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My Favorite Annual Holiday Party

The stars (and Filichia!) come out for Mame Dennis's annual holiday party.

By New York City
Agnes Gooch and Vera Charles join hostMame Dennis in the holiday festivities(Photo © Friedman-Abeles,from Jerry Herman: The Lyrics)
Agnes Gooch and Vera Charles join host
Mame Dennis in the holiday festivities
(Photo © Friedman-Abeles,
from Jerry Herman: The Lyrics)
I rang the bell at the Beekman Place residence, which chimed out with the first six notes of "Open a New Window." The door immediately opened to disclose a sharp-looking young man in a tuxedo. "Peter!" he said, enthusiastically -- and when I didn't respond right away, he knew that I didn't recognize him. "Burnside Gooch," he said by way of identification. "Burnside!" I exclaimed. "I didn't know it was you! My, how you've grown!"

A few years have passed since I've been able to attend my favorite annual holiday party -- the one that Mame Dennis Burnside gives each year for casts of current Broadway musicals. I came in and immediately said hello to Burnside Gooch's mother, Agnes Gooch (she does have a bust!), who was helping to dispense food and drink. Then I said hello to Seaweed J. Stubbs, Mary Sunshine, Rafiki, Tulsa, and Penelope Pennywise. I heard a warm "Hello!" from a smiling young woman and she, too, could see I couldn't place her face. "They call me Mimi," she told me. "Ah!" I said, "I didn't recognize you without the handcuffs."

I had worried that I was going to be early but the bash was in full swing with Nessarose, the Phantom, Big Sue, Mrs. Meers, and Billy Flynn already there. Dorothy Brock wasn't on hand yet but she did arrive around a quarter to nine. I looked for Amos Hart, too, but I couldn't see him anywhere.

Mame's townhouse looked great with all those beautiful flowers from Mushnik and Son, which Audrey had brought over. She was saying to Elphaba, "I love meeting someone who's green," but Elphaba spent most of the time talking to The Lion King's animals; she said how glad she was to meet them, given that animals in her own show were in short supply. She also spoke at great length to Caldwell B. Cladwell, probably because he's now a bunny. Then a tall, handsome stranger said to Elphaba, "Will you talk to me? I used to be an animal. You've heard of The Artist Formerly Known as Prince? Well, I'm The Prince Formerly Known as Beast."

Of course, at a party like this, you'd expect a good deal of dancing -- and though Lucky Garnett and Penny Carroll insisted that they were never gonna dance, most everyone else did. Donna Sheridan and her ol' pals Tanya and Rosie emerged as the dancing queens. But there was a lot of animated chatter, too. Brian was telling Princeton, "See? There is life outside your apartment." Aida and Radames most certainly agreed and were glad to get out of their tomb for a few hours. Julian Marsh and Max Bialystock were having a friendly discussion about which of them really deserved to be called "The King of Old Broadway." Then Max and Leo Bloom corralled Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, and each started comparing prison conditions at their respective clinks as Muzzy muttered, "Only in New York..."

Quite often, when someone mentioned what he or she was doing Christmas Eve, an Asian-American woman would suddenly turn around and say: "Yes?" Ruth Sherwood said to Glinda, "In your song 'Popular,' when you sing 'And when someone needs a makeover, I know exactly what they need'...I'm afraid you've made a grammatical error. It should be 'I know exactly what SHE needs.'" Glinda thanked Ruth profusely. (She's really come a long way as a person, don't you think?)

A waiter came over with a tray of egg rolls. "You got something else?" asked Mr. Goldstone, but Millie Dillmount exclaimed, "Gimme, gimme!" I felt bad for the waiter for no one was paying any attention to him, so I asked him to tell me about himself. Turns out he's a kid from Cape Cod, fisherman's family; marvelous singer, big baritone. Rented his boat, paid for his lessons, starved for his studies down to the bone. Came to New York, aimed at the opera; sing Rigoletto his wish. At the Fulton Market now, he yells "Fish!" "What a waist," the waiter said when he got a look at Edna Turnblad entering the room. Frankly, I thought Edna looked great -- as if she'd just stepped out of an enormous can of Ultra Clutch.

