Meanwhile...Our Online Magazine
We are very proud to welcome you to issue #11. Which is all about Pride.
When we think of Pride we are immediately taken back to Sunday, June 28, 2015. This was both the day of Toronto’s famous Pride Parade and the opening night of Kinky Boots, for which Cyndi Lauper arrived straight from the Pride Parade in her Marie Antoinette costume.
In this week’s Check In From Away, SnL catch up with four actors from Kinky Boots.
Our Did You Know? columnist looks at the history of LGBTQ plays and musicals.
We have Emoji Challenge, Round 2, which was created by you, our readers. And we offer you the first round of finalists from our Show Tune Idol contest.
Plus lots more.
CHECK IN FROM AWAY - EPISODE #7
What would Pride be without cocktails? SnL share recipes for their favourite drinks and ask their Kinky Boots guests — Graham Scott Fleming (who starred as Charlie Price), AJ Bridel (Lauren), Vanessa Sears (Nicola) and Julia Mclellan (Swing) — for the recipes to their cocktails of choice. Their guests share memories of their time in that joyful musical that raised us all up and reminded us that there are few things better than just being proud of who we are.
We asked for suggestions and you did not disappoint! Your emoji challenge submissions were so good that we were able to create a second edition made entirely of your ideas. Challenge yourself and your friends for a chance to win a $100 Mirvish Gift Card.
SHOW TUNE IDOL FINALISTS - ROUND 1
We asked you to send us videos of your best performance of a show tune. You responded with thousands of submissions. Our casting directors have watched them all and have narrowed it down to 24. We bring you 12 this issue, and we will have the other 12 in our next one. All you have to do is watch this week’s 12 and vote for your favourite. Next week, you’ll do the same. Once we tabulate the results, we will let our three judges — uber casting director Stephanie Gorin and our favourite chat show hosts, Steffi D and Lisa H — decide who will win #1, #2 and #3 spots. Trust us, you’ll love these show tune videos. They are great entertainment and they introduce us to some great undiscovered talent.
By Antonio Tan
LGBTQ artists have been an essential part of theatre whether writing plays and musicals, directing or designing them, performing in them or working behind the scenes.
For a long time, LGBTQ stories weren’t acknowledged on stage. They were often hidden away in code through thinly veiled characters (such as many of the characters in Oscar Wilde’s plays) or surrogate representations (such as the larger than life characters in musicals, like Mama Rose, Auntie Mame or Dolly Levi), or expressed through innuendos in lyrics (Cole Porter songs like “Tom, Dick or Harry”, “You’re the Top,” “Let’s Do It”).
But all that changed in the second half of the 20th century when LGBTQ characters and stories finally came out on stage. In this issue of Did You Know? we take a look at some of these shows that have played on our stages.
The Kander & Ebb musical Cabaret premiered on Broadway in 1966 and was one of the first musicals on the Great White Way to have a bisexual male protagonist in the character of Cliff Bradshaw. His sexuality was not explicitly discussed, but at least it was still there. The Sam Mendes 1998 production – which played at the Princess of Wales Theatre in 1999 – was much more explicit. In it, the Emcee, who had originally been an edgy, asexual character, became explicitly homosexual, and Cliff’s attraction to men was much more evident than in the original. The ensemble, referred to as the Kit Kat boys and girls, were shown to be sexually diverse – straight, gay and lesbian.
The year following, the rock tribal musical Hair premiered, celebrating hippie culture and racial integration, and glorifying sexual freedom, including an onstage kiss between the two male leads Claude and Berger. The original production of Hair first played the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1969 – the year of the Stonewall Riots – and returned in 1971 and then in 2011 in a revival production.
The 1970 musical Applause, based on the film All About Eve and starring film icon Lauren Bacall, had a scene in a gay bar. Bacall’s character – Broadway star Margo Channing – decides to forego her show’s opening night party and instead goes with her flamboyant hairdresser to a Greenwich Village bar where the patrons are thrilled to have an icon randomly walk into their space. It was the first celebration of gay diva worship in a mainstream musical. The production, with its original Broadway star, came to the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1971.
(Another show that went more in-depth with diva worship was Buyer and Cellar, which played the CAA theatre in 2014 and starred Christopher Hanke. The play imagined the relationship between a struggling gay LA actor and Barbra Streisand.)
The winner of nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, A Chorus Line took the real-life stories of Broadway chorus dancers and put them on stage in a revealing backstage musical that’s become one of the most iconic of all time. One of the many stories the musical told was of a young gay Puerto Rican from Spanish Harlem. The story was told in a heart-wrenching monologue that served as the emotional epicentre of the musical. The original production played the Royal Alexandra Theatre, twice in 1976 and 1979. The most recent revival played the Ed Mirvish in 2008.
The musical La Cage aux Folles opened on Broadway in 1983, at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. It was the first show to have its two protagonists in a loving homosexual relationship: Georges, a drag nightclub owner, and Albin, a drag performer and the star of the club. The musical subverted stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, questioned gender norms, and offered different family structures. The show also spawned one of the most widely recorded anthems of the gay movement – “I Am What I Am.” The 2010 Tony-winning Broadway revival, which originated at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory, toured to the Royal Alex in 2012 and starred George Hamilton.
