The new crop of musical releases is (surprise!) rife with gay talent.
By Gregg Shapiro
The gays do love their musicals. Whether you are talking about the current crop of Tony Award-nominated shows including Xanadu, Cry-Baby, and the Gypsy revival starring Patti LuPone or top-notch touring companies of The Drowsy Chaperone (in Houston last month) and Avenue Q, you are sure to find a sizable representation of the GLBT community in the audience—not to mention behind the footlights.
The musical A Catered Affair (PS Classics), based on the 1956 Bette Davis-Ernest Borgnine-Debbie Reynolds movie, certainly has a gay pedigree. Two out gay men, book author Harvey Fierstein and composer/lyricist John Bucchino, have created a serious show—about the efforts of a working-class Bronx couple to plan an expensive wedding for their daughter—in the same serious-minded class as the 2004 Tony winner, The Light in the Piazza. That said, there are still light moments, as when Fierstein (who is also in the cast, as bachelor Uncle Winston) sings “Immediate Family.” Combining issues of class and the complicated matters of a family, A Catered Affair also has memorable tunes, including “Coney Island” and “Married.”
Like A Catered Affair, the Disney musical The Little Mermaid (Disney Broadway/Walt Disney Records) has gay bloodlines. The book was written by Doug Wright (of Grey Gardens and the Pulitzer-winning I Am My Own Wife renown) and the lyrics were co-written by the late Howard Ashman (Little Shop of Horrors and others). The stage adaptation incorporates more than half a dozen of the songs from the original Disney animated feature and bolsters the score with a multitude of new compositions including “I Want the Good Times Back,” performed by sea witch Ursula (Sherie Rene Scott).
The original cast of Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn can be heard celebrating the contributions of the gay composer—of March of the Falsettos, Falsettoland, and A New Brain fame—on the new double-disc live recording (from Ghostlight) of the off-Broadway show. Performed by Sandy Binion, D.B. Bonds, Adam Heller, and Sally Wilfert, the impact of Finn’s songs take on renewed life and vigor in this setting.
In its third Broadway production since its New York debut nearly 60 years ago, the revival of South Pacific (Masterworks Broadway) arrives as a reminder of the cost and effect of prejudice, still a matter of concern today. South Pacific is also packed full of classic and enduring Rodgers and Hammerstein numbers including “Some Enchanted Evening,” “There Is Nothing Like a Dame,” “Bali Ha’i,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” “A Wonderful Guy,” “Happy Talk,” and the particularly timely “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” The musical’s messages of tolerance, acceptance, and social consciousness, especially during a time of war, continue to resonate today. The exceptional cast includes Kelli O’Hara, Paulo Szot, Matthew Morrison, and Loretta Ables Sayre.
In the midst of more expected Broadway fare this season, two shows, In the Heights and Passing Strange, appeared to shake up the status quo and turn the theater world on its ear. The two shows, as you can hear on the original Broadway cast recordings (both on Ghostlight), incorporate elements lacking in the usual Broadway experience, including hip-hop, salsa, soul, and rock. Both shows are also notable for starring the men—Stew, Passing Strange, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, In the Heights—who wrote and conceived the works.
In the same non-traditional vein: songwriter David Yazbek (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Full Monty) continues to sow his rock-and-roll oats over the course of 14 songs on his latest album, Evil Monkey Man (Ghostlight).
Songwriter and lyricist Carol Hall may have only one hit musical to her credit, but what a hit it was. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, her perennially popular 1978 show, continues to be revived on a regular basis. On Hallways: The Songs of Carol Hall (LML Music), the Abilene-born Hall—who also created the less successful Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public with fellow Texan collaborators Peter Masterson, Larry L. King, and out choreographer/director Tommy Tune—is joined by a host of cabaret performers including out artists Scott Coulter, Rick Jensen, Tom Andersen, Tim Di Pasqua, and Steven Lutvak, as well as the legendary Lesley Gore and others who provide new perspectives on songs including “Hard Candy Christmas” and “It’s Only a Broken Heart” (sung by former Houstonian Sally Mayes).
Of course, what would a theater season be without the wicked and wonderful Gerard Alessandrini applying his rapier wit to the parody lyrics he concocts for his long-running Forbidden Broadway ? The 25th anniversary edition of the show, Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening (DRG), slices numerous shows into colorful ribbons. Victims, some of which are still running on the Great White Way, include, of course, Spring Awakening, as well as The Little Mermaid, Wicked, Hairspray, A Chorus Line, Spamalot, Jersey Boys, and Mary Poppins. Even those who have only the most cursory familiarity with current Broadway productions are certain to be entertained.
Gregg Shapiro is a past recipient of the annual OutMusic award that recognizes contributions by non-musicians in furthering the work of GLBT performers.