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Palm Springs is getting a facelift and its star is rising

Though it’s 120 degrees outside, you’ll love it

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Joshua Tree is not only a much cooler gay destination near Palm Springs, but August is also when meteors swarm the night sky from all directions leaving glowing trails in their wake. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service)

I escaped the Palm Springs midday desert heat in a UFO. Okay, not a real UFO, but in the dome-shaped quirky desert landmark known as the Integratron. While it kind of looks like a 1950s sci-fi spaceship, the 38-foot tall white cupola was constructed by ufologist George Van Tassel in 1959 to attract extraterrestrials and was funded in part by billionaire Howard Hughes.

While ET never paid a visit to the Integratron, desert tourists regularly pay to take a “sound bath” in the wooden building that is billed as an acoustically perfect structure. For $30, participants lie on cushions on the floor of the upper level of the building and listen to a concert of sorts by someone playing a series of huge round glass bowls, using a wand around the inside of the glass to put out a series of tones.

The Integratron is in the high desert, near Joshua Tree National Park, which stays about 10 degrees cooler than Palm Springs. The building itself has AC, making it comfortable no matter how hot it gets outside. The high desert, including Joshua Tree, is still doable in the summer, but hike before 11 a.m., bring plenty of water and avoid any long or strenuous walks. The summer nights in Joshua Tree are popular for stargazing. August is the best month for viewing the Perseid Meteor Shower.

If you don’t want to drive the 45 minutes to get to the high desert, perfect summer hiking can be found around the summit of Mt. San Jacinto State Park. Summer temperatures shed about 30 degrees in the 10-minute ride to the top in the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

Greater Palm Springs is seeing more summer visitors than ever before and businesses are not taking that for granted. Hotels, spas and restaurants are offering deals to entice you to head to the desert in the summer.

LGBT businesses have banded together again this year to offer a “Summer Splash” program showcasing hotel and restaurant deals. The sitepalmspringssummersplash.com spells out the offers. An example of some of the bargains include the fabulous InnDulge, which offers $99 rooms for weekday stays. InnDulge deservedly stays very busy throughout the summer. La Dolce Vita throws in free spa treatments with room stays. Escape Palm Springs and the Bearfoot Inn have $99 rooms and if you pay for two nights, you get the third free.

Of the Greater Palm Springs’ 16 gay resorts, all are for men and clothing optional. All but Cathedral City Boys Club (CCBC) are in Palm Springs proper. Sadly, the city’s formerly lesbian resorts Casitas Laquita, Queen of Hearts and its sister property Desert Hearts Inn, have been sold and have gone mainstream. Century Palm Springs also, unfortunately, is no more. The Warm Sands resort shut down after being sold recently.

If you have been to CCBC recently, you would have noticed room renovations and redone play spaces. But the resort’s big change will be unveiled later this summer when a brand-new restaurant and bar called Runway will open. The bar will aptly feature a runway that will showcase drag shows and other live entertainment. The resort plans to offer all-inclusive options that will include all meals and beverages. Plans are in the works to add 20 condo-style units in a five-story building on the back of the property where the waterfall is now. If the final plans are approved, that could be up and running in a couple of years. The hip new building will be lit up in Pride rainbow colors at night.

If a summer visit to the desert isn’t in the cards, fall is a busy time for Palm Springs. Things start to cool down but activities heat up in late September with Cinema Diverse, the Palm Springs LGBT film festival on Sept 20-23. Desert AIDS Walk is Oct 20. Palm Springs Leather Pride runs October 25-28. Halloween is big with a street party on Arenas Road and Palm Springs Pride week runs November 1-4.

Nightlife

Old timers will remember that gay nightlife in the desert was centered just south of Palm Springs in Cathedral City. But that began to change in the early 1990s when Streetbar, Palm Springs’ oldest gay bar, opened on Arenas Road. There are still three gay bars in Cathedral City and soon to be four with the addition of CCBC’s Runway. Cat City’s other bars include the piano lounge bar, Studio One 11, the leather/bear bar Barracks, and Trunks, formerly Digs and with the same ownership as the WeHo institution by the same name.

