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BY TRAV S. D. | There may have been more powerful columnists in the history of American journalism than Michael Musto, but none was ever more adored, for he radiates a personality and humor as great as — and often greater than — the celebrities he covers. For nearly 30 years (1984-2013), his Village Voice column “La Dolce Musto” was obligatory reading for any New Yorker who wanted to have it on the ball. He’s a frequent presence on television and in documentaries, one of the rotating cohosts of the PBS show “Theater Talk,” a weekly blogger at Papermag.com, and the talent behind the “Musto Unfiltered” column at NewNowNext.com.
Perhaps lesser known is the fact that he also sings! On Sat., Nov. 11, he will present his second evening of musical duets with a little help from his friends at Club Cumming, Alan Cumming’s new East Village venue. Joining him onstage will be the likes of Bridget Everett, Murray Hill, Flotilla DeBarge, and a dozen more. Titled “Musto Duets Deux,” the proceeds from the night will benefit Gays Against Guns.
“I’ve always loved to sing,” Musto told our sister publication, Gay City News. “I sang in school. I was in high school musicals. I was in [the annual city high school musical competition] SING! I won Best Actor that year, which is a credit I never tire of bragging about. In college, I was in Gilbert and Sullivan productions. And in the early ’80s I fronted a Motown cover band called the Must. I hung up the singing for a while. But deep down I’m a ham. Just sitting down and writing all day is not enough for me.”
The first “Michael Musto Duets” show on Sept. 23 was one of the first entertainments to grace the stage of the brand-new Club Cumming. The new space is essentially a reboot of Eastern Bloc, the gay bar at 505 E. Sixth St., co-owned by Benjamin Maisani and Darren Dryden, with the continued involvement of nightlife promoter Danny Nardicio. The transformed space is being called a “fantasy performance salon.”
“It’s a wonderful mix of high-brow and low-brow,” Musto said. “Classical mixed with drag queen divas. I’m calling it ‘Café Carlyle meets CBGBs.’ ”
Cumming’s connection to the club makes for a high likelihood of celebrity sightings. The very first week, said Musto, Paul McCartney, Emma Stone, and Billie Jean King all arrived as part of the same party. At the time, Stone’s bio-pic about King (“Battle of the Sexes”) had just been released, which partially explains the eclecticism of the trio.
According to Musto, he initially suggested the duets concept as a night of numbers performed by other singers, but the club’s bookers understood him to mean something more like those records where Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett sing with a succession of partners, with Musto anchoring the evening. Musto didn’t mind the misunderstanding a bit.
“People are always encouraging me to sing,” he crowed. “And I love duets. When you’re singing in a duet you always have your partners as a safety net. No matter how bad I am, there’s always the other person to help carry it! I’m pinching myself. I can’t believe some of the people I get to perform with in this show.”
Prominent among them is Bridget Everett, whom Musto mentions he gave early coverage to back in the 1990s. She’s been hot lately, with numerous appearances on “Inside Amy Schumer,” the 2017 film “Patti Cake$,” her just-filmed pilot for Amazon, “Love You More,” and a standing ovation for her performance of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” back in August.
With “Mr. Showbiz” Murray Hill, he’ll be performing “The Lady is a Tramp” –– with updated lyrics, “because,” quipped Musto, “neither one of us is a lady.”
With jazz violist Aaron Weinstein, Musto will perform “I Loves You, Porgy.” Also on the bill: Flotilla DeBarge, Cheryl Freeman (who played the Acid Queen in the Broadway production of “The Who’s Tommy”), Mrs. Kasha Davis (from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”), Jill Sobule (the songs “I Kissed a Girl” and “Supermodel”), Brini Maxwell (Ben Sander’s drag character), Amber Martin, Ari Kiki, Kenyon Phillips, and Markus Kelle, all singing what Musto described as a “mix of Broadway, disco, and cabaret diva classics.”
About the beneficiary, Gays Against Guns, Musto said, “I’ve been involved with them since last year, in the wake of the Orlando shooting. Now, since the recent tragedy in Las Vegas, it’s a more vital charity than ever.”
“Musto Duets Deux” is performed Sat., Nov. 11, 9pm at Club Cumming (515 E. Sixth St., btw. Aves. A & B.). For tickets ($32-$45), visit brownpapertickets.com/event/3105536. For Gays Against Guns info, visit gaysagainstguns.net.