... and ultimately, the answer to the big mystery which is hidden in "the clearing" of the play's title becomes almost secondary.  By the time the secret is about to be revealed to the one who needs to hear it the most, we as the audience have already learned (and seen) much more than we've bargained for. 

The World Premiere of "The Clearing" takes place from January 15 - February 9 at
Theatre at St. Clement’s (423 West 46 St.) in NYC. For more info you can visit  Photos by Hunter Canning. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


DVD Review:

Israel, America's closest ally in the Middle East, has long been known as The Holy Land.  It is the "Promised Land" for many people, the birthplace of three religions, and an area steeped in centuries of  spiritual and historical richness.  Home to both Jews and Palestinians, this tiny but sacred part of the world has also been the source of religious and political conflict since Biblical times. "Out in the Dark", the searing new-to-DVD romantic drama by Michael Mayer, tells the story of two very different men in The Holy Land who fall for each other amidst a setting of MANY challenges.  They face not just the differences in their backgrounds, but they are also confronted by the ethnic, ideological, and political tensions of the land that surrounds them-- conflicts that come in equal parts from both their respective Israeli and Palestinian cultures.  Early on in the movie, the filmmakers effectively create a strong and effective sense of restlessness just underneath what we see on the screen.  It pretty much assures the viewers that the road to these two men's realization of love and happiness will be likely a rocky one.

Roy (Michael Aloni) is an Israeli lawyer from a progressive, affluent, and well-connected family.  Nimr (Nicholas Jacob) is a Palestinian psychology student from a much more modest home on the West Bank.  Nimr lives with his devoutly religious mother, a devoted sister, and a brother, who's a Palestinian nationalist with a dangerous secret.  Nimr has recently been accepted into a prestigious study program in Tel Aviv, and he acquires special privileges to "cross the border" for educational purposes.  The two handsome men meet at a dimly lit but lively bar hosted by a flamboyantly likable Palestinian refugee named Mustafa.  (In a revealing moment later on in the movie, Nimr tells Roy, "When I first started going out in Tel Aviv, I thought people were going to have a hard time accepting me because of where I'm from.  But then I realized, gay guys don't really mind". Roy's mirthful response is, "Well, you know, a dick is a dick!")  The physical attraction between Roy and Nimr is mutual and powerful-- although Nimr, with more at stake, is apprehensive at first.  Soon, however, the two are soon sharing a secret and sexy late night swim as well as some tender lovemaking sessions.  The first sign of trouble appears when Nimr's friend Musafa is brutally beaten and sent back to the West Bank.  A conglomerate of antagonistic forces which threaten Roy's and Nimr's nascent relationship are slowly revealed: forces that involve national security, ethnic division, homophobia, and some very unholy alliances in this Holy Land.  With their respective families, the men face equally difficult challenges: Roy's seemingly enlightened parents view their son's new relationship as something of a show of novelty or rebellion, and Nimr simply fears that his family will learn that he's gay.  When certain truths finally "come out", in fact, the viewer may be shocked to see the suffering that Nimr goes through.  Those who are more familiar with the "culture clash" in that region (the secular, gay-friendly atmosphere of Tel Aviv versus the conservative lifestyles of the West Bank) may not be so surprised.  Faced with seemingly impossible choices, the pair devise a plan to escape their circumstances and to be together.

"Out in the Dark" is a smart, provocative combination of thriller and romance: a story of how strong passions often live alongside strong political divides, and how the power of love can often transcend differences-- religious, ethnic, or otherwise-- between two people.  "Out in the Dark" is not an idealized fairy tale.  In fact, director Michael Mayer strives for realism every step of the way-- as difficult as it can be for the two main characters, and as difficult as it can be for the viewer to watch.  The conclusion is heavy, but following Mayer's pattern of realism, it never blinks in its naked-eyed view.

"Out in the Dark" is now available on DVD.  Visit for more.

