Terrence McNally’s Tony Award-winning Love! Valour! Compassion! was a far better play than a movie (Oscar didn’t so much as glance its way). And yet the movie’s worth a viewing, if nothing else than to see original Broadway cast members Justin Kirk, Stephen Bogardus and, especially, John Glover act their thespian hearts out. (Regrettably, in one of queer cinema’s greatest instances of miscasting, Buzz, the award-winning role originated by Nathan Lane, was mangled by Jason Alexander.) A soul-searching tale of a group of gay friends who use vacation time to work out their interpersonal problems and internal issues, L!V!C! is like a latter-day Boys in the Band, but with the bitchiness set to mute. McNally has penned some iconic gay works, but one of his finest achievements is a comedy that queer cinemaphiles might consider a throwaway. Yet The Ritz is anything but. An exuberant, uproarious door-slamming farce, The Ritz is notable for its setting — a gay Manhattan bathhouse in the ’70s. (The plot involves a straight businessman hiding from a homicidal mobster.) Like L!V!C!, The Ritz mines members from its original Broadway cast — Rita Moreno, Jerry Stiller, Jack Weston and the scene-stealing F. Murray Abraham as a feisty bear-lover (or, as they called it in those days, “chubby chaser”). The surprise scene-stealer is hunky Treat Williams, who plays a police detective with an unfortunate vocal issue. For those who remember the way bathhouses once were — complete with female entertainers! — The Ritz is a throwback to an era long gone. For everyone else, it’s a history lesson with a terrific sense of humor.
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