The recent Broadway stagehands’ strike briefly cast a pall over
the Big Apple, but before that happened, there was lots of great theater going
on in New York – much of it involving openly gay artists
and/or concerning gay themes and subject matter. All told, it was a very good
year. Here’s a selective rundown of the exciting, surprising, entertaining, and
sometimes disappointing shows and performances that comprised gay theater in
2007, both on and off Broadway.
The Gayest Show of the Year
Xanadu, out playwright Douglas Carter Beane’s
wickedly funny takeoff on one of the worst films ever made. True, it wasn’t
specifically gay, but starring the out Cheyenne Jackson and featuring disco
balls, roller skates, and fabulous muses, Xanadu
still takes this contest hands down.
Runner- Up: The Ritz, a
sidesplitting revival of Terrence McNally’s knockabout gay bathhouse farce,
courtesy of the Roundabout Theatre Company. Honorable Mention for Achievement
Off-Broadway: Die Mommie Die!
Best Performance by an Openly Gay Actor in a Broadway
Not so long ago, it was unthinkable that there could ever be a tie in this
category, but that’s just what happened in 2007. As the male lead in Xanadu,
Cheyenne Jackson is at once hilarious and devastatingly sexy – which, when you
think about it, is a rare combination. And David Hyde Pierce is comic
perfection as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi in Curtains, which boasts a
score by the openly gay team of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb.
Lifetime Achievement Award
This one goes to Edward Albee, arguably our greatest living
playwright and one of the first to be openly gay. His latest work is Peter
and Jerry, a rewrite and expansion of his one-act The Zoo Story. The
piece has no gay content to speak of, but it’s very well done, and it boasts an
amazing performance by Dallas Roberts as the creepy Jerry. Catch it at Second
Stage Theatre before it closes on December 30.
Shades of Grey
The film Grey
Gardens has a cult
following among many gay men, and so did the musical based on the movie. Aside
from the Tony Award winning performances of Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise
Wilson as the eccentric Edith Bouvier Beale and her aged mother, the show
featured a stylish turn by Bob Stillman as George Gould Strong, a character who
might have amounted to nothing more than a gay cliché in other hands. Icing on
the cake: Heartthrob Matt Cavenaugh played Jerry, the Beale women’s repairman
and friend, who turned out to be gay in real life.
Busch is Back
One of the few positive effects of the stagehands’ strike
was that some theatergoers who held unusable tickets to big Broadway
blockbusters opted instead to see Off-Broadway shows they wouldn’t otherwise
have sought out. Word is that Die Mommie Die!, Charles Busch’s
outrageous camp-fest at New World Stages, benefited greatly in this regard.
Busch gives a sublime performance as washed-up actress/singer Angela Arden, and
soap opera star Van Hansis is quite the hottie as Angela’s troubled son. All of
this plus Bush’s to-die-for costumes, designed by Michael Bottari and Ronald
Case, makes for a wildly entertaining show.
Heart and Music
William Finn is not the most consistent musical theater
composer/lyricist at work today, but when he’s good, he’s excellent. For
evidence, get thee to Make Me a Song, a revue that’s now playing at New
World Stages — just steps away from Die Mommie Die! Included is a
condensed version of Finn’s best show, the very gay Falsettos, along
with selections from his other, lesser-known musicals.
Spoofmeister Gerard Alessandrini’s Forbidden Broadway appeals
to everyone, as evidenced by the fact that this hysterically funny revue has
been running almost continuously for more than 25 years. But FB gets
much of its comic edge from its underlying gay sensibility. For example, a
number sung to the tune of “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” contains the
following lyrics: “Soon the season will be over /
This year, the sexy Cubans rate / With their little tails a swishin’ / Every
chorus boy is wishin’ / He could take Raúl Esparza on a date / (But I hear he’s
married.)” Then there’s this, sung to the tune of “Please Don’t Monkey With
Broadway” by Cole Porter: "We’re the Wicked
flying monkeys / Out of costume, we are cute Manhattan hunkies / Who cruise / Hell’s
Kitchen walking in twos."
