Some of the gay white way's GAYEST musicals
“Rent” is a brilliant, Tony Award winning musical, about a close-knit group of radical bohemians living in downtown New York City, in the early 1980s. Jonathan Larson, who wrote the music and lyrics, loosely based "Rent" on Puccini's opera "La Boheme" but never lived to see the huge success the show would become.
On the morning of "Rent's" first preview in a small, off-Broadway theater, Larson died unexpectedly of an aortic dissection. He had been feeling ill for a few days and was misdiagnosed with the flu. Had he been properly diagnosed, Larson, who was 35, would have lived.
"Rent" moved to Broadway's Nederlander Theater a few months later. Larson was posthumously awarded a Tony Award for best musical and a Pulitzer Prize for drama.
"Rent" follows a group of struggling artists as they deal with the then escalating AIDS crisis while trying to dream up new and creative ways to pay their rent.
The ensemble piece features eight leading roles. Prominent storylines include a poignant love story between Tom and Angel — a drag queen who's dying of AIDS. Roger, a straight rock musician, also living with AIDS, finds comfort and solace with Mimi, an HIV positive go-go dancer, while Mark, an aspiring filmmaker, struggles to maintain a friendship with ex-girlfriend Maureen, who left him for a woman.
Their stories intertwine as the characters grapple with the harsh realities of the AIDS crisis and the coming gentrification of their beloved, if somewhat run down, neighborhood.
The score illustrates these struggles and accentuates the character’s deep affections for one another.
La Cage Aux Folles
French for “birds of a feather,” “La Cage” is based on the classic, massively successful French film from the 1970s. The wildly outrageous story follows George, who owns a popular drag club. When George's son becomes engaged to a girl from a conservative religious family, George and his "lover" Albin have the happy couple over for dinner. They hide every last vestige of their gay life as Albin dons drag to masquerade as George's "wife.” Hilarious mayhem ensues, with occasional serious moments added for good measure.
The now openly gay Broadway legend, Jerry Herman (Hello Dolly), wrote the score. Gay superstar Harvey Fierstein wrote the book. Albin's number "I Am What I Am" in which he refuses to apologize for who he is, brought the house down and both the original 1983 production and the revival two decades later won Tony Awards.
Oscar winner Julie Andrews, a top box office star of the 1960s, was coming out of a serious career slump when she signed on for the raucous movie musical "Victor/Victoria" in 1982. The then daring comedy told of how failed opera singer Victoria (Andrews) becomes a star by pretending to be a gay man who gets a job as a singing drag queen.
Through humor, the film raised many fascinating questions about sexual and gender identity roles in society. Victor falls in love with a handsome, straight gangster (James Garner), who returns the attraction, suddenly questioning his own sexuality. He's at first unaware that he's actually falling in love with a woman.
Robert Preston shines as Victoria's flamboyantly gay best friend, who literally teaches her how to become a gay man and a drag queen. Ex-football player Alex Karras has a role as the gangster's rough and tumble bodyguard who eventually comes out himself.
It took balls to make "Victor/Victoria" in 1982, but the film was a big hit and revived Andrews' career. A decade later she reprised her dual roles on Broadway. The show was almost identical to the film and enjoyed a long run. When Andrews left the Broadway version, she was replaced first by Liza Minnelli, and then by Raquel Welch.
A side-splitting musical about a group of neurotic Jews in Manhattan's Upper West Side, a well to do neighborhood where people are "culturally Jewish" but often don't practice their religion.
The show's screamingly funny — if envelope pushing — opening number is even called "Four Jews in a Room Bitching.”
This charming, comical tale is about an upscale Jewish family dealing with their father’s homosexuality and his relationship with his boyfriend. Most of the characters in "Falsettos" are unable to get through a day without calling their therapists.
"Falsettos" is not a well remembered show, but it's an engaging charmer filled with lovable characters who struggle to define themselves. Memorable numbers include "My Father's a Homo,” in which 10-year-old Jason wonders if he's gay too, while the long suffering mother steals the show when she flips out on stage to the memorable tune "I'm Breaking Down.”
"Falsetto's" poster art was designed by the acclaimed gay artist Keith Haring, who died of AIDS in 1990, two years before the show made it to Broadway.
John Waters' 1988 film "Hairspray" should have made iconic drag queen Divine a movie star. Divine, alas, died a few weeks after the film's hugely successful release. Decades later, "Hairspray" came to Broadway with gay superstar Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad, Divine's former role.
It's 1962, and Edna's daughter Tracy wants to dance on "The Corny Collins Show,” an "American Bandstand" type TV series. Rejected by Collins’ regular dancers because of her obesity, talented Tracy teams up with the local black community, and appears on the Collins show during it's weekly "Negro Night.” She becomes the show's star dancer and breaks the show's — and the city's — color barriers.
"Hairspray" is a brilliantly written show filled with show stopping numbers and great humor. Through music and dance, it offers insightful commentary on race relations in the U.S., and harshly condemns the segregation, which ended not so long ago.
As with Waters' original film, Edna Turnblad is a female role played by a man in drag. And of course, Waters has been out, loud and proud his whole life.
When the musical "Hairspray" was filmed in 2007, superstar John Travolta donned a dress, and a fat suit, for his role as Edna.