Beginning her Café Carlyle residency this weekend is a favorite among most everybody — whether you’re a dyke and loved her in “Bound,” or gay and dug her jiggy, toxic Margo Channing turn in the immortal “Showgirls.”
I write, of course, of Gina Gershon.
She and I met up recently for lunch at the Odeon, once the hip haunt of both our youths, and she was an utter charmer, more alluring than ever with her gorgeously avid mouth and classy chassis.
“My show is called ‘Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues,’ after the Ida Cox song,” she declared. “I’ll be singing that and some of the songs I’ve written. Also some Ruth Brown, Tom Waits, Patsy Cline, Peggy Lee, Nina Simone, and because it’s the Carlyle, such a special place where I saw Bobby Short, I must do some Cole Porter. I’ve been lucky to assemble a terrific little band: ‘SNL’ musical director Eli Brueggemann on piano, trumpeter Steven Bernstein, bassist Brad Jones, and drummer Jerome Jennings, all of them real musicians, which I hope I am, too.”
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, Gershon was stage struck at age four when she saw “Beauty and the Beast,” and had two big performance influences: Tina Landau, who wrote a show for her when they were best friends in high school, and her musician/ arranger /conductor uncle, Jack Elliott, “who worked with Judy Garland. He had his own orchestra and I remember being very little, sitting in on a rehearsal next to this lady I didn’t know, who was barefoot. But there was this strong vibe coming off her, hard to describe it. Then she got up and sang and it was so powerful and resonant. It was Sarah Vaughan.”
New York theatergoers are most familiar with Gershon from her takeover of the role of Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” and “Boeing-Boeing,” which, for better or — and I personally say worse — launched the Broadway prosciutto-filled career of Mark Rylance.
“I loved being in ‘Cabaret,’ singing those iconic songs, in that amazing part. I think I may have played it longer than anyone else. After 9/11, they called me to come back because the producers wanted to get people to return to New York and the theater. It was a very different world and show I returned to. Mark and I would play backgammon during our show’s intermission.”
Along with songs, there will be tales from Gershon’s life, like how everyone advised her against playing a lesbian in “Bound.”
“‘You’ll ruin your career, they warned me,’” she said. “‘And they’re first time directors!,’ people were screaming. Yeah, and I thought they were brilliant [the Wachowskis] and I wanted to work with them. I went with my gut, fired my agents, and am very proud of that film, although sometimes I wish I could be lesbian because so many come up to me about the movie.”
And then there’s “Showgirls,” which Gerson originally thought would go unmentioned in her act until a gay friend more or less shamed her into changing her mind. Having admired the arty Dutch-language films of Paul Verhoeven, Gershon had hoped to use some of her modern dance technique in the show scenes and envisioned quite a different movie from the titty-lation it became. When she got on set and saw what it really was, with choreography that was more Britney Spears than legit Fosse or Martha Graham, she woman’d up and decided to play it “like a drag queen, but so drag queen that gays would want to dress up as Crystal on Halloween!”
Interviewers often apologize for even bringing the movie up in the first place, as if Gershon were Faye Dunaway and the verboten way she feels about her masterpiece “Mommie Dearest.” Gershon fully embraces the campy awfulnssof it, and I was happy to inform her of two salient things she was unaware of. First, there was that hilarious questionnaire that the much lamented Al Franken filled out for an issue of Spy magazine where he answered every imaginable question about his favorite film, screenplay, director, actor, supporting actor, etc., with either “Showgirls” or some reference to it.
And then there was the Blue-ray release party for the film, held at Scores strip club after the screening at Chelsea Cinema. We were ushered into the VIP room and soon joined by bevy of gorgeous girls. After a bit, one sumptuous Latina said to me, “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question? Are you gay”
I had been waiting for this and replied, “Yes, and you know what? So is every guy in here!”
“Oh, thank God! We thought we were really losing it for a moment! I love my gay friends. They told me about rimming! Now my boyfriend just wants me to stay home with him. All the time! Did you know there are like 150 nerve endings in the anus which makes it that sensitive?”
Gershon’s reaction to this was “How fun! Why don’t I ever get invited to these things? Although Jake Shears of Scissors Sisters did drag me out one night without telling me where we were going. The surprise turned out to be Upright Citizens Brigade parody night of ‘Showgirls.’”
There is currently no man in Gershon’s life.
“Sure, that would be nice, but I also love my freedom. It’s that tradeoff — but I have A great cat. There’s lots of great guys out there but they’re usually on your team.”
After our delightful interview, really more of a conversation — which one always strives for; Gershon is that rare performer who really takes an interest in other people, indeed, asking almost as many questions of me as I did her — I found myself thinking, “Well, if this stunner really doesn’t mind being alone, more power to her. But, if not, it seems almost a criminal waste, because even if she may not be aware of it, she happens to be one of the most universally desired creatures on the planet.”
I looked about the Tribeca street I was on and could absolutely see every investment banker, construction worker, laborer, posh homemaker, nanny getting down on their knees for her, just name her terms. Now, that’s what I’d call unrealized potential.
GINA GERSHON |“Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” | Café Carlyle, 35 E. 76th St. | Jun. 8-9 and 12-16 at 8:45 p.m. | $120 at tinyurl.co