1 to 5 Musical Theatre Month: Keep it Gay!

The link for today’s five musicals is gay characters. Ten years ago, I wrote an award-winning dissertation called Homosexual Representation in the Broadway Musical: the development of homosexual identities and relationships from Patience to RENT. I’d love to go back and re-investigate that topic, but for today let’s just have a look at: Billy Elliot, The Book of Mormon, La Cage aux Folles, Hair and [title of show].

1. Hair

To purchase the new Broadway cast recording of HAIR, click on the image above.

There is so much LGBT stuff in Hair. There’s the guy in drag who sings “My Conviction”. While Jeannie is hung up on Claude, Claude on Shiela and Sheila on Berger, Berger is hung up everywhere and both Claude and Woof are hung up on Berger. Woof also states his desire to ‘make great love’ with Mick Jagger, also celebrating his appreciation of diverse sexual practices in the musical number “Sodomy”. People debate whether Hair is still relevant. The recent revival proved that it is. The show’s anti-war commentary still holds water, although I’m not a fan of productions that overtly force the link to some contemporary war and believe that audiences are intelligent to make the links for themselves.

2. The Book of Mormon

To purchase the Original Broadway Cast Recording of THE BOOK OF MORMON, click on the image above.

Two years down the line and the score of The Book of Mormon is still cracking me up. This hit show scooped up nine Tony Awards in the 2010-2011 season, although I’d still debate whether this show represented the Best Book and Score of that season. (The book all but disintegrates into links for the songs in the second act and the lyrics feature a number of errors in craftsmanship.) The gay character featured in this show is Elder McKinley, a role originated by Rory O’Malley, and one of the songs in the score, “Turn It Off” deals overtly with (amongst other things) his closeted homosexuality. It’s a great number with fantastic staging.

3. Billy Elliot

How I wish Billy Elliot had chosen “Expressing Yourself” as the number to showcase the show rather than “Angry Dance”. “Angry Dance” may work well in the context of the show, but it struggles to stand alone outside of it. “Expressing Yourself” is, of course, the number that showcases Billy’s friend, Michael, who has no problem with the taboos around cross-dressing in their conservative community. The number is five minutes of sheer joy and for me it is always great to see entertainment that affirms life for young LGBT people, because the world can still appear too full of challenges for them. That this number does so explicitly rather than in disguise is simply fabulous.

4. La Cage aux Folles

To purchase the new Broadway cast recording of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, click on the image above.

La Cage aux Folles has never really been one of my favourites. Despite some great numbers, the score is short and repetitive. While the original production was a key show in the portrayal of homosexuals on stage, there was always something that bothered me about it: it felt “put on”. The turning point for me came with the 2008 London revival that subsequently moved to Broadway in 2010. Suddenly, the show made sense to me: a great example of how a production of a show can make the material snap into focus or not. Arthur Laurents would disagree with me – in fact he was quite vocal about how he believed this particular revival to be homophobic. But let’s just take that from whence it comes.

5. [title of show]

To purchase the Original Cast Recording of title of show, click on the image above.

[title of show] is a little show that I enjoy a lot. It’s meta-theatrical to its very core, a show about the making of a musical where the characters were played by the actors upon whom they were based, prompting questions at the time of the show’s initial run as to whether the show could be played successfully by anyone other than the original cast. Of course, it can be and, in fact, it is a show I would enjoy doing at some point. Now that I think about it, the show preempts Smash in its sharing of the backstage process, although Smash takes a few liberties more often than it should. Of course, the backstage musical is no new thing, but [title of show] took the idea to a new place. It’s a little show that could.

Every day this December, I’m choosing 5 musicals linked by a common theme and ranking them from best to worst. I’d love to see your rankings of the musicals posted each day, so head on down to the comment box and share your thoughts.

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2 Responses to 1 to 5 Musical Theatre Month: Keep it Gay!

  1. Aleksander says:

    I really cannot understand why you rate Hair and The Book of Mormon above Billy Elliot. Having seen all three, and tried my best to enjoy them all, I just cannot appreciate Hair. The Book of Mormon is a funny show, which gets some good points across, but it has so many misguided attempts at lyric writing. What didn’t make the show appear any better was the horrible choreography, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with the written material. Billy Elliot on the other hand is a musical theatre work that entrances me every time I listen to the score or see it at the Victoria Palace! It is one of few British musical of good quality, and even though there are some “why?” songs, the musical as a whole and the brilliant moments, far exceed those in The Book of Mormon and Hair, in my humble opinion.

  2. David Fick says:

    Compared to the other four musicals on this list, Hair is the most fully realised through from concept to the piece itself. We could split hairs comparing The Book of Mormon/ and Billy Elliot, but neither is perfect, as you yourself have articulated.

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