Blast From the Past
The Keen Company made the best
possible case for a play that many people thought was hopelessly dated: Tea
and Sympathy, Robert Anderson’s fraught ’50s drama about a boarding school
student who is mercilessly taunted because he’s perceived to be gay. Dan McCabe
offered a touching performance as the boy in question.
Is the Star Out Tonight?
The Little Dog Laughed, all about a closeted movie
star who falls in love with a sweet-natured hustler, seemed promising but
flawed when it opened at Second Stage in January 2006. Author Douglas Carter
Beane did some reworking for the Broadway production, which bowed in November
of that year and ran only through mid-February of this year. His canny
rewrites, plus the inspired casting of Tom Everett Scott as the movie star,
resulted in an entertaining yet thought-provoking play that was sparked by
Julie White’s Tony Award-winning performance as a relentless agent.
And the Award for the Most Memorable Male Nude Scene Goes
Ian McKellen, who stripped to reveal that he was every inch a king in the RSC
production of King Lear at BAM. Runner-Up: Johnny Galecki, who jumped
out of bed naked when discovered in an intimate moment with Tom Everett Scott
in The Little Dog Laughed. Honorable Mention: Steve Blanchard, for the
Off-Broadway musical Frankenstein. Though Blanchard is not completely
nude as he stalks about the stage in his role of the Creature, his shirt is
wide open in every scene, and the muscular development he displays is so
impressive that it was mentioned in almost every review.
If You Show All of It, They Will Come
According to various reports, the most popular productions
in the New York International Fringe Festival, the Midtown International
Theatre Festival, and the New York Musical Theatre Festival were those that
featured male nudity and/or gay content. Go figure…
A Disappointing Gay Scene in an Otherwise Great Musical
Adapted by composer Duncan Sheik and lyricist-librettist
Steven Sater from Frank Wedekind’s groundbreaking late 19th-century
drama, the Tony Award winning musical Spring Awakening is a beautiful
thing overall and fully deserving of its success. But the show stumbles in its
one explicitly gay scene: the seduction of a teenage boy by one of his
schoolmates, which is played broadly for laughs in a way that cheapens the
moment. Would that director Michael Mayer had made another choice.
General Excellence Award to Off-Broadway Theater for
Serious Treatment of Gay Themes and Subject Matter
Stephen Karam’s Speech and Debate is about a gay sex
scandal in a high school, set against the background of another scandal
involving the town’s conservative Republican mayor. Among the characters in
Kate Fodor’s 100 Saints You Should Know were a priest and a
teenager both struggling with being gay – but, refreshingly, the plot had
nothing to do with sexual molestation. That hot-button issue was tackled by
Neil LaBute in his flawed but gripping play In a Dark Dark House.
Terrence McNally’s Some Men, an examination of gay relationships through
the decades before and after Stonewall, was also flawed but can still be rated
as its author’s best work in years. In Christopher Shinn’s Dying City,
Pablo Schreiber played twins, one of whom was gay. Clint Jeffries’ The
Jocker was a moving drama of the dynamic among a band of hobos during the
Great Depression. And Delaney Britt Brewer’s An Octopus Love Story was a
wonderful, bittersweet comedy about a gay man who weds a lesbian in order to
protest the ban on gay marriage.
Best Gay Musical Presented in Brooklyn
Admittedly, this category is narrow, but that shouldn’t be
taken as a reflection on the winner. Yank! is about two men who fall in love while
serving in the Army during World War II.
The show certainly has its lapses, including an ill-advised dream ballet, but
it tells a compelling story with a lot of heart. And the limited-run Gallery
Players production featured an unforgettable performance by Bobby Steggert,
whose soulful, passionate, open-mouthed kisses with co-star Maxime de Toledo
left the audience breathless.
Every year, like clockwork, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights
AIDS can be counted on to present fabulous shows as part of the organization’s
invaluable fund-raising efforts. Broadway Bares is always a hoot, and
this year’s edition at Roseland was one of the sassiest and sexiest ever. Note:
BC/EFA’s Gypsy of the Year competition is normally held during the first
week of December; but this year, because of the stagehands’ strike, it has been
pushed back to December 17 and 18 at the New Amsterdam Theatre.