On the evening of Friday, Nov. 21, Reverend John Carmichael, the president of the Church of Scientology’s New York chapter, attended a performance of A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant, an Off Off Broadway musical that is currently selling out the house at the Tank on West 42nd Street.
All the actors in the show-which has been running since mid-November-are between the ages of 8 and 12, and the hilarious spectacle feels something like a grammar school Christmas pageant. There’s even a mock nativity scene where the boy who plays the Church’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, is “born” and then shown curled up surrounded by children who are on all fours and wearing pig and chicken noses (so to speak). During another part of the show, the kids portray Scientology members Kirstie Alley, John Travolta and Tom Cruise.
The show’s Web site promises the “The inspirational story of one teacher, author, explorer, atomic physicist, nautical engineer, choreographer and horticulturalist named L. Ron Hubbard who motivated millions-and made some as well,” and-even before the show was mounted-this description wasn’t much to the liking of Mr. Carmichael, who sent the show’s producer, Aaron Lemon-Strauss, a letter on Nov. 5 that voiced his concern over the possibility that the musical would “ridicule” Scientology. He hadn’t been to rehearsals, but had seen that the musical’s Web site had links to various articles and Web sites that denounced Hubbard and the Church.
“The various clichés about Scientology making money from Scientology are not just clichés, but lies. Both you and Kyle [Jarrow, the musical's author] have told me your work comes from research, not clichés,” Mr. Carmichael wrote. “Real humor … is based on truth, not blindly accepted clichés.
“There are dozens of scholars and independent experts who have bothered to look at the religion and found it to be just what it says it is,” he continued. “Scientology is a religion which millions of people around the world testify helps them to live a better life, and to know themselves spiritually. Scientologists are decent people, involved in the world around them, and using what they know to help others.”
Himself a “decent” person, Mr. Carmichael-an affable looking large man with graying hair-clapped at the end of the performance, which he attended alone. But when reached by The Observer this week, he said he didn’t feel comfortable commenting on the show at this time.
The creators of the musical maintain that they feel the show lets the religion speak-or sing-for itself.
-Anna Jane Grossman
A black-tie dress code and white-maned Lord Lichfield as M.C. may have given the Dec. 1 grand opening of the Mandarin Oriental New York in the Time Warner building a touch of class, but Long Island boy Billy Joel gave it soul. “This is water, O.K.?” the bantam-like Mr. Joel told the appreciative crowd-a reference to his 2002 drying out at Silver Hill Hospital in Connecticut-before addressing another kind of rehab. “Columbus Circle needed a little sprucin’ up,” he said as the skyline of Manhattan twinkled through the floor-to-ceiling windows behind him. “It was a little funky.” Mr. Joel then proceeded to play a series of his standards-“Piano Man,” “New York State of Mind” and “Movin’ Out”-to a crowd that included author Frederick Forsyth, police chief Ray Kelly, chef Eric Ripert and his wife Sandra, restaurateur Steve Hanson and songwriter Denise Rich. Mr. Joel was just about to call it a night when Four Seasons restaurant co-owner Julian Niccolini ran to the stage and convinced the singer to play an encore, “Just the Way You Are.”
Earlier in the evening an auction raised some dough for the City Harvest charity. A fashion package that included a pair of Fred Leighton earrings worn by Nicole Kidman to the 2003 Oscars fetched $22,000. The catering business must be hopping because the winning bid came from Rhona Silver, the chief executive officer of Huntington Townhouse, a catering hall in Huntington Station, N.Y. And when Ms. Silver, resplendent in a fur hat was led off to claim her prize, one of the evening’s organizers asked her: “Did you think you were going to get it?”
“No,” Ms. Silver replied, and then she let drop the reason she was bidding so furiously. “My daughter wants the earrings.”
Rich, But Not Chapin Girls
When MTV’s reality TV series Rich Girls, about two wealthy Manhattan private-school girls, Tommy Hilfiger’s daughter Ally Hilfiger and her sidekick Jaime Gleicher, first aired, the opening credits featured shots of both Dalton and Chapin private schools. Because friends of Ms. Gleicher had often heard her refer to her “Chapin friends,” they assumed that the shot of the latter institution was a reference to her alma mater.