Monday, January 6, 2014


"I Do"

It's no exaggeration to say that the search for the true definition of marriage, and the concurrent issue of marriage equality, have exploded onto American and world consciousness in the past decade.  Explorations on the subject have taken all forms: printed media, TV, cinema, and more.  Sadly, most of the images, dialogue, and messages that finally make their way to the masses will rarely reveal in full the complex human stories behind the black-and-white statistics or the overly broad emotions on display.  Glenn Gaylord's new-to-DVD drama "I Do" is all about marriage in our modern times-- and it's a revelation.

"I Do" tells the story of Jack (David W. Ross): a handsome, gay (and single!) Brit living as a successful photographer in New York City-- his home since he was a teenager.  Early in the film, Jack's straight brother Peter dies in a sudden and tragic accident, and Jack forms a close yet tense bond with his newly widowed and newly pregnant sister-in-law Mya (Alicia Witt).  Fast forward seven years, and we learn that Jack, the proverbial "gay uncle", has become something of a surrogate father to his smart and spunky niece Tara (Jessica Tyler Brown).  We also meet Jack's best friend: the self-styled and free-spirited Allison (Ali), a self-declared "gold star lesbian" played by Jamie-Lynn Sigler.  Jack's already complex world is thrown upside down when Immigration tells him that he must go back to England.  How can Jack avoid this?  By getting married, of course.  Before the viewer can say, "I do!", Jack and his eager-to-help bestie Ali are tying the knot at City Hall before a bunch of strangers.  (The looks on their faces as they enjoy a "honeymoon" slice of pizza afterward is a fine example of wordless comedic acting.) Jack's and Ali's so-called "marriage of convenience", however, doesn't please anyone or solve any problems for long. Even seven-year-old Tara sees right through it, telling her uncle, "But... You like BOYS!" The plot thickens when a handsome, gay (and single!) Spanish-American man named Mano (Maurice Compte) enters Jack's life-- and any astute viewer should be able to see what may be about to happen...

Shortly afterward, big trouble appears-- and it comes quickly, unexpectedly, and without mercy.  It also uncovers a cache of fear, jealousy, and long-repressed anger among the people in Jack's life.  Even the main character's chance at salvation through true love is threatened as Jack must now make what seems like an impossible choice. One of the characters tries to help him make that choice by asking him the pivotal question, "Whose life are you living anyway?" 

Through the filmmakers' strong insistence on creating fully believable characters and situations, "I Do" approaches the emotional subject of marriage-- one of humanity's oldest and most controversial institutions-- in a smart, completely realized way. None of the movie's characters-- regardless of how big or small their amount of screen time-- are any less than full-fledged, multifaceted human beings.  Through the decades, filmmakers have tried to capture the unique stories of gay men and the women (straight or gay) in their lives when their relationships go beyond just friendship.  The 1978 film "A Different Story" even told the story of a lesbian who marries a gay man for immigration reasons... with a rather fantastical conclusion.  More realistic cinematic sensibilities followed in the renaissance of gay-interest cinema, but two big-budget examples, "Object of My Affection" in 1998 and "The Next Best Thing" in 2000, still couldn't "get it right".  "I Do" is far superior that any of its  cinematic predecessors... the perfect, shall we say, "marriage" of acting, script, and production.

"I Do" is now available on DVD.  Visit for more. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

MARILYN MAYE'S NEW YEAR'S REVOLUTION! "Marilyn By Request" at NYC's Metropolitan Room

"Marilyn By Request" at NYC's Metropolitan Room

It has become something of a tradition on December 31st at the New York City music hotspot The Metropolitan Room for the least few years: Having legendary chanteuse Marilyn Maye sing a lucky audience into the new year.  New Year's Eve 2013 was no exception, as a packed house got to see and hear just what made Ms. Maye one of cabaret's most enduring performers for decades.  Maye had no intentions of letting the festivities end at the stroke of midnight on January 1st.  Fast forward two days.  January 3rd, 2014 may have been one of the coldest nights in New York City in a long time, but it was H-O-T inside The Metropolitan Room that Friday night.  The evening was a kickoff for “Marilyn By Request,” in which Maye and her Billy Stritch-led band created a new show based on audience requests and ageless favorites.  Apparently, both the audience and Marilyn know how to pick 'em.  This is a set that featured a wide range of crowd-pleasers: from Marilyn seductively crooning Donaldson/Kahn's timeless, "My buddy, my buddy; Your buddy... misses...YOU!"; to "Paradise Cafe", the song she calls "the story of my life"; to playfully corrupting "If I Were a Rich Man" into "If I HAD a Rich Man"; to a lively musical tribute to New York City. More about that later...

