Although Candace Bushnell’s one-woman show, Is There Still Sex in the City?, shares the same name with her 2019 novel/self-help book, the stage show now at the Darryl Roth Theatre is her autobiography telling the story of her life and career. Ms. Bushnell proves to be a vivacious performer with a great deal of stage presence, not surprising for a woman who was the model for Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. The show is both entertaining and revealing, correcting many misconceptions about the true adventures of the author. She also gets to change into a dazzling array of outfits by Lisa Zinni in an attractive apartment setting by Anna Louizos which colorfully lit by Travis McHale. And like Carrie Bradshaw she collects shoes which are in evidence in the shelves on the stage.
Under the smart, astute direction of Lorin Latarro, Bushnell makes use of the entire stage, answering phone calls from her friends Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha (not their real names), and changing costumes periodically. There is also a call for audience participation as she plays the “Real or Not Real” game, straightening out facts or misconceptions about her life once and for all (she did date a senator but it turned out differently than you may have heard). She is also modest and unassuming, surprised that her books have done so well, but equally astounded when one of them pleases no one. Promising to reveal how she wrote Sex and the City, Bushnell begins with her story of her career from her childhood, up until now when she gave up the city for life in Sag Harbor, Long Island, along with a great many of her women friends. As a child she was already a feminist and a fashionista. When her father informed her that she was flat chested and would need to do something else with her life, her previous interest in being a writer came to the surface. Arriving in Manhattan in 1977, she hooks up with a famous writer and learns about sex. When her attempt to write short stories doesn’t sell, she auditions for a television commercial but doesn’t like how the actresses are treated.
She breaks into magazine writing with her article “How to Act at a Disco,” and finds that she has to drop her pseudonym and use her real name. After a stint with a European with a title and a castle, she tried out for a job at the New York Observer which she doesn’t get but she is called back to try out her own column to be called “Sex and the City.” She meets Mr. Big and she appears on the cover of the new Styles section of the New York Times. Her essays are published in book form, and the book is turned into a hit television series.
She hooks up with various celebrities and each of her successive books reaches higher on the New York Times Best Seller List. Her sixth book The Carrie Diaries lands at No. 1 on the best seller list and her life changes. She marries a famous ballet dancer but that marriage breaks up after ten years. And then she discovers that as a divorced, single woman again she can’t get a mortgage which comes as a shock. Losing interest in the city, she moves to Sag Harbor where at 63 she now has an entirely new life with many of her old friends who have joined her. She now feels she is reinvigorating herself, not reinventing herself as she had done earlier in her life.
Bushnell tells her story and her anecdotes with a great deal of panache and style and keeps the reveals and the surprises coming. She brings out her two dogs at one point and along the way she also gives us her ten lessons for relationships, all them excellent pieces of advice. Her delivery is breezy and conversational like an actress who has appeared on talk shows every day of her life. In fact, the show was presented at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania, earlier this year.
She changes Zinni’s costumes often, appearing in pink, blue and gold lamé outfits, mainly with miniskirts, which show off her statuesque figure and great legs. Louizos’ boudoir setting includes a pink sofa, a huge clothes rack, a computer table and a drinks cart, all of are used in the course of the show. Sadah Espii Proctor’s sound design is periodically punctuated with songs that ironically comment on Bushnell’s story such as “I Love New York,” “Love to Love You, Baby,” “After the Love Is Gone,” “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “I’m Too Sexy,” etc. McHale apparently enjoyed his job lighting this show, turning the stage a ravishing purple, pink, blue, rose, or lavender, at various times in the evening, suiting the color to the mood. Caite Hevner’s projections offer photographic proof of much we are told.
While Is There Still Sex in the City? is not as titillating as you might have expected, it is always entertaining and illuminating about life in New York in the last 40 years. As you would expect from her books, Candace Bushnell is excellent company as she dishes the dirt, and though she is not a comic she is a wonderful storyteller. There will be many who will be sorry when the show is over wanting to hear more anecdotes and yet one more piece of gossip. It is as though you have been invited into her home to hear her life and adventures which are worth listening to. A bar in the theater offers appropriate cocktails both before and after the show.
Is There Still Sex in the City? (through December 19, 2021)
Darryl Roth Theatre, 101 E. 15th Street, in Manhattan
Running time: one hour and 30 minutes without an intermission