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Patti, Beanie, and leaked wienies: 2022’s most epic and dramatic theater moments

2022 theater moments

There was plenty of drama onstage and off this year, and theater fans devoured it like an overpriced bag of candy from the concession stand. Queer stories and talent found their way onto Broadway and beyond, with a couple of hiccups along the way. Queerty was front and center, witnessing our favorite stars and the shows that came and went. So without further ado, let’s look back on all the most epic and dramatic theater moments of 2022…

Patti quits… sorta

Patti LuPone performs at New York City's 54 Below.
Patti LuPone performs at New York City’s 54 Below. Photo by Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images.

After winning a Tony Award for her performance as Joanne in the revival of Company, Patti LuPone turned to Twitter (we all know how that’s working out) to bow out of Broadway. She gave up her Equity card, citing that Broadway had turned into “Disneyland, a circus, and Las Vegas.” (Who doesn’t love Vegas?) She’ll still be able to appear as a guest performer and play non-union houses, like her sold-out show Songs From a Hat at the swanky cabaret venue 54 Below.

‘Funny Girl’: Beanie fired, Lea hired, and Julie swung for the stars

Beanie Feldstein, Lea Michele, and Julie Benko in Funny Girl on Broadway.
(l to r) Beanie Feldstein, Lea Michele, and Julie Benko in ‘Funny Girl’ on Broadway.

Broadway hadn’t seen a production of Funny Girl since Barbra Streisand’s star-making turn in 1964, and all eyes were on Beanie Feldstein, cast as the comedian-turned-international sensation Fanny Brice.

Wide-eyed excitement quickly turned to panic for investors when the reviews came in for the revival. Beanie was booted from the show (producers decided to “take the show in a different direction”), and Lea Michele, who had been pining for the role since her Glee days, was announced as her replacement. Past on-set behavior put some kinks in the initial reaction, but Michelle prevailed, earning raves from critics and audiences alike. And through it all, standby Julie Benko has made a name for herself, releasing a new album, and recently cast in Barry Manilow’s Broadway-bound Harmony.

‘Take Me Out’ hits a foul ball with leaked nudes

Take Me Out Broadway
(l to r) Michael Oberholtzer, Bill Heck and Jesse Williams in ‘Take Me Out.’ Photo by Jeremy Daniels.

Despite efforts to secure mobile devices by locking them in Yondr pouches for performances of Take Me Out, one sneaky audience member got the goods, causing an internet uproar when star Jesse Williams’ privates were made public. The play explores the aftermath of a professional baseball player’s (Williams) coming out.

Co-star Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who portrays the ball player’s business manager, took to social media, saying, “Anyone who applauds or trivializes this behavior has no place in the theater, which has always been a safe space for artists & audience members.” An infrared system was installed to prevent further leaks, and the show went on to win two Tony Awards and return for an encore engagement, playing through February 5, 2023.

An uncompromising Broadway arrival for ‘A Strange Loop’

A Strange Loop
(l to r) Jason Veasey, James Jackson, Jr., Jaquel Spivey, L Morgan Lee and Antwayn Hopper in ‘A Strange Loop.’ Photo by Marc J. Franklin

Playwright, composer, and lyricist Michael R. Jackson’s decade-long journey to bring A Strange Loop to life culminated in both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Musical. Described as a “big, Black, and queer-*ass Great American Musical for all,” the show offers hope for Broadway’s future, attracting celebrity producers like RuPaul and Jennifer Hudson.

“I think a lot about what it means to really spend your time on a piece of art trying to make it as good as it can be,” Jackson told Variety. “Something happening immediately doesn’t mean that it’s good. Something taking a long time can be worth it. When I’m watching people react and have emotional responses to the show, I know that part of what they’re responding to is that we took our time, whether they know it or not.”

A national Sondheim surge

Company Broadway
The Broadway cast of Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy

A nation of musical theater lovers mourned the passing of Stephen Sondheim in November 2021. But the past year saw a swell of Sondheim productions. A reimagined Company arrived on Broadway with a female Bobbie and an unapologetically gay, Tony-winning performance by Matt Doyle; San Francisco saw its first-ever professional production of Follies; and Merrily We Roll Along rolled Off-Broadway, starring Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe, and Lindsay Mendez. The production immediately sold out, extended, then announced its Broadway transfer in the fall of 2023.

And for those who want to curl up with Sondheim’s final thoughts, New Yorker writer D.T. Max’s Finale: Late Conversations with Stephen Sondheim offers an intimate look at the artist’s life during the last years of his life.