The 85-years-young singer was as lively, dynamic, and funny as ever, getting right into the act with one of her signature songs, the pounding-with-passion "Golden Rainbow".  She seemingly made eye contact with everyone in the audience, and had a very palpable rapport with both the crowd as well as her three-man band.  Her voice is as strong and unblemished as ever-- at times seeming to have been preserved in crystal-- and bearing ever-so-small a grain of well-deserved huskiness.  She still hits those high notes and can still delivery an occasional sexy growl (You know what I mean!). Next up was the timeless classic "Old Friends" from the Sondheim musical "Merrily We Roll Along", where her voice was adorned only by Stritch's piano.  After that was "I Love Being Here With You".  Originally made famous by Peggy Lee, the song seemed to perfectly express Maye's sheer love of performing that night.  The audience, in turn, loved Maye's renditions of the McHugh/Fields jazz fave "I Can't Give You Anything But Love", the Gershwin brothers' classic "Embraceable You", and Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" which segued into "Am I Blue?".  And, I personally challenge anyone to hear Maye's high-energy "On the Street Where You Live" (from "My Fair Lady") and not to start movin' and shakin'.  More classics followed, and Maye even brought a few true lost musical gems to the show, including "Rain", reportedly a request by an audience member.  This "Rain" wasn't Madonna's 1992 hit (before you ask) but rather the the story of the famous Miss Sadie Thompson... a story about "a missionary, some jazz records, some Coca-Cola, and... the rain!"  As you may imagine, the song was a high-energy camp delight.  Speaking of delight, the diva brought the house down with a pair of tunes made famous by women of country music: "You Pick Me Up (And Put Me Down)", followed by an increasingly frenetic and riotous rendition of "Crackers" (As in "You can eat crackers in my bed anytime!"). 

Ms. Maye proclaimed her love for New York City during the show, and the night concluded with a musical tribute to the town, starting with Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" and finishing with the ultimate anthem to the Big Apple, Kanter and Ebb's "New York, New York"... with a lot of skyscraper-lit nostalgia in between.  Throughout the show, most of Marilyn Maye's selections were seemingly written just for her: lyrics about love, life, and... love for life.  I won't give away her big finale, except to say that like most of the show, it perfectly captured the singer's playful spirit and "joie de vivre".

After the show, I asked Ms. Maye if she had any New Year's resolutions.  She told me, "Oh, I have none!  Just to keep moving!  'Keep moving!' is the answer to all things... and also, 'Cherish every day'!"

2014 is off to a really great start!

"Marilyn By Request" continues on January 8th, 9th, 11th, and 12th at New York City's Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd St., New York, NY 10010.  Call (212) 206-0440 or visit here for more info!

DVD Review: "Aleksandr's Price"

DVD Review:
"Aleksandr's Price"

The omnipresent yet mostly underground world of prostitution has been revisited again and again in both American and world cinema through the decades-- and it's no mystery why.  It has always been, and will likely always be, a seductive subject: the perfectly titillating mix of sex and psychodrama.  Despite this, the subject of male prostitutes (AKA rentboys or hustlers) has been largely under-explored in the media, even though there are no doubt many provocative stories aching to be told.  The titular character of Pau Maso's heartfelt, often disturbing drama "Aleksandr's Price" is a young Russian gay immigrant who, after tragic family circumstances, finds himself alone and selling his body for money in New York City.  It may not come as a surprise that Aleksandr's story is not going to be a happy one... and director/star Maso (He wrote, edited, and directed the movie, and stars as Aleksandr.) intends to show just HOW unhappy the story can get.  It's NOT a glamorous or sexy life-- and like others who preceded our character, our protagonist finds that the price for bartering with his sexuality is more than he can afford.  