Cloud Nine is one of British playwright Caryl Churchill’s most renowned works and premiered in 1979. It’s an examination of the Victorian origins of contemporary gender definitions and sexual attitudes, and was controversial for its portrayals of sexuality, depicting lesbian, gay and bisexual relationships. A production played at the CAA Theatre in 2009.
Kevin Elyot’s Olivier-winning comedy My Night with Reg was the first British gay play to have mainstream success when it first opened in London in 1994. Set against the backdrop of the mounting AIDS crisis, it portrays a group of friends in a tender but funny “gay comedy of manners.” A 2017 co-production with Studio 180 played at the CAA Theatre.
Most of the previous shows were centred around male protagonists. With the exception of Cloud Nine, they unfortunately did not feature lesbian characters.
Rent was one of the first mainstream successes to portray not only gay and bisexual male characters, but also an interracial lesbian couple. When the show first opened in 1996 it was a groundbreaking piece of work credited for advancing American musical theatre into grittier subject matter. Its frank depiction of drug use and HIV/AIDS were unsettling to audiences at the time. The Canadian production of Rent played the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1998.
The Color Purple, based on the famous book by Alice Walker, is the first Broadway musical adaptation to have a lesbian protagonist and lesbian relationship at its heart. It played the Ed Mirvish Theatre in 2007.
If/Then was also noted for its positive portrayal of an interracial lesbian couple as secondary characters. It played the Princess of Wales Theatre in 2016.
GAY HISTORICAL FIGURES
As LGBTQ fictional characters have become more accepted in mainstream culture, the real-life stories of gay historical figures have become inspiration for plays.
In The Judas Kiss, which starred Rupert Everett and played the Ed Mirvish Theatre in 2016 prior to a New York transfer, acclaimed British playwright David Hare takes on Oscar Wilde, one of history’s most celebrated playwrights and gay figures. Set on the eve of his arrest for gross indecency and then after his prison sentence, it’s an imagined account of Wilde’s betrayal – the Judas kiss of the title – by his lover, Lord Alfred Bosie.
The musical Piaf/Dietrich explored the real-life lesbian relationship between French chanteuse Edith Piaf and German film icon Marlene Dietrich. Starting out as a sexual relationship, it evolved into a tight-knit loving friendship that lasted until Piaf’s death. It played the CAA Theatre last year.
To appeal to a broader audience, sometimes the depictions of gay characters are made just a little bit more over-the-top than usual.
Take, for example, Mel Brooks’ love letter to Broadway – The Producers, which had its own Canadian production at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in 2003. This backstage satire lampoons the creative process, including an all-gay creative team led by the director, Roger “Elizabeth” De Bris (who makes his entrance in a sequined gown with a headdress that makes him look very much like the Chrysler building). When the star of the show-within-the-show, Springtime for Hitler, literally breaks his leg before opening night, Roger is forced to go on in his place, stepping on stage as “a silly hysterical screaming queen” and emerging as a “great big passing-for-straight Broadway star.” Needless to say, the show’s depiction of gay artists is a riot but a touch over-the-top… or is it?
Steve Galluccio’s Mambo Italiano was another big hit for us when it played the Elgin Theatre in 2003. The Canadian comedy is about a closeted twentysomething Montrealer who lives with his boyfriend and decides to come out to his old school Italian parents. It was considered a gay version of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”
And finally, sometimes you just need a feel-good musical that sends you out into the night inspired with hope and love.
The musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert is about two drag queens and a transgendered woman who set out on a cross-country journey aboard an old tour bus to perform a drag show at a casino in the Australian Outback. It is based on the cult classic film of the same name that was a surprise worldwide hit when it was released in 1994. The musical took the story and turned it into a big, campy, colourful affair with a message of love and equality. Priscilla Queen of the Desert had its North American premiere at the Princess of Wales Theatre in 2010.
Kinky Boots is also based on a film, which itself was based on a documentary about how a shoe factory that was no longer financially viable was revived by making shoes for a niche market: drag performers who needed sturdy female footwear in sizes large enough for male feet. The joyous Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein musical told the unlikely story of the shoe factory owner and the drag performer who partners with him. It championed the message of love and self-acceptance. Its inspirational lyrics included “you can change the world when you change your mind.” The Canadian production of Kinky Boots played the Royal Alex in 2015.
Check future Meanwhile issues for more theatre and showbiz DID YOU KNOW? trivia by Antonio Tan.
Two years ago, Harry Whalen attended Come From Away on the occasion of his 98th birthday. At the end of the show the cast serenaded him with “Happy Birthday”. Harry is now about to turn 100 and while we can’t invite him to the theatre right now, we still want to send him our most sincere best wishes.
As his daughter Cynthia says, "My dad is a very special person. He absolutely loves life, dancing and telling jokes. He came here from Newfoundland before it was part of Canada. My mother and he just celebrated their 70th anniversary.”