Almost all of Palm Springs’ nightlife is on Arenas Road. The newest bar is Stacy’s, with the same owner of the popular Stacy’s in Phoenix. It’s next to Bongo Johnny’s which is still closed after its kitchen was destroyed in a fire in March. Another newer Arenas Road addition is the video bar QUADZ, formerly Spurline, a newly remodeled streetbar. Beloved owner Dick Haskamp passed away in March but Haskamp left the business to a couple of employees who continue to run the bar in the same way that has made it a Palm Springs mainstay. The other popular bars on the block include Chill, Hunters, Score and around the corner on Indian Canyon, Tryst. Since the closing of Delilah’s years ago, there are no lesbian bars in Palm Springs, but all the Arenas nightspots are lesbian-friendly.

The leather/bear bar Tool Shed is on the edge of Warm Sands on E Sunny Dunes Road, next to the cool LGBT-themed store Q Trading and nearby Gear leather shop and Townie Bagels.

Toucan Tiki Lounge continues to be very popular on N Palm Canyon Drive, on the north end of town. It regularly hosts a lesbian party known as Velvet. For information on the next Velvet search on Velvet-PS on Facebook. By the way, Toucans is next to the fabulously gay WorkOUT Gym. The facility is small but has all the equipment you need and has reasonably priced day, week and weekend passes, If you are staying at the Vista Grande, Bearfoot Inn, or InnDulge, you can work out there for free.

For more information, check out the official Greater Palm Springs visitor’s site,visitgreaterpalmsprings.com, The city’s official tourism site includes a comprehensive LGBT section, visitpalmsprings.com.

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Theater

Broadway gathers to honor Sondheim in Times Square

They were gathered to pay homage to legendary Tony, Academy Award, and Grammy Award-winning composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim

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Broadway gathers to honor Stephen Sondheim (Screenshot via YouTube)

NEW YORK – Light snow flurries swirled around the stars of theatre and stage of New York City’s ‘Great White Way’ as they gathered Sunday in Times Square- members of every Broadway company assembled singing in a powerful chorus “Sunday,” the powerfully emotional act one finale to “Sunday in the Park with George.”

They were gathered to pay homage to legendary Tony, Academy Award, and Grammy Award-winning composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. That piece being performed had garnered Sondheim a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1985.

Broadway’s best were joined by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Sara Bareilles, Josh Groban, Kathryn Gallagher and Lauren Patton at ‘Sunday’ Performance in Times Square.

The man who was heralded as Broadway and theater’s most revered and influential composer-lyricist of the last half of the 20th century died at 91 Friday at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut.

“This felt like church,” Bareilles told Variety after the performance on Sunday. “In his remembrance, we did what theater does best. We sang and raised our voices and came together in community.” 

Variety also noted that during the celebration, Miranda offered a sermon of sorts. Foregoing a speech, he opened Sondheim’s “Look I Made A Hat,” an annotated anthology of the composer’s lyrics, and read from a few passages before the crowd.

“Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George memorial for Stephen Sondheim

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Movies

‘Tick, tick… BOOM!’ explodes with the love of Broadway

A perfect film for fans of musical theater

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Andrew Garfield shines in ‘Tick, Tick… BOOM!’ (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

If you are a person who love musical theater – or if you know someone who does – then you know there is something about this particular art form that inspires a strong and driving passion in those who enjoy it, often to the point of obsession. For this reason, perhaps it’s no surprise that those who work in musical theater – the creators, performers, and all the other people who make it happen – are often the biggest musical theater lovers of all.

Because of this, “tick, tick… BOOM!” (the new film directed by Lin-Manuel “Hamilton” Miranda and written by Steven “Dear Evan Hansen” Levenson) might be the most perfect movie ever made for such fans. Adapted from an autobiographical “rock monologue” by Jonathan Larson, it follows the future “Rent” composer (Andrew Garfield) for a week in the early 1990s, when he was still an unknown young Broadway hopeful waiting tables in a New York diner. He’s on the cusp of turning 30, a milestone that weighs on his mind as he prepares for a showcase of a musical that he hasn’t quite finished – even though he’s been writing it for eight years. With limited time left to compose the show’s most crucial number, his race against the clock is complicated by major changes in his personal life; his lifelong best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús) has quit acting in favor of a five-figure career in advertising, and his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) is moving away from the city to accept a teaching job and wants him to come with her. With reminders everywhere of the ongoing AIDS epidemic still raging in the community around him, and with his own youth ticking away, he is inevitably forced to wonder if it’s time to trade in his own Broadway dreams for a more secure future – before it’s too late.