Billy Porter revives ‘The Life’ in his New York directorial debut

Ledisi and Alexandra Grey in 'The Life.'
Ledisi and Alexandra Grey in ‘The Life.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

Multi-hyphenate Billy Porter put on a directorial hat for the New York City Center Encores! revival of The Life, adapting the story about Times Square prostitutes through a trans lens. Porter cast Empire star Alexandra Grey as Queen and Ledisi as best friend Sonja in Cy Colman and Ira Glassman’s 1997 musical. “Having worked with trans women of color on Pose, then to make a feature film starring a Black trans woman, and now to do a musical at City Center Encores! starring a Black trans woman, Billy is really showcasing us,” Grey told INTO.

Quick closures and clapbacks

KPOP and Ain't No Mo' on Broadway
The casts of Broadway’s ‘KPOP,’ left, and ‘Ain’t No Mo. Photos by Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman, and Joan Marcus.

Two Broadway shows failed to catch on with audiences, but producers and creative teams weren’t about to go down without a fight. KPOP brought the worldwide phenomenon to the stage, but many critics failed to recognize its cultural impact. Producers demanded an apology from New York Times critic Jesse Green, posing the question, “Is a Broadway show valid only if it is centered on and catering exclusively to a white, English-speaking audience?” Plagued with COVID-19 cases and a delayed opening, the musical lasted 44 previews and 17 performances.

Jordan E. Cooper’s Ain’t No Mo’ sold out its Off-Broadway run at the Public Theater. However, a Broadway transfer proved challenging despite positive reviews. Presented by Lee Daniels, the creator of Empire, Precious, and The Butler, the play combined sketch comedy, satire, avant-garde theater, and drag. Cooper launched a grassroots marketing and social media campaign that attracted celebrities from Gabrielle Union and Sara Ramirez to RuPaul, and the show was extended for an additional week.

Big names in small spaces: Hollywood heads Off-Broadway

Jim Parsons, Maulik Pancholy, and Jonathan Groff in Off-Broadway plays.
(l to r) Jim Parsons, Maulik Pancholy, and Jonathan Groff. Photos by Julieta Cervantes and Joan Marcus.

Broadway isn’t the only place producers look for name recognition to sell tickets. Off-Broadway also relies on familiar faces to engage audiences. And when it works, it works big. Many film and TV actors began their careers on the stage and — despite a demanding eight-show-per-week schedule — crave the creative outlet and community that comes with a life in the theater.

Jim Parsons appears in the film adaptation of Spoiler Alert but also charmed audiences this fall in Classic Stage Company’s revival of A Man of No Importance, about a gay man coming to terms with his identity in 1960s Dublin. Maulik Pancholy, who appeared for six seasons on 30 Rock and, more recently, Only Murders in the Building, led a cast in the post-pandemic gay dramedy To My Girls. (Also a published author, Pancholy’s young adult novel Nikhil Out Loud was released this year.) Soon to appear in M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin, Jonathan Groff returns to his theater roots in a revival of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Merrily We Roll Along — not surprisingly headed to Broadway next year.

Chicago proves its no Second City

The best of Chicago LGBTQ theater 2022.
(l to r) ‘The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington,’ ‘Girlfriend,’ and ‘The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes — The Obligatory Holiday Special.’ Photos by Michael Brosilow, Jenni Carroll, and Rick Aguilar Studios.

With more than 250 theaters and five Tony Award-winning companies, Chicago’s theater scene has long thrived. Queer representation continues to take center stage all over town. The past year saw James Ijames’ The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington, a takedown of the original first lady as seen through a time-jumping kaleidoscope, at Steppenwolf. (Keep an eye out for Ijames’ Fat Ham on Broadway this spring.) Other notable productions included Girlfriend, a 90s take on gay love at PrideArts, and Hell in a Handbag’s hilarious homage to the original fab four with The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes — The Obligatory Holiday Special.

Museum of Broadway opens — thanks for the memories

Telly Leung, Anthony Rapp, and Wilson Cruz at the Museum of Broadway
Opening night at the Museum of Broadway. ‘Rent’ alumni (l to r) Telly Leung, Anthony Rapp, and Wilson Cruz. Photos by Rebecca J. Michelson.

The ethereal nature of live theater is that it’s there until it’s not. Each performance — a gathering of audience, actors, and production staff — assemble for one wholly unique experience, never to be repeated. For those who revel ephemera, a visit to the newly opened Museum of Broadway offers a trip down memory lane and insights into plays and musicals beyond the reach of the present day. The multi-level venue is packed with memorabilia, interactive exhibits, photos, costumes, set pieces, and volumes of facts and figures, including nods to the queer artists and shows who helped build Broadway. And who doesn’t want a Grizabella T-shirt as a keepsake?