Before the Orlando shooting, the 1973 arson attack on the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans was the deadliest attack on the gay community in U.S. history, killing 32 people and injuring many more.
But unlike the Pulse attack, the fire was barely reported on, as a result of the homophobia endemic to the era. Area churches wouldn’t hold memorial services and even some family members refused to claim the bodies of victims.
That little-known tragedy has inspired the new off-Broadway musical The View UpStairs, exploring what’s been gained—and lost—in the fight for LGBT equality.
The show follows Wes (Jeremy Pope), a gay designer who buys the abandoned building that once housed the lounge. He finds himself transported through time to the bar’s gritty heyday, where he embarks on a journey of self-exploration, seduction, and revelation across two generations of queer history.
“We have a modern character who travels back in time and meets all of these interesting and unique individuals from the 1970s who are at the cusp of gay liberation,” explains director Scott Ebersold. “Through this journey he becomes a more complete person and interestingly, I think, a better artist.”
“The View UpStairs is about the queer community and what’s changed over the last 40 years in our march towards equality” adds writer-composer Max Vernon. “Are we better or are we worse?”
In addition to Pope (Invisible Thread), the production features Taylor Frey (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), Nathan Lee Graham (Priscilla Queen of the Desert), Frenchie Davis (Rent), Benjamin Howes (Scandalous), and Michael Longoria (Jersey Boys).
“It’s been a really long journey,” says Vernon. “It’s taken four-and-a-half years of changing the show and rewriting, but the questions of ’Are we better? Are we worse?’, I think, are more pressing now than ever.”
The View UpStairs begins previews February 15, and opens February 28 at The Lynn Redgrave Theater.