As every musical theater fan knows, the young composer’s obsession with time (hence the title) is laced with bittersweet irony in the context of what eventually happened in his real life: the day before “Rent” opened on Broadway and became a smash hit that reshaped and expanded the boundaries of what musical theater could be, Larson died of an aortic aneurysm at the age of 35. He never lived to see the full fruition of all those years of hard work, and that tragic turn of events is precisely what makes “tick, tick… BOOM!” relevant and provides its considerable emotional power. In that light, it’s essentially a musical “memento mori,” a reminder that the clock eventually runs out for all of us.

That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s not also a celebration of life in the theater, and Miranda is probably better suited than anyone to make us see that side of the coin. Now unquestionably in the highest echelon of status as a Broadway icon, he came of age in the era of “Rent,” and he takes pains to make his depiction of Manhattan in the ‘90s as authentic as possible.

Capturing the era with touches like Keith Haring-inspired murals and the use of “Love Shack” as a party anthem, his movie keeps Larson’s story within the context of his time while drawing clear connections to our own. His reverence for Larson – whom he cites as a seminal inspiration for his own future work – manifests itself palpably throughout. Yet despite that (or perhaps because of it), so does an infectiously cheery tone. Yes, things get heavy; there are hardships and heartbreaks at every turn, because that’s what a life in the theater means. But at the same time, there’s just so much fun to be had. The camaraderie, the energy, and the joy of simply living in that world comes leaping off the screen (often thanks to the enthusiastic choreography of Ryan Heffington) with the kind of giddy, effortless ease that might almost make us jealous if it didn’t lift our spirits so much. No matter that the lead character spends most of the movie second-guessing his path; we never doubt for a moment that, for him, the rewards of following his passion outweigh the sacrifices a thousand times over.

That’s something Miranda also understands. His movie drives home the point that the joy of doing theater is its own reward, and he’s willing to prove it by turning up in a bit part just for the sake of being a part of the show. And he’s not the only one. The screen is littered with living legends; in one memorable sequence alone, a who’s-who of Broadway’s brightest stars – Chita Rivera, Bernadette Peters, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Andre DeShield, Bebe Neuwirth, Joel Grey, and at least a dozen more – serve as a high-profile backup chorus of extras for a song at the diner, but there are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos in almost every scene. It almost feels like a gimmick, or an effort to turn the movie into a “spot the star” trivia game for hardcore fans – until you realize that these are the best and brightest people in their field, who have willingly chosen to show up and participate even though they did not have to. They are there purely for love, and you can see it in their faces.

Miranda scores big across the board as a director – this is his feature film directorial debut, which confirms the standing assumption the man can do anything. But “tick, tick… BOOM!” is a star turn for its leading player, and full credit must also go – and emphatically so – to Garfield, who surpasses expectations as Larson. The one-time “Spiderman” actor trained extensively to be able to master the demands of singing the role, and it shows; he comes off as a true musical theater trouper, worthy beyond doubt of sharing the screen with so many giants. Even better, he integrates that challenge into the whole of a flamboyantly joyful performance that makes Larson endearingly, compellingly three-dimensional. It’s a career-topping piece of work.

The rest of the principal cast – a refreshingly inclusive ensemble that reminds us that Larson was instrumental in making Broadway a much more diverse place – are equally fine. De Jesús gets a long-deserved chance to shine as Michael, and Shipp brings a quiet calm to the easily-could-have-been-overshadowed Susan that makes her the perfect balance to Garfield’s high-octane energy.

Joshua Henry and Vanessa Hudgens contribute much more than their stellar vocal talents to their pair of roles as Larson friends and collaborators, and there are delicious supporting turns by Judith Light and Bradley Whitford – who gives an affectionately amusing and dead-on accurate screen impersonation of Broadway legend-of-legends Stephen Sondheim, one of Larson’s (and Miranda’s) biggest influences and inspirations, who accordingly looms large in the story despite his relatively short amount of screen time.

