Every day is opening night.

“New York, New York”

SRO at The Pride

Ladies and Gents,

Why was I always so terrified of Off-Broadway? Ever since the 60’s, the term always conjures images of shirtless performance artists with unkempt facial hair smoking clove cigarettes (and those were the women!) Well, times have sure changed! I snuck into Primary Stages’ home at 59E59 to catch Lucinda Coxon’s new play, Happy Now? What a chic space (with a chic bar serving chic cocktails to chic theatergoers). As for the play– a gem! For all you New York residents feeling harried and stressed, you will without question relate to the central character, the has-it-all-but-is-dissatisfied-with-it-all Kitty, played pitch-perfectly by one of New York’s hardest working stage stars: the great Mary Bacon. And, while normally I’d tell you to “run, don’t walk” to catch this great play, you can slow down a bit as it has just been extended by popular demand through March 21.

Well, I may have been reluctant to head Off-Broadway, but I was as eager-as-a-beaver to slip into one of my favorite haunts: the legendary Birdland jazz club (which turned 60 this year) to catch the opening night performance of Hilary Kole. I’ve always felt a special connection to Birdland (perhaps because my parents were dear friends with Charlie “Bird” Parker, for whom the club is named. Charlie ran with a pretty fast crowd, but he used to get together with my parents on evenings when he was craving a slower pace – and you’d be hard pressed to find two people slower than my dear old mom and dad.) When I walked in, I was whisked right to Table 1 so I could properly see and be seen — they know how to treat a columnist! The divine Kathryn Altman, whose wit and beauty haven’t been the least bit diminished by Time, popped by my table to say “hi” and remind me that I was in “the best room in New York!” And Kathryn ought to know! She was seated with classical music world honchos Stacey Weston and Catherine Cahill, as well as with the great artist Jean Patrick Guilbert (none of whom made the pilgrimage to Table 1, but waved politely from their table). As for the show, I had never before seen Ms. Kole perform, but my buddy Rex Reed has been raving about her for years so I figured I ought to find out what all the fuss was about. Well, I hate her. Anyone that gorgeous shouldn’t be allowed to be so talented. What a voice, and what charisma! She held the full room captive for over an hour. I was so entranced I (nearly) forgot to drink my cocktail! Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised to wake up on Friday to see an all out rave in The New York Times for this divine creature of the night!

I’m already planning my return visit to Birdland! My darling waitress (who was young enough to be my granddaughter) told me all about Jim Caruso’s “Cast Party” he throws on Monday nights for the Broadway set. Apparently it’s like witnessing an open mic night populated by a group of the most talented performers in the world. Oh, and it can be rowdy: said my waitress, “it gets wild!” Said me, “Will I need shoulder pads and a helmet?” Said she, “No, just a sense of humor and a stiff drink.” Well, sign me up and make mine a double!

Tonight is the opening night of The Pride, with all those fabulous-looking (and svelte!) Brits. Those of you who follow me on twitter (@scoopverbena) will remember that I was moved to tears at the first preview, and I can’t wait to see how it has shaped up. The after party is being held at what I’m told is one of downtown Manhattan’s chicest venues: the Cabanas at the Maritime Hotel. It may be winter outside, kids, but tonight I’ll be whooping it up in a cabana! To steal a phrase from my dear friend Cindy: “only in New York!”

And speaking of fab Brits, I met up with Lord Charles Churchill at the Carlyle Hotel for coffee (with a name like that you’d think he’d be a tea drinker, but you’d be wrong). He has convinced the fabulous English actor John Standing to put together a cabaret act, “John Standing Performing Noël Coward.” Next week Standing is bringing it to the Café Carlyle. Opening night promises to be the social event of the season. Churchill is planning a bash in the style of the parties Coward used to throw in his day, and inviting the most wonderful cross-section of displaced Brits, socialites and celebs. The theme, naturally, is “A Marvelous Party.” He promised me a prime seat and I told him I want to be seated with my three favorite Collins: Joan to my left, Jackie to my right and Tom in my hand!

Some starry tidbits from around town:

• Spotted Katie Holmes, in little-or-no make-up but still chic as can be, leading the standing ovation at a performance of The Pride and then smiling and greeting every star-struck soul who crossed her path.

• Overheard Kristen Johnson (or, if not, it was an absolute dead-ringer) laughing at the top of her lungs at Babbo, where she was dining with a group of distinguished-looking men.

• Ran into Derek Jeter on Madison Avenue, who stopped to welcome me to New York.

• Saw stylist-extraordinaire Robert Verdi trying to hail a cab in the snow on 39th Street. “Look at me, Scoop! When this stuff melts, my leather jacket will be destroyed. And I paid for it myself. Put that in your column.” And so I did!

As always, a toast of something sparkling to you and yours!