"Aleksandr's Price" is pretty much a one-man show, with Pau Maso as Aleksandr appearing in almost every scene.  He bares his body, but shows far more of his soul in his bold performance.  Telling his story in flashback to a counselor, we learn how Maso's Aleksandr found himself in his situation.  In need of money, a well-meaning female friend (Samantha Glovin) innocently directs him to a club promoter looking for dancers. (When his counselor asks him, "What kind of dancing are we talking about?", Aleksandr answers in his deadpan style and heavily accented voice: "The type that requires your clothes off." )  Go-go dancing at the disco and finding success-- no doubt due to his unblemished, youthful charm-- Aleksandr is soon picked up by a gruff, no-nonsense guy (Josh Berresford) who mistakenly thinks that he is a rentboy-- and pays him a huge sum of money.  This event becomes something of the main character's  "point of no return".  Like his first foray into sex for money, Aleksandr's virginal baptism into drug abuse also comes quite accidentally.  But soon, the ingredients of prostitution, drugs, loneliness, and a hunger for human connection lead the naive young man into a complex stew of emotional instability which borders on a schism from reality.  

"Aleksandr's Price" is not just another "reinventing the wheel" morality story about a male hooker.  At times the viewer may question why Aleksandr can't just, well... STOP what he's doing.  We wonder why he doesn't seek help from other Russian immigrants (of which there are many in New York City).  We also wonder why he rejects the opportunities of salvation that arise in the film-- such as his kindly, older new friend Tom (Keith Dougherty).  At at times the viewer may also ponder just how much torment and humiliation the filmmakers will put the main character will go through in this "after midnight", adults-only subculture of New York City.  However, through more-than-credible acting by Maso and an unblinking look at the subject matter, we believe every minute of it.  As a result, the final scene-- the event that will likely throw Aleksandr over the edge-- is one of the most shocking ever seen on film that you're likely to see anytime soon.  Again, given the expert acting and drive for realism, we DO believe it... whether or not we want to.

The movie is bolstered by real-life New York City locations and a real "feel" for life in the so-called Naked City.  As those who live there will attest, there's a whole world that goes on "after dark", behind the daylit scenes of coffee shops, skyscrapers, and snowy walks through the park in winter.  The director also replicates that feeling of how, even in a big and crowded city like New York, we ALWAYS bump into people we know-- for better or, in Aleksandr's case, for worse.  

"Aleksandr's Price" is now available on DVD.  Visit for more info!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

KEEPIN' IT "ISRAEL"... An Interview With Michael Lucas

An Interview With Michael Lucas

 "Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land",
the lively new documentary from adult film guru Michael Lucas and Tel Aviv filmmaker Yariv Mozer, opens with a cameraman asking random people in New York City's Times Square about Israel-- America's closest ally in The Middle East and the land considered to be the birthplace of three religions.  Specifically, they are asked if homosexuality is legal in that country.  The majority of people on the street just don't know the answer.  We learn shortly afterward from the filmmakers that Israel was the first Middle Eastern country (actually, the first country in all of Asia...) to officially decriminalize homosexuality-- in 1988. For those not familiar with Israel's liberal attitudes towards GLBT's, the facts are pretty amazing-- and the viewer learns those facts in colorful detail throughout the course of the film, all the time while enjoying a tour of some of the country's hotspots.  We learn that being openly gay in the Israeli military has been a "non-issue" since 1993; In fact, all Israeli citizens have mandatory military service. Married same-sex couples are recognized by the Israeli government.  In Tel Aviv, the GLBT Center is funded by the State, and the city officially sponsors the annual, ever-growing Gay Pride Parade.  The enlightened attitudes towards gays and lesbians in The Jewish State, in fact, are pretty astonishing when viewed alongside the more repressive attitudes that many GLBT people still face in the United States.