How nice to see Peter Allen, Liza Minnelli, and Judy Garland together again. Garland grabbed the Wizard of Oz and said, "Surely, there HAS to be a part for me in your musical." Then Roger De Bris came over and thanked Judy for giving him the idea to sit on the edge of the stage when doing his quiet moment in the title number of Springtime for Hitler. Liza, meanwhile, was asking Boy George if she could make a comeback at his Culture Club, then interrupted herself when she got a good look at Sally Bowles. "You look familiar," she said. "I feel like I've known you in another life."

Gypsy Rose Lee arrived with Rose Hovick, who was wearing her daughter's mink. When Rose sat down, an astonishing sound came from beneath her; nearby, Wilbur Turnblad laughed heartily, for he'd placed a whoopee cushion under her seat. Rose was actually amused but decided to pretend that she wasn't, so she jumped up and chased Wilbur around the apartment. "You'll never get away from me," she insisted.

There was a nice array of fruit courtesy of Herr Schultz. That greatly impressed Frank Lippencott, who started to say that he could sure use such wonderful pineapples down at the drug store to make his banana splits but stopped when he saw that the remark wasn't going over. I looked for a fork to make a stab at some of the goodies but Gypsy told me that her mother had already stolen all the silverware.

The tradition has always been that Mame enters at the top of the staircase and blows a loud, wild note on her trumpet. But sincet Gypsy was part of the party this year, Mame let Mazeppa to blow her own horn -- after which the great lady was greeted at the bottom of the stairs by everyone from Movin' Out. Said Eddie, "I speak for us all when I thank you for including us in this party, considering that we're not actually a musical but just a ballet."

The cast of Nine(Photo © Paul Kolnik)
The cast of Nine
(Photo © Paul Kolnik)
For the cast of Nine, it was a reunion, what with their abrupt closing earlier this week; Mame's invitations had gone out when the show was still running and she sure wasn't going to rescind them. I spotted Guido Contini but noticed that Luisa wasn't with him. I feared that her absence could mean that they were experiencing more marital trouble, so I was relieved to see him spurn the moves put on him by such sirens as Ulla, Amneris, and Go-to-Hell Kitty. The ladies then turned their attentions to Gaston, who was glad to have them.

When Luisa Contini arrived, I said, "I know it's none of my business, but I can report that Guido has been 100% faithful to you since he's been here." She smiled and said, "At another party last week, Lucy T. Slut made a play for him, and when he resisted, I knew he'd reformed." But then Trekkie Monster had to start trouble by asking Luisa if Guido was spending much time these days on the Internet. As for Little Guido, all of nine, he was coming on to Dainty June, Little Inez, and Little Sally. The last-named young lady escaped his attentions, ran into the bathroom, and wouldn't come out. None of us was fooled, though; we knew that was where she really wanted to be, even before the Emcee knocked on the door and the kid yelled out, "I never get a chance to be in a place like this and I'm going to enjoy it!"

Sure, the Rent cast members said they'd had a better time last year, when La Bohème was around -- "Now those were people I could really relate to," said Roger. Saraghina agreed: "Everyone from that show knew how to be Italian." And, yes, Officer Lockstock was complaining, "If one more person comes up to me and asks me to sing 'My Darlin' Eileen'..." Still, a good time was had by all, capped by the finale ultimo that Mame always has at her holiday parties: Everyone gathers around the grand piano and sings a spirited rendition of "We Need a Little Christmas Now." As Michael Cavanaugh tickled the ivories, my heart was warmed by the sight of so many people arm in arm, singing loudly and swaying in rhythm: Peggy Sawyer, Mereb, Gary Coleman, Lefou, Fraulein Schneider, Mama Morton, Tessie Tura, Tracy Turnblad, Seymour Krelborn, Sophie Sheridan, Mabel Pritt, Liliane La Fleur, Maureen Johnson, Leigh Bowery, Greg Connell, Scar, Christine Daaé, Carmen Ghia, Jimmy Smith, Bobby Strong, Fiyero, and Eileen Sherwood. And when they got to the lyric "Put up the brightest string of lights I've ever seen," I realized that this was exactly what Mame Dennis Burnside had done by inviting all of these bright lights to her home.

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[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@aol.com]


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