Palmer rang in the new year with a bawdy Boston Pops performance that scandalized Symphony Hall regulars, then got engaged to bestselling fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, 16 years her senior. Later that month, she delighted fans and angered disabled feminists when she toured the world with Jason Webley in a two-headed dress for their ersatz conjoined twins music act Evelyn Evelyn.
As she has gained renown — or notoriety — Palmer has continued to go back to Lexington High to commune with Bogart. As far as she's concerned, he's a world-class talent. She refers to him as "Bogart," as though Humphrey had never existed. Bogart has taught drama at Lexington for 20 years, and Palmer says she was able to bond with his current students. "I knew they had Bogart, and we spoke Bogart," she says, grabbing at the air in front of my face as though about to remove a scarf hanging from my nose.
LIFE OF THE PARTY: Palmer prides herself on “creating this ... crazy life art party environment,” she says. “It isn’t so much about being famous or being loved but about having a lot of cool friends.”
Palmer isn't the only one of Bogart's students to go on to a career in showbiz.
"Steven Bogart was a wonderful teacher," comedian Eugene Mirman tells me from his home in New York. "He was very creative and very encouraging. Our school plays were very involved and very interesting."
"The first student-directed play I was in was Eugene's," says Palmer. She played two parts. "One was to come onstage with a group of people and scream at the protagonist, 'Pants, pants, pants!' over and over again. In the dream sequence, I came out onstage wrapped in Christmas lights, and I had to gyrate around wildly."
"I don't think she was a Christmas tree per se, but she was wrapped in lots of Christmas lights," Mirman says. "She very well might have been yelling 'Pants, pants, pants.' I don't remember the details but that sounds extremely possible."
Palmer describes Bogart's productions as "heavy fucking duty."
"There was a really beautiful [play] that he did after I graduated called Winter's Fruit, which is about a girl having an affair with her father and getting pregnant," she says. "The whole play was about the strange love triangle in this family. This was wack-ass theater. She was pregnant with twins, and two of the girls played the fetuses. Part of the set was a sort of womb, and these girls were in the womb, throughout the show, developing."
Palmer laughs as she recalls Winter's Fruit, but her faith in Bogart and the value of his work is deadly serious. "It was this constant push toward authentic art, this idea that you could do anything. He's constantly pushing the envelope in terms of form."
At this point I'm imagining an artiste in a flowing scarf and a beret, but when I meet Steve Bogart one afternoon before Cabaret rehearsals, he is dressed in dark jeans and a T-shirt, a black vest, and round wire-rimmed glasses. He looks like a high-school teacher.