But now as the series winds to an end, eagle-eyed viewers have noticed that the Chapin footage has disappeared from the Rich Girls opening. When The Transom asked an MTV spokeswoman why the school had been excised, she said, “I’m sure it was a clearance issue,” but added, “Jamie never went to Chapin.” (Attempts to reach Ms. Gleicher through MTV were unsuccessful.)
A spokeswoman for Chapin said she had never heard of the show, but one recent Chapin graduate said that she’s “relieved” the school was removed from the opening credits. “It’s deeply embarrassing,” she said. “I think that the show exceeds every negative stereotype that exists about New York City private-school girls.”
That said, the Chapin alumna said she enjoyed the show. “It’s sort of a car accident, and it’s hysterical because they’re so ridiculous,” she said. “It makes it seem like everyone’s really dumb and really loaded but still gets to go to the right colleges.”
Around the same time that a slew of Internet spam advertising the full 42-minute version of Paris Hilton’s sex tape landed in e-mail boxes everywhere promising “close-up shots of her pounded rich ass!”, Ms. Hilton’s rich ass surfaced in the Hamptons for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. On Nov. 28, the Friday after turkey day, Ms. Hilton lunched with her parents, Rick and Kathy Hilton, at Bobby Van’s in Bridgehampton, a restaurant as well known for its people-watching as its food. The Hiltons were literally the center of attention, given that they were seated at a table in the middle of the room and Paris was wearing a hot pink jumpsuit with the word “Tokyo” emblazoned in large white letters on her back.
Sure, we’ve all heard of struggling-actors-cum-waiters and writers-cum-actors (the real moneyed ones, baby!) but a Broadway-success-cum-go-go-dancer?
When the spirit moves him, Jeff Whitty, 32, a blond and boyish Oregon native, can be found gyrating on bars in a trucker’s cap, boots, overalls and absolutely nothing else at the Park or at other illustrious venues around town. “When I’m dancing, my persona is of a stupid idiot farm boy,” said the clean-cut, perky Mr. Whitty over green soup at Terramare Café the other day. The contours of his chest were visible beneath his gray baseball T. He was wearing diamond studs in each ear, brown motorcycle boots and an ear-to-ear grin. “I love it when people come up to me expecting me to be dumb!”
That’s because dumb he ain’t. Mr. Whitty is the man responsible for the highly acclaimed book of the Broadway musical Avenue Q. He’s also an actor and has a choice role as a sexy, hot-pants-clad Earl of Southampton in The Beard of Avon, a comedy at the New York Theatre Workshop that’s getting a lot of will-it-go-to-Broadway? buzz. Needless to say, the man is currently making some decent money: He also has a sitcom pitch that’s being considered by a major network, and a show he wrote is opening at the Atlantic Theater next month. This is on top of the royalties he collects from Avenue Q.
But early this year, Avenue Q was still only at the Vineyard Theatre off Broadway, and the money he’d received after working on it for over two years had yet to come through. “I was at its rehearsals all day and was watching its previews all night and I had no idea how I was going to make ends meet,” he said. In the past for extra money he’d waited tables, catered and transcribed, but all those options seemed so unglamorous. So when, last February, a friend asked if he wanted to go-go dance at a fund-raiser for Tweed TheaterWorks, the theater company that co-produced Lypsinka’s latest, Mr. Whitty figured he could give it a go-go. Alas, hardly anyone showed up for the fund-raiser, which was at the Marquee on the Bowery, but it turned out that the nightly dancing boy at the Slide, the club downstairs from the Marquee, hadn’t shown up that evening. So Mr. Whitty understudied the role.
“And it turned out that I was really good at it!” he said. “It was great because it was physical and it was performing and all that was totally the opposite of what I was doing at Avenue Q.
“It was the perfect job for me,” he continued. “Because I could do it a couple times a week and have some money coming in and it didn’t interfere with [my work on Avenue Q]. The hours were perfect, because I could go after previews and then work till like three in the morning and then wake up and go to rehearsals. And the money was great!”