It should be obvious by now that “tick, tick… BOOM!” is a delight for people who love musical theater. But what if you’re not one of those people? The good news is that there is so much to enjoy here, so much real enjoyment, so much talent, so much hard work on display that nobody will have any reason to be bored.

Even people who DON’T love musical theater.

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Books

James Ivory on movies, beauty — and a love of penises

If you enjoy film and wit you’ll love ‘Solid Ivory’

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(Book cover image courtesy of Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

‘Solid Ivory: Memoirs’
By James Ivory
C.2021, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
$30/399 pages

Few things have been more pleasurable to me during the pandemic than Merchant/Ivory films. COVID becomes a dim memory as I ogle the costumes, beautiful vistas from Italy to India, music and spot-on dialogue of “A Room with a View,” “Maurice,” “Remains of the Day” and other Merchant/Ivory movies.

For decades, fans from gay men to grandmas have enjoyed these films, directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant in partnership with the writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

In “Solid Ivory,” Ivory, 93, gives us his memories of movie making, growing up gay, his decades-long romantic and professional partnership with Merchant and (you’re reading this correctly) the penises he has known.

If you believe that elders don’t enjoy sex, Ivory’s memoir will blow your ageism to smithereens.

From watching the movies he’s directed and knowing his age, you might think (as I did) that Ivory would be shy about talking of his sexuality. Wow, was I wrong!

Ivory appreciates penises as a sommelier savors fine wine.

Ivory knew that he liked boys early on. Ivory recalls playing at age seven with a boy named Eddy. He and Eddy were “putting our penises into each other’s mouths,” Ivory writes, “…I made it clear that Eddy’s dick must not touch my lips or tongue, nor the inside of my mouth. I had learned all about germs at school by then.”

Though Ivory and Merchant were devoted partners, they each had other lovers. Bruce Chatwin, the travel writer who died from AIDS, was Ivory’s friend, and sometimes, lover.

Chatwin’s penis was “Uncut, rosy, schoolboy-looking,” Ivory writes.

Ivory’s memoir isn’t prurient. His sexuality doesn’t overpower the narrative. It runs through “Solid Ivory” like a flavorful spice.

The book is more an impressionistic mosaic than a chronological memoir. Ivory, often, tells the stories of his life through letters he’s written and received (from lovers, friends and professional contacts) as well as from diary entries.

Many of the chapters in the memoir were previously published in other publications such as The New Yorker.

“Solid Ivory” was originally published in a limited edition by Shrinking Violet Press. The Press is a small press run by Peter Cameron, a novelist, and editor of “Solid Ivory.” Ivory grew up in Klamath Falls, Ore. He was originally named Richard Jerome Hazen. His parents changed his name when they adopted him.

Some of the most engaging moments of the memoir are when Ivory writes about what life was like for a child during the Depression.

Ivory’s father lost his savings when the stock market crashed, and his mother frequently gave food to “tramps” who came to the door.

His “eating tastes were definitely formed during the Depression,” Ivory writes.

Since that time, Ivory has lived everywhere from England to Italy. “But although I consider myself an advanced expert in the more sophisticated forms of cuisine,” Ivory writes, “My gastronomical roots remain dug deep in the impoverished soil of the American Depression.” Ivory became smitten with movies when he saw his first picture when he was five.

He and Merchant, a Muslim from India who died in 2005, fell in love when they met on the steps of the Indian consulate in New York in 1961. I wish Ivory had written more about the 30+ movies that he made (mostly with Merchant and Jhabvala, who died in 2013).

Yet, he provides tantalizing recollections of filmmaking, actors and celebs.

The chapters on “Difficult Women like Raquel Welch and Vanessa Redgrave” are fun to read.

Welch, a bombshell brat, doesn’t want to play a love scene in “The Wild Party.” During the filming of “The Bostonians,” Boston is captivated by the drama of Redgrave’s off-screen politics.

Ivory isn’t that impressed when in 2018, at age 89, he becomes the oldest Academy Award winner when he receives the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for “Call Me By Your Name.” “Its fame eclipses even Michelangelo’s David and the Statue of Liberty,” Ivory says, with irony, of the Oscar statue.

If you enjoy the movies, beauty and wit, you’ll love “Solid Ivory.”

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