     As one of the adult film industry's most successful entrepreneurs of male erotica, Michael Lucas knows a thing or two about making men look good on camera-- and as a result, the film is very-- shall we say, "easy on the eyes".  But just as pleasing as the many handsome guys we see in "Undressing Israel" is the eye-popping natural beauty of the Mediterranean country itself.  Focusing largely on the gay-friendly city of Tel Aviv, "Undressing Israel" is part travelogue, part educational film, and part love letter from Mr. Lucas to the country for which he clearly has an affinity for. Indeed, Lucas definitely seems to be having fun in the film.  In the documentary we meet a wide variety of movers and shakers in Israeli society, among them a buff personal trainer who served openly in the Army; a pair of gay dads; a Muslim man from Jaffa (Tel Aviv's Arab section) who came out at age 15; and an Israeli film director who speaks about the explosion of gay characters in Israeli movie and TV today.  The movie also takes us beyond the velvet rope for a peak at Tel Aviv's wild nightlife, where one subject opines how Israelis "party hard" to deal with the pressure of daily life in their country.  We get to go inside a session of the Israeli House of Parliament during Gay Pride Month, where Lucas actually interviews Nitzan Horowitz, an openly gay Member of Parliament.  And, most provocatively, the viewer gets to see a same-sex wedding up close and personal, featuring two very handsome grooms.  I dare any viewer not to be moved by these nuptials!

Michael Lucas and I met up in New York City to speak about "Undressing Israel", what he loves about The Promised Land, and the bold project he has coming up next...

JR: Hi Michael.  Thanks for meeting with me.  I've not been to Israel yet, but I can imagine that seeing the film will make many people think about Israel as their next vacation spot... and run out to get a plane ticket to the Holy Lands.
ML: They already do!  They already do, because of this movie.
JR: That's good to hear.  One of the first things I noticed is how well the movie is lit and filmed.
ML: Everything I do is always on a very professional and high quality level.  I don't do cheap student-like projects.  Whether it is a first time project or it is something I have been doing for a long time, I don't do anything half-assed.  I do it very well.  I believe that people should do things very well... or, go home and do something else. 
JR: A lot of people don't like documentaries, because so many of them are just a sequence of "talking heads", or the film may be made cheaply, or may not be very well photographed...
ML: You cannot have a documentary with just talking heads.  It's boring, even if the talking heads are exciting.  You have to have photographs, and you have to have visuals that the talking heads are talking about. 
JR: Well, it helps that "Undressing Israel" has such good-looking talking heads!
ML: You know, you can't get really away from that when you are in Israel.  They are just very hot guys. 
JR: I noticed!
ML: I chose guys who spoke English well, and who had something interesting to say.  It was not a beauty contest at all.  It's a serious documentary.
JR: Is this your first documentary?
ML: Yes.  I just filmed a second one about the Russian gay community in the light of the anti-gay laws, and its called "The Campaign of Evil: Russia and Gay Propaganda".  I just completed the documentary.  It will be out very shortly and they (Breaking Glass Pictures) will be distributing it.
JR: I know that the issue of gays in Russia is a passionate one for you.  When we had spoken before, you had told me that as someone who came from Russia, it was very perplexing for you when you first arrived here.  You saw that in the United States there are no laws against being gay, yet there are still so many people in the closet and who choose to look at themselves as victims...
ML: Yes.  It's ridiculous...
JR:  But back to this film.  What inspired you to make "Undressing Israel"?
ML: I travel to Israel a lot-- at least once a year, sometimes twice.  I think I might retire in Israel some day at some point.  Life there is so good.  It is so relaxing for me.  Whenever I am there, I am very much at peace.  When I go to Israel, people ask me if I am not afraid, and people ask me why, and people have perceptions that homosexuality is illegal there.  That's why I open my movie the way I did:  I show that there is very little knowledge about Israel because there is only one aspect that is covered: the war, and the conflict between Israel and its neighbors.  In Israel, they live life without conflict.  There have been no suicide bombings since 2004 or 2005, I believe. People go on with their everyday life.  As you will see in the movie, it is ahead of the United States because the gay community in Israel is so active, and Israel is more liberal.  There is not one TV show that wouldn't have gay characters.  That would be seen as discriminatory.  So, Israeli public education is very pro-gay... and particularly when we are talking about Tel Aviv, it is not even a question.  Gay Pride is covered by the city.  In Tel Aviv, they have the Gay Pride flags all over, in every place and every corner.  There are five... no, SEVEN gay prides in different cities... and Israel is a very small country.  It is the size of New Jersey.  It impressed me, and I just showed what I know because I want other people to know... and I want people to have as a good a time as I have.  In my opinion, Israel is the best vacation spot because it has everything-- from beautiful men, to amazing history, to amazing museums, to entertainment, to nightlife, to beautiful beaches, to fantastic restaurants with food from all over the world.  It is very open minded, and everyone speaks English.  This is a combination that you can't find, usually, when you go on vacations. It is incredibly attractive for gay people.  In the news, you only hear about politics.  Politics are an important issue, but when you go to Israel for a visit, you don't feel it. 

