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An Interview With The Marvelous Michael Musto

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CC: Who is the Marvelous Michael Musto?

MM: I'm just a simple kid from Brooklyn who landed into the most enchanted lifestyle imaginable.

CC: When did you see your first show?

MM:On a school trip, we went to see the original "Man of La Mancha," way into its run, so it wasn't even Richard Kiley playing the lead role, I don't think. The whole production had a shabby feeling to it by that point and it was all bleak and despairing beyond belief for me--I wanted something splashy and fun like a feathery, sequiny "No, No Nanette" sort of thing.

Next we saw "The Me Nobody Knows," which was a sweet, earnest little revue, but also not exactly what I had in mind. But I hung in there, knowing I'd ultimately connect with the magic of Broadway, and it surely happened. In '75, the year both A Chorus Line and Chicago hit Broadway, my head spun around and I became the ultimate theater queen for life.

CC: Top ten favorite Broadway shows?

MM:A Chorus Line, Chicago, Gypsy, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Annie, Dreamgirls, Moose Murders (I swear!).

Off Broadway: Little Shop of Horrors is my all-time favorite. I can't wait to see the revival. Feed me!!!

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C: I loved Little Shop of Horrors! I am looking forward to seeing Kerry Butler and Hunter Foster. What is a typical day in the life of Marvelous Musto?

MM: As a Voice columnist, I can set my own hours, working out of my home, but also stopping by the office every day to interact with actual humans. The day is mostly spent gabbing, going through invites, fielding calls, and writing. Then at 6 pm, my real work starts--living the man-about-town life that I write about. I go to screenings, then plays, then after-parties, then clubs. By the end of the week, if I'm still alive, I get to write whatever I want about it all.

CC: When did you realize your love of theater?

MM: I was a painfully shy only child and found some escape by appearing in school shows. Pretending to be other people helped bring me out of my shell and shed my inhibitions. In high school I won "Best Actor" in the school "Sing" by playing an Arab merchant. I also was Benny Southstreet in Guys and Dolls and Frump in How To Succeed.

At ColumbiaCollege, there wasn't as much theater to be involved in, but I wormed my way into the Barnard Gilbert and Sullivan Society and performed in everything from The Mikado to The Pirates of Penzance. Again, it was a great release and a wonderful creative experience that took me out of my doldrums and helped me appreciate the joy
of the theater. I way preferred it my actual studies!

CC: What makes you tick? What are your passions?

MM:I'm deeply driven and want my finger stuck in every pot there is. It's not enough for me to cover theater, I have to throw myself around every other art form, and do so thoroughly and relentlessly. My passion is New York and the vitality that makes it special. I want to be immersed in every aspect of that, and by going out and taking in culture nonstop, I've made my life into an ongoing rollercoaster ride of fun and frolic. It's a dream job that I can
safely recommend to anyone!

CC: What are you most proud of?

MM:The fact that I've done things my way, which hasn't always been the easiest way. For better or worse, I've always tried to march to my own drum and tell it like it is, while preserving some integrity and style. God, I'm fabulous!

CC: Who have been your mentors throughout the years?

MM:When I started becoming interested in journalism, I admired Tom Wolfe and the New Journalism and also adored Rex Reed's crisply written, immensely enjoyable celebrity interviews. The late Arthur Bell, who did the Voice
column before me, was also an inspiration--funny, bitchy, insightful, and political. And Cynthia Heimel helped start me out back in the (now defunct) SoHo Weekly News. She wrote the Ms. Loneyhearts advice column and I regularly wrote in to her as "the Brooklyn Kid." She ended up hiring me for $15 an article, which at the time I thought was a goldmine.

CC: How did you become a writer?

MM:As a kid, I wrote little movie reviews on index cards and found writing to be a great means of self-expression and release. In high school, in addition to appearing in shows, I wrote for the school paper, and at Columbia I was the theater critic for the Columbia Spectator. Once I got out of school, I sent my clippings around and nabbed some freelance writing work while holding down full-time office jobs. Eventually, I was able to freelancefull-time, and when there was an opening at the Voice, I already had my foot in the door because I'd done a few features for them. I wrote a sample column and they liked it and gave me the job. My then-editor Karen Durbin said, "Do whatever you like with the column." Those were head-spinning, liberating words which allowed me to go to the limits of possibility. I never heard them again from anyone anywhere else!

CC: What are your hobbies?

MM:Collecting kitschy tchotchkes. Seeing old movies (though by now I've seen them all and have to simply watch them again.) Bike riding. Playing party games. Bowling. Karaoke. Anything that maintains the illusion that I'm still in my teens.

