Musto Down Below
(Michael Musto on stage earlier this year)
It’s easy to get sucked into nostalgia surrounding the late-’70s/early-’80s golden era of Studio 54. Glitz, glamour, a crowd of people who actually knew how to dance—not to mention that the fabulousness of gay life was not only accepted but openly celebrated in the mixed crowd. Although that time may be gone forever, man about town Michael Musto is bringing disco back to 54th Street with a show at 54 Below, the subterranean cabaret space beneath what was once the most famous club in the world. He’s joined forces with disco tribute band Elektrik Company, former Village People cowboy Randy Jones, downtown impresarios Snooky & Tish and actress/singer-songwriter Orfeh to do a set of lighthearted disco numbers. To satisfy our ever-present thirst for juicy tidbits from an era long passed, we got Musto chatting about Studio’s glory days.
Getting the gig:
“In the 1980s I had a band called The Must and we did Motown cover songs. I would mostly do a flamboyant gay male impression of Diana Ross, and just like the Supremes had become Diana Ross and the Supremes, we became Michael Musto and The Must. And Keith Sherman, who’s the publicist for 54 Below, remembered that.”
Say hello to Liza:
“There was one night I noticed Chita Rivera’s daughter, Lisa Mordente, was hanging out with her best friend at the time, Liza Minnelli, so I went up to Lisa Mordente and just started schmoozing her, waiting for Lisa to say, ‘Oh, Michael, this is Liza Minnelli.’ But she never did.”
Brooklyn in the house:
“Well, I was fresh out of school and Studio 54 was one of my first clubs. So that’s like really starting at the very top. It’s really the ultimate nightclub in modern history, I’d say. I was so dazzled by the celebrities and the music and the special effects that I didn’t even notice that there was a basement where celebrities went to do coke, which is where I’ll be performing. Now people are just on prescription drugs. And also there was sex going on [in] the balcony, but I was just running around the dance floor and having such a great time because I was so into disco music. You would find yourself running into all kinds of celebrities, who were much less agoraphobic back then. You would see Michael Jackson, Dolly Parton, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote. I found myself dancing with Margaux Hemingway and I was just a schlub from Brooklyn.”
Returning to his former haunt:
“I’ve been there many times and it has such a different feeling now. Now it’s the home of Patti LuPone. Very classy entertainment. I might actually look through the walls, you know, crack open the walls and look through there. Because [club owners] Steve [Rubell] and Ian [Schrager] were in prison for hiding cash in the walls. They were busted by the IRS. That was pretty much the end; then it was sold and that was the end of the era.”
Michael Musto’s ’70s Disco Extravaganza at 54 Below, 254 W 54th St (btwn Seventh/Eighth Aves), Feb 17 at 9:30pm; $20. Visit 54below.com for more info.