Winter Park's Millennium restaurant seemed a perfect choice for the "Geisha Glam" party Bruce Marshall had elected to throw last Saturday night. It was Nippon atmosphere he was after, so why not capitalize on the existing ambience of a venue that had already reinvented itself as a Japanese steakhouse of the August moon?
I wonder, then, if the detail-oriented impresario was as amused as I was to walk into the sushi joint on Saturday and realize that the most prominent decorations were Don Howard's faux Aztec masks, which stared down from the walls as the month's featured art exhibit. Talk about culture shock; we weren't even on the right continent.
Marshall didn't appear fazed. Instead, he worked the crowd with customary energy, glad-handing and showing off the impossibly long tails of his tuxedo. Though the party invitations had called for rising-sun style, Marshall's outfit didn't strike me as particularly Asian in nature. Watching his stocky, black-and-white frame pass among the rows of hard-partying club kids, the closest antecedent I could come up with was a more gregarious version of Oddjob from the James Bond movie "Goldfinger." Wait ... wasn't he Korean?
One from column A,
and one from column B
Lounge siren Sarah Hayes, however, had gone all out to play the role of frontwoman for Kung Foo Kitty and the Swinging Nunchucks, the evening's musical entertainment. Sauntering onstage in a sleeveless red kimono, her newly scarlet tresses pinned up beneath a short black wig, she was convincing enough to fool a friend seated at my table. "Is she really Japanese?" my dis-Oriented pal inquired. No, but she may own some Sony audio equipment. I'll have to check.
Although the Kung Foo Kitty guise was a winking self-parody of Hayes' latest project, Red Hot Kitty and the Alley Cats, she told me later that the lineups of the Cats and Nunchucks were totally and unavoidably different. The lure of high-paying holiday gigs had left her without a band for the night, forcing her to fill the hole with available friends and other musos who didn't mind the short notice.
The sheet music spread before them was the only sign that this was a basically unrehearsed bunch. No missed cues or sour notes were heard as the 'Chucks tore through numerous sets of the swing standards that seem to follow Hayes through every one of her chameleonic incarnations (Le Chanteuse and the Badass Belting Babes, Bassafanado, Red Hot Kitty ... filing tax returns must be hell for this woman).
Swingerhead guitarist Quiche Lorraine supplied some lovely, round notes, squeezing in one last Orlando performance before her Monday flight to New York City, where she's accepted a position with the Camaros. As a send-off, she got to listen as Hayes reinvented "The Girl from Ipanema" as "The Girl from Okinawa," the better to serve the evening's Tojo-centric theme. If this was a seat-of-the-pants gig, it left the Alley Cats (who I've not yet heard) with some big sandals to fill.
Inhibitions loosened as the carefree party mood took hold. A lady hotelier of my acquaintance swept over to our table in a flutter of crimson. The red of her dress matched that of my face as she fixed her eyes on my friend's dangerously low neckline and exclaimed, "My God, look at your cleavage! I love it!" My jaw did its best Jesse Owens impression on its way to the floor, but fortunately, her comment was received as the compliment it was meant to be.
The room was beginning to fill up, proving that Marshall's followers will support him no matter how many other entertainment options Orlando can throw at them. At the outset of the evening, the sparse attendance had me afraid that the "Party for Life" AIDS benefit in Wall Street Plaza would gut the "Geisha" turnout, but not even the last-minute addition of spoken-word kamikaze Gregory Patrick to the downtown bill ultimately deterred the Marshallites from their appointed trip to little Tokyo.
I only wished that more of them had dressed for the occasion. A good theme party demands appropriate attire, but less than 10 women had broken out kimonos of their own. As for their dates ... well, let's just say that you can't get a straight guy to dress up for a funeral these days.
The female staff of Park Avenue's Tuni's clothing shop made for an oasis of style as they held court at the back bar. Co-owner Paige Blackwelder kept one careful eye on the antics of employees Brenda Vernon and Brenda Crossman as they camped it up in togs that were more flapperlike than kabuki. Brenda C. had followed Hayes' example in hiding her red hair under a jet-black number, but Brenda V. was bare-headed, claiming that she had "done the China-doll wig thing this week already."
Vernon was obviously having a good time living out the stereotype of the jaded party girl who's been there, done that, and then gone back to do some more. "The whole world hates my cheekbones," she deadpanned, flicking her boa in my face for emphasis.
Then they were off, to scope the action downtown at "Boobarella." I didn't correct them; they knew what they meant.
Nothing that followed reached the same level of brazenly fabulous kitsch, but Marshall did his best to keep the party moving, dancing with his young guests as the Nunchucks put some extra jump into their jive.
As closing time approached, I stole some quick words with the big man, who told me that the evening's "Presented by the Glambassador's Club" tag did indeed spell the end of his old outfit, Brujodada. The art-and-party collective had splintered into individual interests, Marshall's taking him back and forth to Los Angeles for film and TV work.
He'll again be headed to the land of earthquakes in late January, but not before staging a hastily arranged block party Saturday, Dec. 19, on New England Avenue (near his own Halo store), with performances by Orlando acts ranging from Blue Meridian to The Hate Bombs.
And after that? Like a martini-swilling Frosty the Snowman, he'll be back soon. "This is going to be my hometown," he promised, testifying that none of the places he had ever lived had rivaled Orlando for the sweetness of its population and the promise of its community.
You got that right, Bruce-san. And how about those cheekbones?