Mister D: Look closely everybody and you may see our friend Matty singing background!
Staten Island Live
The other Divine Miss M
Updated: Monday, July 30, 2012, 10:18 AM
By Michael J. Fressola
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – As Islanders have known for years, the world has at least two Divine Miss Ms: One is Bette Midler. The other is a her doppelganger, singer/writer/comedian/actress/tribute artist and red-headed woman-about-town Donna Maxon.
Ms. Maxon talked last week about her new off-Broadway show – “Bette & Barry: Back to the Bathhouse,” Aug. 1 and 15 at Laurie Beecham Theatre – her arts activism, the causes closest to her heart and her dreams of world domination.
Q: “Bette & Barry” (which you’ve already tried out at Freshtarian in Stapleton) involves some time travel, no? Back to the 1970s, before cell phones and the Internet, cable, and Facebook, when the Continental Baths was full of towel-clad gay men. A crazy Hawaiian singer/actress and her accompanist used to perform there …
A: “Bette & Barry is set at the Continental Bathhouse on the West Side in 1969, when Midler and Manilow began their collaboration at that bathhouse! This show, co-written by director Michael Schiralli and myself, features music and nostalgia from the era, which I find fascinating.
However, we do explore other periods via original monologues, dirty jokes, great tunes, hot bathhouse boys and the rocking Fonda Feingold trio! Fellow Staten Islander Fonda Feingold is the world’s first Barry Manilow drag king; an incredible musical talent.
Q: So, just when did you catch up with Midler? By the way, the resemblance is uncanny. You have the same amazingly mobile face, twinkly eyes, lovely bosom and terrific legs. Were you clones separated at birth?
A: The first time I met Ms. Midler was in 1986 on the set of “Outrageous Fortune.” She was pregnant, and Disney flew me out to screen test to be her body double. At that time, I was working as a manager for Citibank and had only done just a couple of gigs in show biz. But I was already a huge fan, or as we say, “Bette-head!”
When I had a chance to speak with her, I was so excited, and way-overly-chatty. To which she replied, “Girl, you have a career!”
Thank you, Bette Midler!
Q: What songs are on the “B&B” playlist? Is there a printable dirty joke you can share?
A: We have such a great score, including an original blues tune, “Back to the Bathhouse Blues,” written by Fonda Feingold, and many Manilow hits.
Printable? “I will never forget it you know. My boyfriend Ernie went to a hooker, paid five bucks and got crabs. Ernie went back to that hooker and said, ”˜Hey! You gave me crabs.’ The hooker said, ”˜Hey, what do you expect for five bucks? LOBSTER??!!!’”
Q: So, you’re emphasizing the fun and the music of the era, which predates AIDS/HIV?
A: While our show does emphasis the fun and music of the bathhouse era, our closing medley touches upon, “AIDS, the tsunami of the bathhouse. So many perished.”
We memorialize all the beautiful friends that have been lost with a reprise of “Back to the Bathhouse Blues” – “You’re gonna miss the water, when this river runs dry. If you can maybe you oughta come and kiss me good-bye. Gonna miss the glitz, the glamour, the ruby red shoes of your red hot Mamma, sipping her bathtub booze.”
Q: Do you ever think about being yourself? Or: What kind of show would Miss Maxon do as herself?
A: In the last decade, I have been exploring my own voice as an artist through cabaret shows I have performed on Staten Island: “An Evening with the Divine Donna M,” “A Bette Time Story,” “A Divine Holiday Show,” “In the Mood for Love,” and now, “Bette and Barry: Back to the Bathhouse.”
I have co-written all of these shows with my director, Michael Schiralli. Most explore my own life and my experiences. I certainly have unique story to tell.
Q: So you are this busy “tribute artist,” but then you are also the chairman of the board of the Council on the Humanities for Staten Island. Can you tell us a little about your serious side?
A: I’m so proud to serve as president … COAHSI is a wonderful organization that supports the entire community through regranting programs, arts in education, Folklore programming, technical assistance for artists and more.
We are very excited about our upcoming move to the St George Ferry Terminal, where we will be able to reach a broader audience and offer more support to the local artist community, local art organizations and the greater Staten Island.
Additionally, for over a decade, I have served as Parent Advocate for the Eden 2 Human Rights Committee. Autism is an intimately important cause for me; my younger son, Donald, who is now 20, is autistic. In fact, my most important achievement is being part of a group of eight families that co-founded the NY Child Learning Institute, the state’s premiere school for children with autism, in 1994, when Donald was 2.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: We believe that we will be doing “Bette & Barry: Back to the Bathhouse” for quite a while. Maybe we’ll see a national tour. And I hope to continue working with Fonda Feingold and Michael Schiralli. Together, we shall rule the world!”
– “Bette & Barry: Back to the Bathhouse” plays the Laurie Beechamn Theater (407 W. 42nd St., Manhattan; 212-695-6909 ) Aug. 1 & 15 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 at 212-352-3101 or SpinCycleNYC.com.
Also visit Ms. Maxon’s website for other information and updates: Click Here