Musical Theatre is SO Gay! – Representation (Part 1)

The theatre’s so obsessed with dramas so depressed… it’s hard to sell a ticket on Broadway. Shows should be more pretty… Shows should be more witty… Shows should be more… what’s the word? Gay? Exactly! You’ve seen the trope a million times! If you were gay, that’d be ok… I mean ’cause hey! I’d like you anyway… If you’re gay, you like musicals. (Audience Laughter) A gay musical… called “GAY!”… That’s quite gay. (Audience Laughter) A gay musical. Aren’t all musicals gay? This must be, like, the gayest musical ever made. And if you like musicals, then you are *definitely* gay! The man’s as gay as a picnic basket! (Audience Laughter) Ma, that… that is… that is incredible! How could you know? I heard him singing in the shower… He’s the only man I know who knows all the words to “Send In The Clowns”. It’s not just *a* stereotype… It is *the* stereotype! This song goes out to the rest of you… those who’ve never seen theatre before… ’cause Broadway has never been broader… it’s not just for gays anymore! Where did this stereotype come from? I’m gay! I’m gay! But not in that way… Musicals move me and touch me in ways I can’t say! He’s gay, but not in that way… How did we get here? Musical Theatre boys are mostly gay. They’re not all gay — But they’re pretty much gay. And that’s OK. Don’t worry, honey, we’re gonna get into it. Look. This is ridiculous! How can you be gay *and* republican? Ugh. These preconceived notions about gay people. It’s time to dispel that stereotype… through a lavish musical number! Hit it Joshua! You’re watching Musical Theatre Mash! (Yeah!) You’re the top! You’re the Coliseum! You’re the top! You’re the Louvre Museum! Have you ever listened to a Cole Porter song? Like… *really* listened to it? Like… *really*, *REALLY* listened to it? Cole Porter, the not-so-secretly gay musical theatre songwriter and socialite of the first half of the 1900s, is often credited as one of the first composers to introduce innuendo into pop music. Even by the time Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate” premiered in 1948, these coded gay expressions were still as out-of-the-closet as you could get. It is widely theorized that Porter was often directly catering… to the gay musical theatre crowd in some of his lewd lyrics. ‘Cause it’s too… too… too darn hot… We read ourselves into the art that we experience. That is the basic journey of every audience member. And we are in “Open-To-Interpretation Land” here… but through the eyes of gay audience members, hundreds of Porter lyrics are “queered”: “It’s too darn hot for a marine and his queen”, “too hot for a GI and his cutie-pie”. Gay subtext abounds — disguised, of course, in heteronormativity and straight relationships. In the first half of the 1900s, the closet door was still firmly shut. Porter wasn’t the only early songwriter to do this. Noël Coward was a little less subtle with his lyrics… Long before “gay” explicitly meant “homosexual” to the masses, the green carnation was certainly a symbol of idolizing Oscar Wilde. And likely a coded gay symbol in and of itself. Lyricist Lorenz Hart also had some “queerable” lyrics… though perhaps more deeply coded. Hart, in contrast to Porter and Coward, was much less “out” in turn-of-the-century high society… and his lyrics reflected that. It’s really important to remember that being “out” in these times was nothing like being “out” today. Nobody was publicly homosexual! Being gay was a crime… and the very public 1895 sodomy conviction of Oscar Wilde was still international gossip. Being gay was a deep, dark secret that was only shared in the most intimate of times… and in the darkest of shadows. So it’s no wonder that these early composers, and their gay audiences, were attracted to muscial theatre. To be gay at the turn of the last century was to be constantly wearing a mask — a costume. Like the performers on stage, gay composers and gay audiences were performing straightness… only hinting at their secret queerness through coded language, disguising their heartache through cleverly-written lyrics, all behind closed doors and in the darkness of a theatre. And certainly not every musical of the early- and mid-1900s was a super-secret piece of gay-coded literature… there were plenty of “straight musicals”! When you see a guy reach for stars in the sky… you can bet that he’s doin’ it for some doll! When you spot a John waitin’ out in the rain, chances are he’s insane as only a John can be for a Jane. I mean… how many shows can you name that end in a heteronormative, good old-fashioned straight wedding? They couldn’t pick a better time to start in life! It ain’t too early and it ain’t too late! Startin’ as a farmer with a brand-new wife. Soon be livin’ in a brand new state! Brand new state! This isn’t a video essay on “straight musicals”, but like all literature, there are more straight stories than gay stories. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There are more straight people than gay people. It just means gay audiences often need to read in their own representation.


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