JR: You certainly seem to be enjoying yourself while making the movie.  Did you learn anything new during your time there while filming?
ML: No... because I have been there so many times.  I think I know everything about the country!
JR: (Laughs) Now, one of the subjects who you interview is a Muslim man who lives in Jaffa, the Arab section of Tel Aviv.   He speaks about what a difficult time he had coming out with his conservative family.  
ML: Yes.  What a contrast.  And he's the lucky one. There are so many Muslims, but people don't understand how difficult it is to make them speak into the camera.  They will talk to you, but only confidentially.  He is the only one I found, and he is from a more liberal family.  That's why he did it.  Although he was from his liberal family, you could hear his fears about growing up and that they'd throw him into the well... There is not one Muslim country that is anywhere close to Israel or to the Western world.  Compare Israel to the West, and Israel will win in most cases.  But you cannot compare Muslim countries either to the Western world or to Israel.  You can compare BETWEEN Muslim countries.  In Turkey, gays have more rights than, let's say, in Saudi Arabia-- because in Saudi Arabia, it's a death sentence.  In Turkey-- on paper-- homosexuality is not illegal.  There are only two countries in the Muslim world where homosexuality is not illegal: Turkey and Jordan.  In both countries, particularly in Jordan, if you walk in the street hand in hand, you will be beaten up badly.  The Turkish government is trying to be integrated into the European Union, but they know that without giving homosexuals some freedoms, they will not be able to join the Union.  So, that's why they adopted this law... but society is opposing it.  There's not one openly gay celebrity in any Islamic country.  Not one.

JR: One of the criticisms that some may have of "Undressing Israel" is that all the Jewish men interview
ed and offering sound-bytes in the film tend to be liberal, probably better educated, and likely living in the big cities.  Yet we know that there is also a religious right in Israel too-- who may not be so liberal minded, like the Haredi or "ultra-Orthodox" Jews.
ML: Every country has a religious right.  In Israel, with those particular people, all they want to do is be left alone.  They want to live in their religious community and they don't want to be distracted or disturbed from their prayers.  They don't care as long as it's not in their faith and in their community.  They are very modest, very poor people... and they have a ton of children!  There are a lot of people in Israel who are religious, but who overwhelmingly approve gay life and have no problem with gay people.  It's not an issue. 
JR: If you wanted to speak to a member of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community for the film, do you think they'd participate?
ML:  I don't think they'd participate... because they are too busy praying. (Laughs)  They don't know much about it, and don't want to talk about it.  It's a very closed community.  They won't even speak Hebrew to you.  They will only speak Yiddish.  It's a very small minority. 
JR: Gotcha!  So, lastly, why should people see "Undressing Israel" in theaters or on DVD? 
ML: It's about the knowledge.  If you want to know about the country that is so controversial yet so unknown at the same, then see this movie.  If you want to choose your next vacation spot, then it's a great movie to watch before going to Israel.  I presented this movie in many different festivals all over the world-- and after the movie, during the question and answers, I ask people, "Have you been to Israel before?"  Ninety-nine percent will say no.  Then I ask "Who wanted to go to Israel before?"  Very few people would raise their hands.  Then, I ask, "Who wants to go NOW?"... and then, a forest of hands will come up.
JR: Very cool!  Thanks for speaking with me!

"Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land" is now available on DVD.  Visit for more info.