Swelter

It's glamour, it's cheap thrills, it's the sort of new 1992. The society shuffle. The debut of La Cage, art of the drag, part XIV. Semper's gone underground. Movie stars. Big money. Legends becoming as one, pledging the sacred vows of fabulousness. Slime spewers in natural fabrics, little priss pots with lots to write about and even more to hide. You are what you are, pal, and what you are isn't pretty. But it's a free country, and better yet, a free paper. More free than usual lately.

The ride began, where all evenings should, on the right side of the tracks. A rather luxe dinner dance at the Fontainebleau Hilton, the tenth annual Affair of the Arts, a benefit for the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. Veal chops and champagne. The Israeli artist Yaacov Agam, who has a kind of Rasputin-goes-mainstream look, sketching portraits on dinner plates. Gracious remarks from co-chairs Christy Powell and Nancy Magoon. Lin Arison becoming pretty adept at Hebrew. Carolyn Miller of Riteway Realty. Furniture designer Michael Wolk. Former NFAA President Dr. Grant Beglarian receiving an award for outstanding service. A runway show of the young artists the Foundation supports, some of whom - soulful, trendy types in shorts and earrings - already working that hip hop Jeff Koons/Jean-Michel Basquiat publicity number.

Author John Rothchild being snarky and entertaining. David Reiff, author of the books Los Angeles and Going To Miami, seated in the back of the room, learning something about the town. Our table, up front on the floor, a ridiculously heady experience. Like being beamed into the ultimate club. Drinks flowing like lotus petals. Everyone glad to see you. You're glad to see them. Lots of basic human values. The way parties used to be before the advent of attitude.

Sort of like the opening of La Cage at the DiLido Hotel on Miami Beach. A neon-accented showroom, the former Deja Vu, perfect for, as the line in the play La Cage Aux Folles goes, "facing life with a lot of glitter." A production team, Mike Gruber and Lou Paciocco, who have mounted similar productions in places like Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The last time the La Cage mystique entered our life - aside from the free-floating conceptual drag revue that is South Beach - was the premiere of the play La Cage at TOPA some years back. Mr. Hollywood, producer Alan Carr, called us fourteen times, thought we'd be fabulous on the coast, and was all glamour: "Did you ever hear about my black-tie dinner dance in jail for Truman Capote? Let me tell you, a good party is when you invite people you don't know and then don't let them bring anybody." This time it was gay bar 1978: solidly built drag waiters in spandex miniskirts, draped gold lame, Mardi gras masks, feather boas. Time takes its toll.

Facing all that glitter was, among others, Tara Darling and Lisa Cole Wertchafter of the Fontainebleau, in tune with a feather boa and knockout dress. A bit of chit-chat ("The only person I know is the waitress and she looks fabulous... Oh it's you, darling. I thought I sensed the presence of something evil in the room...") and then on with the show. Great stuff, suitable for most of the family. A lineup of impersonations that included the early, fun Bette Midler ("The Harlettes, three definitely nonkosher girls..."); Marilyn doing "I Want To Be Loved By You"; Aretha Franklin; Cher chewing on the camp classic "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves"; Judy Garland; Madonna, an entertainer who's already ensured her place in the drag lexicon. And a wonderful master of ceremonies, Electra, wearing one high-camp trash outfit after another and hurling out nonstop patter: "Who's your Daddy? I'll bet you cost plenty... Look at these spots - I'm starting to look like an old Fendi wallet... Tara, what's the matter? Warsaw closed tonight?"

New drag shows, new fun, new everything. Flower arrangements on sale at the News Cafe, courtesy of Flowers & Flowers, handy for sweeping the tired, the poor, the if-I-don't-have-sex-soon-I'm-going-to-implode huddled masses off their feet at 4:00 a.m. WPA, the new restaurant on Washington Avenue, interesting Depression-era decorative scheme, a disc jockey playing dinner music from the 1920 to 1969 eras. The Soho Gallery in the Lafayette Hotel, opening tomorrow night. The Italian coffee house/antique store Poco Pazzo, on Lincoln Road. Garrick Edwards, of Bootlegger's at The Music Room, who's now doing a Thursday-only rave night at Egoiste. A dinner for Laurie Anderson, after her concert this Saturday, to benefit the Miami Light Project.

The new club Underground, taking over the former Semper's space, becoming "Ocean Drive's Only Alternative Dance & Cabaret Club." More like alternative sexuality. Monday, "Absolutely Queer." Tuesday, lesbian night ("Beware of what's to come, women"). Wednesday, "Karaoke," surviving the putsch. Thursday, "A Night in Oz." Friday and Saturdays, R&B music, cabaret, and "Female impersonators - always a change." Sunday, tea dance time. La Belle Epoque whorehouse meets Brave New Techno-homo World. The more lush decorative elements ripped out and replaced with Planet of Doom lighted boxes, ice cube tray sculptures accented by a Ron Ely look-alike go-go dancer, and strobe lights. A rival club owner looking around and muttering, "Who knows...these queens are so fickle."

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