The Gay Superbowl: Reflections of the “Pinch Me” Moments
We homosexuals have called the Tony Awards the Gay Superbowl since the beginning of time. Now we have our own Neil Patrick Harris as MVP (Most Valuable Poof-ster). Last year he brilliantly opened the show with “It’s Not Just For Gay’s Anymore,” and this year called the show “50 Shades of Gay.” After all, Tony backwards is Y-NOT?
When I moved to D.C. in 1981, this working class kid from New Orleans couldn’t wait to dive into the pool of plays awaiting just a few miles north in Manhattan. Arriving via the Fairmont Hotel company, I quickly immersed myself in Broadway. Today, many a dinner party conversation surrounds the most goosebump inducing moments my friends have had in theater—so I give you the top ten list of lump-in-the-throat PMM’s—Pinch Me Moments.
10. Jennifer Holliday announced she would be leaving Dream Girls, so the woman who legendarily sung, “and I am telling you I’m not going” indeed said she was... going. A friend called and said she could get tickets the next night. I flew. The time came, she hit the note, the show stopped, and I wept like a baby. 1981: My first Broadway play.
9. Harvey Fierstein: To some it seems like kitsch, but Hairspray’s most touching song of unconditional love— “Timeless to Me”—reaches such a gut level of the happiness of soul mates who’ve stayed together. You can’t not fall in love with that duo, two men, one playing a woman, dancing and singing together. Harvey’s Edna in Hairspray is priceless.
8. Sutton Foster: Her Thoroughly Modern Millie sure pushed all the buttons, but it’s her dazzling performance as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes that sent everyone in the audience over the moon.
7. Mandy Patinkin delivered a one man show that was mesmerizing in intensity and emotion. Then, he brought the house down with his final number—“Sonny Boy”—in memory of his friend who died of AIDS. (“You’re sent from heaven and I know your worth...”) Stunning.
6. Chita Rivera: Her one woman show was stupendous in every way. But it was when she performed her Chicago number, originally done with her bosom buddy, the legendary Gwen Verdon, that stunned. In a double spot light with one hitting Chita, and the second hitting that blank curtain where Miss Verdon would have danced beside her, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
5. Elaine Stritch: Live at Liberty. It is the best one-woman show ever performed. Her stories are priceless, her spirit indomitable, and her crazy-as-a-mad-hatter credentials were on parade.
4. Barbara Cook: Broadway’s lady of ladies. I follow her anywhere she goes. Three words: “In Buddy’s Eyes”—the woman who teaches master classes on how to own a song and feel it gets me every time with that conflicted and twisted bittersweet essay.
3. Jerry Orbach: The Gay Men’s Health Crisis staged the concert version of Jerry Herman’s Mack and Mabel. When Mr. Orbach came center stage, the gay men assembled gave him a standing ovation and sustained applause that to this day gives me goose bumps. He sang the heartbreaking “I Won’t Send Roses”—and are we now glad we showered him with hearts and flowers that night? Rest in peace, Jerry Orbach.
2. Raul Esparza: He spit on me. A few years ago, in his run as Bobby in Company, Raul spit on me. We were seated in the second row. His raw emotional rendition of “Being Alive” was transformative. (And a bit sloppy. As the lyrics go, “Somebody sit in my chair and make me aware of being so” happily spat upon.)
1. Carol Channing: She threw a diamond at my mother. A coming home story. Back in 1980 before my move to D.C.—I was a sales manager at the Fairmont Hotel New Orleans. During her performance at the Blue Room Supper Club in the hotel, Miss Channing stopped in mid-song, interrupting “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” and said, “Where’s Millie Mundt?” My mother gingerly waved her hand. Miss Channing threw her a big trinket rhinestone and continued, “Anyone who stayed married for 37 years deserves a diamond!” I was as shocked as my mother. I knew the sales office cleverly passed Miss Channing a list backstage of the “VIP’s” in the house who had brought big conventions to the hotel. But unbeknown to me, my boss knew that I was taking my parents there for their anniversary, and put mother’s name on the list.
At that point in her life, mom needed to know I was doing well, and that all the love and time she invested in me had accrued some interest. Mission accomplished. Mother passed away in 1983. Last year, Carol Channing came to the Kennedy Center Honors to tribute Jerry Herman. Working backstage as a volunteer, I had the opportunity to tell her that of the hundreds of “diamonds” she’d thrown, none were as important as that one.
So the answer is “I’m doing great, Mom. I lead a great life —full of love, friends, and theatre. It came full circle when I thanked Ms. Channing for throwing you a diamond —a diamond that lives forever in my heart. Raul Esparza could ask me out on a date to swap spit, and still nothing will ever top that pinch me moment. I love you past infinity, Millie Mundt.
Brent Mundt resides in Washington, DC, but lives in Rehoboth Beach.