CC: Favorite gossip columnist?

MM:I devour them all on a daily basis, but I have to say my favorite is the New York Post's Page Six because it's so savvy, clever, and spicy, and they don't miss a trick. I'm scooped by them almost every week. I should hate them for that, but I'm noble enough not to.

CC: What reviewer do you usually agree with?

MM:I find that I usually disagree with all of them, but I respect the ones who make me want to keep reading them anyway. I always feel like I spotted things about a production that the critics didn't catch, but then I'll read things the critics say which enlighten me as well. I soak up all the critics and can't get enough of astute observation about theater. I rarely agree with Ben Brantley, but I appreciate his intelligence.

CC: I usually agree with Roma Torre from Onstage. I love that show. Anything you regret?

MM: My life is filled with regrets. I spend countless hours thinking "I should have done that" Or more likely, "I SHOULDN'T have done that." Regret is a complete waste of time because you can't go back and change anything, but I still enjoy it immensely. It's my favorite thing to do besides worrying.

CC: Are you sure you are not Jewish? We invented worrying... What was your childhood like?

MM:I'm the only Italian American only child ever! I was deeply shy and lonely and found refuge in the neighborhood one-dollar movie theater and also in TV variety shows like The Ed Sullivan Show, which showcased all the great talent of the moment, including Broadway stars like Julie Andrews and Carol Channing. Show biz became my escape and by time the gloriously sparkly Diana Ross came around, I was totally hooked.

CC: You have been writing for 18 years at the Voice and still have not aged. How do you stay so young? (is it really the Vitamin E?) You look marvelous darling! What is your secret?

MM:I have a portrait in the attic. Plus I liberally apply liquid Vitamin E on my face every day and it works--it melts away the years. And I have great genes--my parents are even older than I am and they look amazing!

CC: I guess that the worrying has not taken it's toll. What are your top ten favorite films?

The Guide for the Married Man, The April Fools, Valley of the Dolls, All About Eve, Umberto D, Casino Royale, What's New Pussycat?, The World of Henry Orient, Rosemary's Baby, Kiss Me Stupid.

CC: Favorite cuisine?

MM:I will eat anything that is put in front of me. I have never sent food back. I would probably even eat a bowl of Alpo if I was hungry enough. And the irony is, my mother is the best Italian cook in the world and should have
spoiled me for anything else. But I have one of those iron stomachs--especially when the food is free.

CC: Now I am really jealous. I just look at food and get heartburn! Favorite books... When you read what are some of the authors you read? Do you have a favorite play?

MM:My idea of a good book is usually something like Marie Claire or Teen People. But I'll devour any show biz book, especially theater-related stuff by Neil Simon, Philip Rose, Arthur Larents, etc. And I love reading plays by Tennessee Williams, August Wilson, Edward Albee, Sam Shepard, and Thornton Wilder. "Skin of Our Teeth" is my favorite. It's simultaneously hilarious and profound--the kind of writing we all aspire to.

CC: Do you have advice for new writers?

MM: Don't imitate. Find your own voice. And be aggressive. No one's going to knock your door down and find you--you have to go out there and promote your own talent. And if you can't deal with deadlines, don't bother. The constant pressure is a given in journalism. If you're good at meeting deadlines, you have a strong chance of making it; reliability is half the battle. If you're talented too, you're a shoo-in.

CC: When will you have a TV show again? I want to watch it!

Thank you! I was a regular correspondent on E!'s "The Gossip Show" for over five years and then I cohosted "New York Central" on the Metro Channel. Now I do TV here and there, but I want to have a more regular gig--maybe a "Michael Musto Show" with singing, dancing, and interviews. Let's all sign a petition demanding this!

CC: I want my MTV... (Musto TV that is!) Have you ever wanted to do anything else in addition to writing?

MM: Anything I've ever wanted to do, I've gotten to do. The Voice column is my home base and on the side I get to write for other publications, do books, and appear on TV. I've even gotten to do small roles in independent films,
play a cameo in The Women at Town Hall with Charles Busch and Lypsinka, and take part in other fun stuff like that. But I'm not cut out for anything other than what I do, believe me. So I'm sticking with it and having a ball!

CC: Thank you Michael for taking the time to talk to us today!

Michael Musto is a wonderful writer, passionate theater-goer, hilarious and a great interview. You can read his latest column at http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0330/musto.php.

Headshot courtesy of Robin Holland from the Village Voice.

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