By the time Avenue Q made it to Broadway last summer, the money he was expecting for its Off Broadway run had come through and the royalties for its current production had begun. Yet he wasn’t quite ready to give up dancing-he was starting to get a following at several clubs around town, and, gosh darn it, it was fun! What with the hunky men eyeing him and the occasional bachelorette parties of women yelling at him to show his hoo-hoo. Even Avenue Q’s director and choreographer would swing by to catch his gigs.
“And at that point it was good to have a project. If I don’t have something to do, I go crazy. So it provided a kind of weird/good structure to my life. Something on the calendar, because at the time I was taking a lot of meetings but nothing was really concrete. And it was totally creative. A total performance,” he said. “It’s all about getting people worked up, but in a fun way. It’s all about the tease. I mean, I’d never show anything you wouldn’t see on NYPD Blue. But it’s so great because you get up there and everyone gives you so much power, and then the minute you step down, no one recognizes you, you know? You’re just another schmo.”
But since word has gotten out that the cute, dumb Southern dancer has an alter ego, the game hasn’t been as much fun to play.
“It’s just getting harder because I’m getting to be less anonymous. Too many people know now,” he said. “Like, it was a little overwhelming when the first person came up to me with a dollar and said, ‘I loved Avenue Q.'”
While Mr. Whitty might soon give up the gyrating life, he’d like to use the experience and parlay it into something legit. He’s currently in talks with Broadway choreographer Jerry Mitchell about turning the annual fund-raising burlesque show, Broadway Bares, into a full-scale eight-performance-a-week musical.
“And what librettist would be better suited to write a burlesque show than me?” he said, beaming.
P. Diddy or Didn’t He?
Huddled in a V.I.P. section of the midtown club Show on Monday night with model girlfriend Kim Porter and male model Tyson Beckford among his entourage, Sean (P. Diddy) Combs was working damage control. Mr. Combs denied the New York Post’s account of his VH1 Big in ’03 awards show antics. Mr. Combs, who showed up for the publication launch party for Intimate, photographer Marc Baptiste’s book of nude portraits (in which Ms. Porter appears) told The Transom: “I’ve won enough awards in my career,” adding: “If I want to put my foot down, I’ll put it down for bigger things.”
According to the Post, the hip-hop entrepreneur arrived at the VH1 Big in ’03 awards expecting to be honored, only to learn that VH1 had slated him merely as a presenter. This reportedly prompted Mr. Combs to tell the show’s producers, “I am not going on stage unless I get an award!”, and eventually coercing them into presenting him with the “Big Maverick” award that he got during the telecast. “You can’t believe everything you read in the paper,” Mr. Combs said. “The VH1 show was cool. There was no confusion. There was a discussion on how the award was going to be presented. This is my name, my brand that people are trying to defame.”
Reached for comment, the Post’s Richard Johnson responded: “We had a credible source. We did some reporting and it checked out. But he probably didn’t have to complain that much. If he really had complained, they would have given him two or three awards.”
The Transom Also Hears …
With the 2003 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show come and gone, supermodel turned magazine mogul Helena Christensen is finally relieved of the pressure of having to strut down the runway in only a sequined balconette bra, matching panties and rhinestone stilettos. On Sunday, Nov. 30, Ms. Christensen, wheeling a stroller, stopped by Magnolia Bakery for their famous frosted cupcakes.
Larger-than-life American Idol winner Ruben Studdard arrived at Alicia Keys’ Dec. 1 AOL for Broadband–sponsored concert at Webster Hall to see what uncontested talent was all about. Safely inside the V.I.P. room, Mr. Studdard told The Transom: “I love her music, I come to all her shows,” he said. At least the ones that don’t conflict with his American Idol–related appearances. “They put me on the map, you know, so I gotta pay them homage,” he said. “But I’ll be on a couple of other TV shows. I want to do That ’70s Show real bad!”
Ms. Keys said she had invited Mr. Studdard to her concert that day after running into him at a radio interview. “We run into each other everywhere,” she said after her performance, though given the five burly bodyguards that surrounded her, running into Ms. Keys seemed damn near impossible.