Lowering my prohibitions

Growing up in Maryland, we had crabs. We had Ocean City, we had bragging rights to Washington D.C., and we had crabs. What I was too young to realize was that we also had John Waters.

Until I saw "Hairspray" (the movie) in the theaters, with mom. She hadn't grown up in Baltimore, but she loved musicals and so did I and we just swooned over "Hairspray." Somewhere, Waters was snickering.

In the years since, the rise of the king of disgusting films Waters has probably been doing a lot of that, as our basic culture has lowered to his expectations, while simultaneously he's gone more legit (no more feces-eating in his films, thankyouverymuch). And nothing is more legit than Broadway, or a Broadway musical. I didn't care all that much for "Hairspray" on Broadway (although the rest of the world did) and I've never had the urge to see the second "Hairspray" musical. But once I heard a friend of mine (Adam Schlesinger, the genius in Fountains of Wayne and Ivy, among other things) was part of the musical team for "Cry-Baby" on Broadway — another Waters film — I was definitely charged up to go.

And last night was the Broadway debut. Waters was of course in fine form, striding in with a blue blazer lined in white and camouflage pants; he wasn't mobbed but he was certainly the center of a lot of attention. The show itself was about 60% entertaining. It's got some fun lines and one amazing dance routine where Cry-Baby is in jail and breaks out, and in the process everyone ends up tap-dancing on license plates (seriously, it works) but I'm not sure about the rest of it. Poking fun at the '50s feels … dare I say it, dated.

"I think it celebrates old-fashioned juvenile delinquency, which is a
term that no one uses anymore because juvenile delinquents now kill
people," Waters told the San Francisco Chronicle, and that is what makes it fun — but there's something rather ho-hum once you know how he defines crass. You get pregnant juvenile delinquents dancing up a storm, an anti-polio picnic, elaborately choreographed make-out sessions and a lot of wink-wink behavior. I know this isn't his film, and it gets away from the film in a lot of ways but … there's nothing shocking here. And that may be the most bizarre part about the show.


The party afterwards, held at Mansion downtown — that was incredible! I ran into some industry friends (a lawyer, his co-worker and an aspiring actress) at the coat check, and as we headed into the main area we were handed large brown shopping bags and told to go pick up stuff. But before we did that, libations were in order. I'd put in an order for a boring vodka-Coke, then saw one of the special drinks of the night was absinthe poured over a sugar cube. Nobody else in our group was willing to sample, so what the hell, and I ordered it. The bartender turned on a tap from a raised vat filled with a watery liquid and ice cubes and let it dribble over a suspended sugar cube balanced on a glass. Classy.

"Kinda nice that you can get this stuff now, since it used to be illegal," I noted. They were actually paying attention, so you know I had to go there: "After all, you know what they say about absinthe … it makes the heart grow fonder."

And then they kicked my ass to the curb.

Actually, no: the lawyer said that was just exactly his type of humor and I survived another very bad attack of punning. The drink arrived. Kind of, um, dull: Only about 1/3 of the glass was filled with what looked like water , with a small mountain of sugar piled on the bottom. But what the hell, I tried it. Vaguely licoricey, but no kick. I passed it around. We all shrugged. I figured I'd end up on the floor later if this stuff had a delayed reaction, and off we went to do some grown-up trick or treating.

The main level had a dance floor, and hired dancers in 50s-dress were doing the Lindy and all kinds of fantastic moves; trannies and cross-dressers wandered the room in full regalia, and stations of goodies drew us forward to filil our bags. There was a kissing booth around which mounds of Altoids gum canisters were arrayed; we picked some up but no smooching went down. Further along, a makeup stand handed out some high-end "makeup couture," while cigarette girls bumped into us, offering candy smokes.

Upstairs we got our pictures taken at the "prom" by standing behind cardboard cutouts (and I got a paper "corsage"), we visited a "doctor" and his "nurses" who asked where it hurt (I poked at my elbow) and got a bag of candy (Neccos, Clark Bars, Smarties) to ease the pain. We were escorted out of the badly-protected VIP area and briefly met one of the big cheese Nederlander clan of Broadway theater owners/producers. We stopped by a table where we approached one of three primly-dressed 50s ladies who asked us questions in return for goodies.

"What did they make in the prison?"
"License plates."
"Correct! But how do you know so much about what goes on in jail?"
"Don't tell anyone!"
"I have no secrets from the LAWD."
But she reached down and gave me a box of butterscotch Tastykakes for my trouble.

Hello! HEAVEN.

We headed back to the dance floor, which had quickly filled up, and tried to get new drinks. I'd finished my "absinthe" but, well, there was something absent in the absinthe, so we bellied up and ordered more. This time, they did it right: The alcohol went in first, then the vat of ice water over the cube. Duh. Apparently I'd had a virgin absinthe, aka sugar water, last time. And this stuff definitely had a kick. The lawyer also got one; later the co-worker got an absinthe mojito. So we were all well and pleasantly toasted as we headed to the dance floor.

Now, I don't dance well, but I love to do it. And most people I dance with either can't, or don't like to, or are just all bashful, so I don't get much opportunity. Turns out our lawyer friend knows how to dance, at least far better than I do, so I actually got to twirl and do a few funny moves while the 50s classics moved into 60s classics and John Waters took Kathleen Turner (aka Serial Mom) out for a spin. After a James Brown song we collapsed into the sofa seats and played "Name that Band" and added lyrics to "Mony Mony" when it came on. But slowly the songs segued into "Hollaback Girl" and worse (I do like HBG, though) and it became far too loud to talk, and that's the sign to go.

We redeemed our raffle ticket at the Taste truck outside for a selection of cookies and Rice Krispie treats and got a cab. I think I finally crashed out at home around 2. Now, that's a party.

Moral of the story: None. But if you're going dancing with John Waters and drink absinthe and get home past the witching hour, try not to do it on a weeknight. Oy!


  1. LeendaDLL on 4/25/08 at 3:07 pm

    US-legal absinthe is actually some other kind of liquor with absinthe flavor (which, I guess is licorice). I tried the illegal kind from some european nation, which is supposed to still be made from wormwood, but didn’t find anything special about it. quite a disappointment after all the hype/mystery. But, then, I didn’t get to dance with John Waters either.

  2. Armchair News on 4/25/08 at 3:16 pm

    Yeah, I knew this wasn’t the Real Deal (TM) but I also didn’t want to get poisoned, just toasted. 😀

  3. purly on 4/26/08 at 7:55 am

    I’ve had the illegal absinthe, which a friend smuggled into the country. We lit it on fire and drank two shots each. The second shot was a (bad) afterthought.

    After the shots, I recall trying to go up the stairs, falling backwards and not even having the grace to catch my landing. Then doing the exact same thing again. My ass had bruises on it the next day.

    I guess what they say is true that men have higher tolerances because he didn’t even pass out.

    It was an “Oh God” experience a la Fear and Loathing.

  4. Armchair News on 4/26/08 at 9:56 am

    At least you weren’t in a bar at the time!

    This was definitely not the illegal stuff, but it had plenty of kick… and hey, sugar cube!