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Meet Daniel Nardicio, the Impresario Behind 'An Evening with Alan Cumming'

by Steve Weinstein

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday August 4, 2014

What do Lady Gaga, Carol Channing, Levi Johnston, a room full of underwear clad partygoers and tonight's performance "An Evening with Alan Cumming" all have in common? New York City nightlife impresario Daniel Nardicio.

Tonight's "An Evening with Alan Cumming" marks the long awaited Provincetown debut of New York City's most eclectic nightlife promoter, Daniel Nardicio. Considered by some to be the love child of the Happy Hooker and PT Barnum, Nardicio's journey to New England's premiere gay vacation spot has been unorthodox to say the very least.

Nardicio's journey started in the early 2000's with an underwear party at the Marquee, a dive-y cabaret space on the Bowery in Manhattan, back when that street was still the city's version of Skid Row, the last stop for bottom-of-the-barrel alcoholics. There was only one rule: Everyone (including the occasional visiting ladies) had to strip down to their bare essentials. After that, it was anything goes -- and anything went, along with go-go boys who didn't stop at underwear. This was one party where revelers could do more than ogle sample the goods; for a tip, one could sample the goods.

From there, Nardicio built up bar nights mostly in the surrounding East Village neighborhood. He also hosted a well-received weekly radio show where slumming celebrities could rub shoulders and trade barbs with drag queens, professional scenesters and rough trade. By discovering and championing big-boned gals like Dirty Martini and the Fabulous B*B, he was responsible for the revival of burlesque, which brought back an art form that (as any devotee of the Broadway musical "Gypsy" knows) went into a steep decline in the 1930s.

Nardicio's reputation reached the ears of the new owners of the bankrupted Playgirl magazine, who hired him to rebrand the venerable male skin magazine. He promoted it to the community that was always the unacknowledged audience anyway, gay men.

Nardicio managed his first major coup when he snagged an exclusive photo shoot with a cute Alaskan roughneck with the then most famous penis in America, Levi Johnston, the baby daddy of 2008 Vice-Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin. Forget what Palin dismissed as that "hopey-changey" stuff the Democratic candidate, Ill. Sen. Barack Obama was dishing up: The headline "Johnston flashes his Johnson" was too irresistible, and Nardicio suddenly found himself briefly in the middle of the national political conversation.

After Johnston went back to hunting moose in Wasilla, Alaska, Nardicio was restless. He had already conquered gay subterranean nightlife, soft-core porn and niche burlesque revues. What next? Nardicio set his sites on Fire Island. After a brief sojourn in the upscale gay community of Fire Island Pines, Nardicio was attracted by its older, smaller, grittier neighbor, Cherry Grove.

He immediately set out to revive the town's major nightclub, the Ice Palace, with -- what else? -- an underwear party that has become the most popular weekly event in either town. But he was aiming higher and was determined to bring entertainment from New York to a venue dominated by local drag queens.

Among the then-unknowns Nardicio had signed up to perform was a somewhat awkward but highly talented songwriting pianist. By summer 2008, Stefani Germanotta had shot to fame with "The Fame." To her everlasting credit, Lady Gaga honored the commitment, and on Aug. 8, 2008, she traveled to the tiny beach resort to perform at an Underwear Party -- the only performance where Lady Gaga was the most conservatively dressed person in the room.

The only thing that could top the reigning dance diva was to bring in the reigning gay goddess. So in 2012, Minnelli and Cumming in what Cumming told the crowd was "probably the gayest experience you'll ever have." (In the Pines the same night, the Pines' community house hosted Jane Powell, a girl-next-door star of MGM musicals of the early '50s. You do the math.)

"It was a seminal Fire Island moment," fashion designer Michael Kors told the New York Times. (That's "seminal" as in a defining historical event, not the splooge that makes babies.)

And although Minnelli's unfortunate cancellation at tonight's shows in Provincetown due to medical reasons may disappoint some at first, her cohort Alan Cumming has promised that the show will go on.

Nardicio credits Rick Murray, owner of the Crown & Anchor, for doing much of the leg work to bring Cumming to town. "He called me," Nardicio explained. "We got Alan from his night off."

The Tony Award winner's one man show "An Evening with Alan Cumming," which debuted to critical acclaim as part of Lincoln Center's American Songbook Series, will receive its New England premiere this evening as a replacement for the scheduled Liza and Alan performances.

For tickets and information, visit the Crown and Anchor website.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).