Brooke Shields on the opening night of her series of presentations at Café Carlyle. Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
“Most of the time, I’m half happy.”
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Those words are Bob Dylan’s, and they were spoken by Brooke Shields last week, on the debut night of her sold-out show at Café Carlyle, the intimate Manhattan club where Bobby Short, Elaine Stritch and Debbie Harry have performed.
This came five months after Shields returned to the spotlight with The Brooke Shields Story, an acclaimed documentary that chronicled the ups and downs of a career dating back to the 1970s when, as a child, the actress and model was promoted as a sex symbol.
Several celebrities came to see her at the venue, which is a few blocks from the Upper East Side apartment where she grew up. At a table near the stage were actors Naomi Watts, Billy Crudup and Laura Dern. Nearby was Mariska Hargitay, with whom Shields worked on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Among the crowd were two men who had performed cabaret shows at the Carlyle: Isaac Mizrahi, who designed the loose orange dress Shields wore, and Alan Cumming.
Whether on purpose or by chance, Shields, 58, has reflected the zeitgeist throughout her nearly five-decade career. In the 1970s, where there was no shortage of lust and drugs galore, Shields starred (at age 11) in Pretty Girl, Louis Malle’s film about the romantic relationship between an adult man and a child prostitute. In the 1980s, hardworking and famous for anti-drug campaigns like “Just Say No,” she graduated from Princeton University and wrote a self-help book for teenagers in which she discussed her decision to remain a virgin.
Celebrity guests at the show included, from left, Laura Dern, Billy Crudup and Naomi Watts. Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
In the following decade she appeared on Broadway (in a revival of Grease), demonstrated her talent for slapstick in a hit sitcom (Suddenly Susan), and married and divorced a tennis star (Andre Agassi). In 2001 she married comedy writer and filmmaker Chris Henchy, with whom she had two daughters, and she returned to the Broadway stage with Chicago. She also found time to write memoirs and host a podcast, “Now What.”
Shields also said during the show that at one point in her varied career, “I performed at Sea World. With Lucille Ball.”
His residency at Café Carlyle will last until September 23rd. Tickets are sold out for every night. On Tuesday she kicked off her performance with “I think We’re Alone Now,” turning the song into a wry lament about the few times she’s felt alone since her mother decided she would be a star.
“I practically came out of the womb famous,” she said during a spoken interlude. “They tell me the doctor asked for a selfie.”
She also went through periods when her career seemed over: “The other day,” she said from the stage, “I was at the airport and the flight attendant came up to me and said, ‘Oh my God, you’re Caitlyn Jenner!’” .
In “Fame Is Weird,” a song that Matthew Sklar and Amanda Green wrote for the show, he moved from his encounters with audiences to his experiences with other celebrities. In the introduction, she said that she had rejected Donald Trump when he asked her out, but later acknowledged that she had agreed to Elizabeth Taylor’s request that she pre-chew her gum.
“I chewed it first, so I came out ahead,” Shields said.
Mariska Hargitay, seen here speaking with actress Beth Ostrosky Stern, worked with Shields on the show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
She also told how some of the most famous women in the world treated her meanly. When she met Bette Davis at the Oscars, she told her, “Hi, I’m Brooke Shields,” to which the star responded, “Yes, you are.” Something similar happened when Ben Stiller took her to Madonna’s house, Shields said. The greeting she received from Madonna was curt: “Oh, it’s you.”
In many ways, the show looks like an effort by Shields to deal with the ambivalence of being a little more grounded after the years of her great childhood and teenage stardom. In the second part of the show, he mocked and paid tribute to his mother, Teri Shields, who in the 1970s and ’80s became the focus of society’s misgivings about growing up in recording studios and sexualization of children in Hollywood.
“She’s been in the press almost longer than I have,” Shields said, “and maybe all of you have an opinion about her.”
He later acknowledged that life with his mother, who died in 2012, was not all bad.
“There was a lot of laughter and a lot of fun,” he said. “He did very crazy things. He would see a dog tied up outside a store, waiting for its owner to return, and he would stand in front of the dog and say: ‘They will never come back.’ It was very cruel. Dark. But very fun.”
He also talked about his mother’s alcoholism. “We named a cocktail at the bar after her. We actually named several of them after her,” Shields said, before getting serious about how much she missed her. She added that one of the reasons she wanted to perform at the Carlyle was because her mother had taken her there when she was young. “She would be very proud,” she said.
That said, it kicked off with Dylan’s melancholic “Most of the Time.”
Shields donned a cowboy hat to sing Dolly Parton’s hit “9 to 5.” Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Shields, who appeared to have a cold, sounded a little like Bob Dylan as his throat began to crack. She then began to talk about the tribulations of being the wife of Henchy, who was sitting in the audience, and the mother of two teenage daughters, Rowan and Grier. While she performed “Count to Ten” by Tina Dico, she apologized to a man sitting near the stage, who got most of her saliva.
Towards the end, he sang “Faith,” a 1987 hit by an acquaintance of his, George Michael. She performed the lyrics with conviction, while also using the song to make a cheeky reference to the nights she performed for the paparazzi as the public girlfriend of George Michael and Michael Jackson.
After the applause, fashion designer Christian Siriano offered a succinct critique: “It was great, although it’s obvious he has Covid.”
Moments later, Shields emerged from her dressing room and quickly greeted her friends and supporters. A waiter asked him what he wanted to drink. “Tequila,” she responded, before heading to a corner table to chat with a journalist.
When told what Siriano thought, he replied: “I don’t have Covid!” But she said that she did have a respiratory ailment that had landed her in the hospital a few days before the show.
His singing teacher brought him cough drops. Publicists stalked her. Shields explained that her cabaret show began taking shape in the spring. With the help of writer-director Nate Patten, as well as musical director Charlie Alterman, Ella Shields said she had wanted to organize an evening in which she would tell her own story honestly and, at the same time, make it a comedy source.
Alan Cumming in the company of Laura Dern. Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Shields was aware that this was a difficult time to humanize the people who had decided it was appropriate for her to appear in a movie at age 11 as someone whose virginity was being auctioned off. But her mother was still her mother, and he loved her.
“Real life happens in ambivalence,” he said. “The important thing about all this is that we are neither one thing nor the other. We are human beings, and we are full of restlessness.”
Shields received questions about her experience with Trump.
“I was making a movie in the late ’90s,” he said. “My phone rang and it was him. He told me: ‘You and I should go out. You are America’s spoiled sweetheart and I am the richest man in the world. People will love it.’ At that moment I held back my laughter and said, ‘Thank you, I feel very flattered, but I have a boyfriend and I don’t think he would like me leaving him.’ And he said, ‘Well, I think you’re making a big mistake.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll take my chances with my decision.'”
Didn’t you know George Michael was gay? And did they really have a date?
“A few,” he said. “He was very respectful of my virginity.”
“Read the book!” shouted a publicist, referring to There Was a Little Girl, the 2014 autobiography in which she tells the story.
Shields added that even though her relationships with Michael and Jackson seemed like just a farce, she had real connections with both of them.
“We had a lot of fun,” he said. “I wasn’t just a purpose, like a facade. In reality it was more than that. The conversations, the fears, the discussions.”
The talk then turned to his podcast—on which he has spoken with Stacey Abrams, Rosie O’Donnell, Chelsea Handler and Kris Jenner—and the one person he was looking forward to meeting: Britney Spears, who hasn’t given an interview in years.
“I’ve tried really hard to find a way to be the first to interview her,” Shields said. “And I haven’t achieved it. But I am the only person who could do justice to the reality of the story. Whichever is”.
(c) The New York Times