Musical Theatre is SO Gay! – Infatuation (Part 2)


(Dolly) Tomorrow will be brighter than the good old days (Male chorus) Those good old days (Dolly) Tell it to me sweet! Ethel, Barbra, Carol, Pearl, Angela, Bette, Bernadette, Judy, Liza, Chita, Elaine, Audra! The list goes on and on and on Gay show queens, love their divas And why wouldn’t they?! In early musicals, there were no gay characters and in mid century musicals, where gay characters start popping up, they are either evil… (Man with black tie) You couldn’t get him away from his wife, huh!? (with confidence) well I COULD! (Lady sarcastically) How? Is he crazy about ya? (Man in black tie) Ho Ho Ho! Very funny! or tragic (Man in blue) what really bothered me was, I didn’t know how to be a man Why idolise that instead, you can adore the glamorous, fabulous show diva who ALL the chorus boys swoon over There are lots of things that make these ladies into icons for the gays Some launch their careers in gay clubs and capitalised on their camp appeal, others befriended the gay men already working in the entertainment industry and many embodied and projected this sense of tragedy and power and resilience that has become a core part of the gay self narrative now we can’t talk about all of them but here’s a sampling (Judy Garland) Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue Of course, we must start with Judy Garland or rather Dorothy Gail Picture it, a young girl who can’t seem to do anything right longs for escape She is swept away to a literally more colourful, fabulous land to go adventuring with sassy male companions! The MGM “Wizard of Oz” IS gay musical theatre. They don’t call us friends of Dorothy for nothing! Judy too became a gay icon. In her later years, Garland’s gay audience who had all religiously followed her trials and tribulations could read in their on tragedy and resilience People have written dissertations on Judy Garland as a queer icon there is too much to cover. But her existence and creation of much of the contemporary musical theatre world is a BIG PART of what makes it gay (Ethel Merman ferociously) EVERYTHING’S COMING UP ROSES FOR ME AND FOR YOU (massive applause) On a different side of the personality spectrum, is Ethel Merman. What gay musical theatre fan hasn’t “done Ethel” as they say (squeaky but strong voice) I had a dream a dream for guess who, Lydia! Loud, brassy, take no prisoners Ethel Merman wears her femininity like drag (LOUD) but he can’t build ya houses with buck shot in his trousers for a man may be hot but he’s not whens he’s shot oh you can’t get a man with a gun! (Voiced over) She is not the gal who gets the guy, she is the gal that gets what she WANTS! There is a subversion of gender norms that happens with Ethel that would also happen with later divas like Carol and Bette and Chita and Elaine It’s less I am woman hear me roar and more shut the hell up or I’ll give ya a black eye! In a world where gays where lambasted for their sissiness, here was a diva turning her femininity into power It’s from this bitchy broad persona that a lot of contemporary drag performance stems Turning the stereotypical and chauvinistic ideal of femininity on it’s head THAT is Ethel Merman THAT is what she brought to her gays and her musical theatre (Announcer) This is Jerry Herman the youngest composer/ lyricist on Broadway! Creator of such lyrics from Hello Dolly! Winner of the Tony award in 1964 as best musical. He also wrote the songs for Broadway’s Milk and Honey Is currently preparing words and music for a musical version of Auntie Mame No one made a career out of writing shows for divas quite like Jerry Herman Our leading lady descends a staircase to the adoration of all the chorus boys and belts out her torch song about how fantastical life is! (Angela Lansbury amazingly sings) Light the candles, get the ice out, roll the rug up it’s today! Herman’s shows Mame and Hello Dolly! are quite literally structured around this diva worship Mame through a queered reading is the story of how a socialite diva discovers that despite her best efforts her surrogate son turns out to be straight! There is gay imagery ALL OVER this musical (Bea Arthur singing) The man in the moon is a lady Or in Dolly just start with her harmonia gardens top of the stairs dress (Voice over) This is an outfit no actual woman would wear. Exaggerated femininity The female as power. This musical can be interpreted as the story of turning gender norms on their head. Vandergelder starts with chauvinistic, pre conceived notions of what it means to be a woman (chorus singing) Oh yes it takes a woman Only to have them SHAKEN UP and thrown back in his face by the indefatigable Dolly Levi Also, a very strong feminist representation Without explicit gay characters, strong, powerful female characters are as close as gay audiences can sometimes get to finding icons and role models All of these diva stereotypes and thinly veiled gay readings come to head in Herman’s third and most critical of diva musicals. La Cage aux Folles (Sung) you may be dancing with a gal who needs a shave! Where both the riffraff and the royalty are patrons
At La Cage Aux Folles In this musical, our diva apparent is no longer a powerful actress in an exaggerated spin on female drag. This time it’s an actual drag queen Coping with their own expressed sissiness. No longer are gay men reading in their own relationships. This is an actual honest to goodness homosexual protagonist relationship on stage! Every gay musical theatre stereotype is put under a microscope in La Cage from performed masculinity to subverting gender norms to different family structures, it’s all in there This musical also gave us our first gay anthem of musical theatre (George Hearn singing) I am what I am. I am my own special creation. So come take a look. Give me the hook. Or the ovation It was camp, it was drag, it was daring and of course it was about a diva La Cage is looked on by many as the watershed of the gay representation in musical theatre Now comapred to the sitcom standard of 2016 much of this musical seems dated and benign today. But in a world of deep, nuanced gay coded musical theatre writing and performance coming right out with I am what I am was a pretty big step! There is one more diva musical that I want to mention because it has some very specifically important representation 13 years before we were what we were in La Cage, this show applause a musicalised version of All About Eve has THE most explicit representation of diva worship ever to appear on stage (Voice over) Margot Channing the ageing diva forgoes her opening night party in favour of accompanying her flamboyant dresser on a night out in the village. And… well… (All men) MARGOT CHANNING!?!? (Channing) Drats! I’ve been recognised (Man) I don’t believe it! Here! I mean didn’t you open tonight on your new play? (Channing) Guilty! (Man) this is a historic moment! (Channing embarrassed) oh! Dwayne, I’m spoiling all the fun (Dwayne) Shall I call the party and tell them you’ll be there soon? (Man) Don’t go! Stay (Channing) Are you kidding, I’m here for the NIGHT! Imagine being in a gay bar and having Ethel Merman stumble in. It would be MADNESS

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