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Halston Star Makes Provincetown Debut

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by Steve Desroches

It took 25 years to get Halston made. The Netflix series about the life and times of the famed fashion designer came out of a 1996 conversation between producer Christine Vachon and director/writer Daniel Minahan. As scripts and concepts tend to do, the story of Halston swirled around with fits and starts for years until, in partnership with Ryan Murphy Productions, the series was finally made. Premiering last spring, Halston was met with critical acclaim, and Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of the title character earned, as of this writing days before the ceremony, an Emmy Award nomination.

With Vachon, Minahan, and Murphy all having deep Provincetown roots, the show was of particular interest in town. But one of the most common comments along Commercial Street as townspeople finished watching the disco era epic were raves about the performance of Krysta Rodriguez as Halston’s best friend, Liza Minnelli. In a lush and gorgeous performance, Rodriguez dispensed with any trappings that other portrayals use that reduce Minnelli to a caricature or a figure of jazz hands mythology. Rather, it’s a tender-hearted presentation of a woman who is at the top of her game as she and Halston maneuver the grit and glamour that was New York City in the 1970s, skipping over the velvet rope of Studio 54, but essentially traversing the decadent era on a tightrope with no net. Rodriguez and McGregor also presented an old story in a completely fresh and respectful manner—that is the relationship between a straight woman and a gay man—without resorting to tropes and stereotypes, but rather fully realizing the characters and a story of two American icons that love and support each other fully.

“What’s beautiful about the story is they really met each other and then became themselves with each other,” says Rodriguez. “You need people like that in your life. I grew up in Orange County, California, but I grew up in New York. That’s when I decided who I really was and the group of friends I had at that time was so important to me. That group of friends at that time in your life is so important. For Liza and Halston, I think before they met they were the beta versions of each other. They took off together. They really loved each other. I think they were each other’s soulmates.”

While certainly no stranger to television, as Rodriguez has had roles in hit shows like Smash, Trial & Error, and Daybreak, Halston brought a whole new level of attention to her work. It also brought her to Provincetown, as the cast assembled here back in May the weekend Halston premiered to celebrate at the invitation of Minahan and Murphy, both of whom have homes here. And now Rodriguez is coming back to perform this weekend at the Art House for two evenings of song and storytelling with Seth Rudetsky as host and pianist.

Undoubtedly, stories of Halston will come up, and perhaps a Liza standard or two, but Rodriguez’s extensive Broadway and other stage work will fill out the show as it is her passion. Hailing from California, her family went on a vacation to New York when she was just six years old, taking her to see her first Broadway show, the 1990 revival of Fiddler on the Roof. That’s when she fell in love with Broadway and New York City. It was then she promised herself that both New York and its many stages would be her home someday. And indeed it all happened. After high school she enrolled as a student at New York University, but left before graduating as she found work as an actor relatively quickly appearing in the New York City Center revival of Bye, Bye Birdie and the next year making her Broadway debut in the Beach Boys jukebox musical Good Vibrations.

Rodriguez continued to shine on the Great White Way in A Chorus Line, In The Heights, The Addams Family, and in Spring Awakening, a show that she said changed her life forever. But it’s New York City itself that really left an impression. “I felt from an early age that I always wanted to move to New York,” says Rodriguez. “And as soon as I could I did. I love everything about it. The people are a rare breed, and I’m proud to be a part of that. It can be hard, but it’s really like a relationship. It’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had. Sometimes you just love it, sometimes you get a little tired of it, maybe need to go away and begin to miss it. To need it again.”

While Halston may be a fictional take on two very real people, its depiction of New York in the 70s provides perhaps its most authentic moments, capturing the era with time-machine accuracy and making it a story about the city as much as Halston and Minnelli. Rodriguez concurs New York is one of those rare cities that actually has a heartbeat that can be felt from miles away. When the pandemic hit, and it hit New York early and hard, the city’s stages went dark and the pulse of the city weakened. So much of what makes New York special and at times magical disappeared, with anxiety creeping in as to whether or not it would come back. Over the past few weeks Broadway theaters have begun to open, having been closed since March 2020. It’s all still there, says Rodriguez, that New York feeling. Be it Liza and Halston at Studio 54 or Rodriguez and her Broadway friends singing at 54 Below, New York’s magic is indestructible.

“It’s wild,” says Rodriguez. “I was just in Times Square for the first time in a very long time and it feels like there’s just so many people out. There’s a desire to be here. There’s an electricity to it all. I was worried that we might be becoming just fine with life being largely virtual. That we wouldn’t want to experience things communally anymore. But how eager people are to get back to the theater, this gives me a lot of hope. I just said to a friend that it’s crazy Waitress had a show last night. It’s almost so normal. You would think it would feel strange, but really it just feels normal. It feels like it always has. It’s just wild.”

Krysta Rodriguez performs with Seth Rudetsky as host and pianist at the Art House, 214 Commercial St., Friday, September 24 and Saturday, September 25 at 7 p.m. Tickets ($50/$75/$100) are available at the box office and online at ptownarthouse.com. For more information call 508.487.9222.