Is it possible that Rosie O'Donnell has a Broadway hit on her hands?
That's the word from the Plymouth Theater, where yesterday O'Donnell and her production company watched the first two run-throughs of "Taboo," the Boy George musical she transplanted from London.
"If ever a show looked good before previews, this is it," reports my mole who sat through the whole thing unnoticed. O'Donnell even came off like a real Broadway producer throughout, deferring to the director and writer as the first performance unreeled. Charles Busch, author of the very funny "Tale of the Allergist's Wife," is the writer who's shaped "Taboo" up for Broadway.
"Taboo" is the story of George Dowd's -- aka Boy George -- rise-fall-and-rise from 1980 to today. George and his group, Culture Club, were all the rage for about three years and had many hits like "Karma Chameleon" and "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?"
It takes in the whole punk club scene from London in those days, with many references to the spirited free-for-all coke and heroin craze of the time. There is also enough "gay" material to make "The Boy from Oz" look straight.
But different from "Oz," I am told. "Taboo" actually has a softer touch, with lots of character development and terrific songs that are all original, memorable and hummable. The overall feeling is that "Taboo" will take its place alongside "Hair," "Godspell," "The Rocky Horror Show" and "Rent" as a widespread cult classic with mainstream appeal. If it follows the "Rent" model, "Taboo" should have high school and college kids queued up around the block for tickets.
"Taboo" does not have stars per se, although Boy George, now 42, plays a large supporting role in the show. The standout, according to spy, is Liz McCartney, who functions as the show's conscience. A large woman no doubt under regular circumstances, McCartney is seven months pregnant in real life and hoping to get through opening night on November 13 and then hang until she's ready to give birth.
From what I'm told, there will be a crush at the box office to see her before she leaves on her maternity break.
The show begins previews on Tuesday (pushed back from Friday night to accommodate some last-minute tinkering and tightening). This is the same day that O'Donnell is supposed to start her trial with Gruner & Jahr publishers over the "Rosie" magazine. (See this column from Tuesday.) No one ever said Rosie did things the easy way. But now I'm thinking she's sure to have quite a successful month!
As for "Taboo," I will try and get another report next week after the performances begin and the cast and crew are more settled. But between "Taboo" and "Oz" there are now two new musicals for this season, with more to come between now and the Tony cut off date of April 30, 2004. We can only hope that there are as many new plays -- and not revivals -- by then as well.
Next week in New York there's a lot of exciting music in town. Paul Weller, whose group the Jam was a seminal influence in the late '70s and early '80s, plays Irving Plaza and Town Hall on Monday and Tuesday. Almost overlapping him, Cyndi Lauper plays back-to-back dates Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
Now Lauper, like Boy George, was one of the "characters" who transcended the 1980s and became indelibly linked with the fashion and culture -- just like Madonna. Like George, but unlike Madonna, Lauper could sing. Her voice has been praised for years, and even though she's released two or three exemplary albums in the last decade, the fans still associate her with "Girls Just Want to Have Fun."
Her new album, "At Last," hits stores on November 13. Lauper and producer Russ Titelman are definitely capitalizing on the Rod Stewart phenomenon of the last year by covering 14 songs Lauper really loves, all classics. It was a smart idea and makes for an entertaining, sophisticated album.
Cyndi's voice is richer than ever, and she uses it on these songs to dispel the whole "She Bop" association. "At Last," I think, will push her into the same category as Annie Lennox, Natalie Cole, and other popular "adult" singers. Just wait 'til you hear her re-interpret "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and "La Vie en Rose."
This is the kind of album that every person over 30 who only bought the Rod Stewart albums will scoop up immediately. There's also a version of "You Really Got a Hold On Me" that rivals the previous classic by Laura Nyro (from the "Gonna Take a Miracle" album).
Meantime, Joe's Pub is sold out, but I always say, where there's a will, there's a way. Someone I know hid in a bathroom stall at Yankee Stadium last week after slipping unnoticed by security and getting in for free. Can you do that at Joe's Pub? I don't see why not. It will be worth it.
October is almost over and I've neglected to mention the music issue of Vanity Fair. I'm usually pretty critical of this publication, especially because they have consistently failed to put an African American on the cover by him-or-her-self. All that aside, seeing Queen Latifah and Dr. Dre on the music cover with Norah Jones and Willie Nelson was a nice surprise and a welcome change for the magazine. Maybe it will lead to more good things in the future. We can only hope.
Speaking of black artists who should have been in the music issue, Wyclef Jean put on a hot show last night at Roseland. Mixing numbers from his new album, "The Preacher's Son," with old favorites, the R&B genius did a lot of dancing, jumped in and out of the audience, and did some high kicks that would impress the Rockettes.
Interesting story in this week's excellent New York Observer. Novelist Julie Hecht complains Random House has not promoted her well-reviewed book, "The Unprofessionals."
Julie, let me tell you a secret.
I was a book publicist 20 years ago. Publishers as a rule dump books, don't promote them, and don't know what to do with them. I was surprised to read in the same article that David Lipsky has a new novel out. You see, in five years no publisher has sent a book to this column for review or perusal.
It's the anti-publicity method, perfected to an art form! So let's buy these two books off of Amazon or Barnesandnoble.com this weekend and read them.
They're so good, the publishers want to keep them to themselves!