Neil Patrick Harris proclaimed Broadway is “Not Just For Gays Anymore,” the delightful opening song of the 2011 Tony Awards. Gone were the days of theater as the exclusive domain of tap dancing in 42nd Street and jazz hands in A Chorus Line. Audiences have flocked to the theater to see safe, pleasant productions like Grease and Jersey Boys, and of course the American consciousness is currently obsessed with the hip-hop score of Hamilton.
But good old-fashioned glamorous theater, with self-indulgent drama and big dance sequences, is popular again, perhaps led by the success of Kinky Boots, in its fourth year on Broadway of educating audiences about drag queens and fetish footwear. Gaggles of gay men are once again reclaiming their theatrical turf, converging from across America and descending upon Broadway theaters to see shows rife with high camp, over-the-top costumes and toe-tapping tunes.
Theatrical power players have certainly noticed the gentle shift, and are on the hunt for musicals and plays that serve up a heavy dose of drama while remembering to still leave audiences smiling. Tina Fey’s musical version of Mean Girls is opening in Washington, D.C. on October 31 for its pre-Broadway trial, and Elton John is working on his musical adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada. Cate Blanchett, fresh off her Broadway run in a play called The Present, is booked to star in a stage production of All About Eve in London opening in 2018, and that play is going to be so delicious it is almost impossible to comprehend.
In celebration of the 2017 Tony Awards nominations, announced May 5, here are some of the shows currently on Broadway that give the gays of America a reason to round up their friends and take a trip to New York to see what’s new on Broadway:
Show: War Paint
Plot: Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, pioneers of the cosmetics industry for all women on Earth, face off in a bitter rivalry that is professional and personal. And dramatic and vindictive.
Why the gays are going: Two Broadway legends—Christine Ebersole as Arden (photo above), and Patti LuPone as Rubinstein—take turns singing big solos and saying campy, bitchy lines. The plot is mostly fiction, since it isn’t known if Rubinstein and Arden had most of the interactions depicted in the show. But especially after the success of Feud, watching strong women sabotage each other is a hot topic these days. Both Ebersole and LuPone were nominated for Tony Awards this year as Best Actress, and they have both won Tony awards for Best Actress twice. Although they may not have a chance this year, as they are up against Bette Midler. Speaking of Bette Midler…
The Show: Hello, Dolly!
The Plot: A matchmaker in early 20th Century New York (named Dolly) tries to find true love for various people, all while hiding her own romantic interests. Hijinks ensue.
Why the gays are going: You know the song “Hello, Dolly” by Carol Channing? A video of Channing singing that song is played at every “Showtune Sing-Along” night in gay bars across America. In this new production of the musical, Bette Midler plays Dolly. So yes, she sings that song, and gay men from all across America pack the audience to see it. Fortunately, the entire show is good, and Midler is of course very funny, because there is a lot more to the lead role of Hello, Dolly! than just the one song. This Broadway production earned a 2017 Tony nomination for Best Revival of a Musical, as well as a Best Actress nod for Midler herself.
The Show: Sunset Boulevard
The Plot: An actress from the silent film era is getting older. She can’t get work in Hollywood because movies now have spoken dialogue. She becomes a recluse hiding in her mansion. But then, a young man accidentally wanders into her life, and everything changes…although the show opens with an image of that young man dead in a swimming pool, so it is safe to say that things don’t go well for him.
Why the gays are going: Glenn Close can captivate an entire audience just by changing her facial expression. Watching her play an old Hollywood star, who descends into the depths of dementia and despair, is a delicious experience to behold. But Sunset Boulevard is not just an excuse to watch Glenn Close lose her marbles for two hours; this production has the largest orchestra currently on Broadway, so big it doesn’t fit into the pit so they perform on stage with the actors, and the impact is lovely. As a bonus, the male lead (Michael Xavier) performs an entire scene wearing nothing other than a tiny swimsuit, and he has nice pecs. (This production is a revival; Close played this same role on Broadway 22 years ago, and she won a Tony for Best Actress, making her ineligible for a nomination this year.)
The show: Gently Down The Stream
The plot: Two gay men from different generations negotiate the ups and downs of developing a relationship, amidst the social and historical implications of LGBTQ equality. It sounds serious, but it’s charming and funny.
Why the gays are going: The show itself is quite good, but the draw here is the lead actor, Harvey Fierstein. As an openly gay man, he was one of the first artists to bring the LGBTQ experience to the public with his plays, musicals, and movies, causing quite a ruckus when he started in the 1980’s–long before Ellen Degeneres made her coming out announcement on her show. He has a long list of awards for his work both as a writer and an actor, including two Tonys, one for writing and one for Best Actor, in the astounding AIDS-era drama Torch Song Trilogy (fun fact: he shared the stage with Estelle Getty, a.k.a. Sophia Petrillo in The Golden Girls). Younger generations of theater fans may know him as Edna Turnblad, the mom in Hairspray, for which he won a Tony award for Best Actor in 2013, and he also played the role in the 2016 TV version of Hairspray Live! Millennials probably didn’t know when they were watching Hairspray Live!, they weren’t just watching a drag queen, they were watching royalty.
And those in the know are now going to see him in Gently Down The Stream at The Public, because of course the show is amazing.
Show: Groundhog Day
Plot: Following the same plot as the movie with Bill Murray and Andie Macdowell, Groundhog Day is about a weatherman who keeps waking up on the same day, magically forced to live that day over and over again. His frustration drives him nuts and he does some funny things, but what will happen if he falls in love?
Why the gays are going: The lead actor, Andy Karl, previously starred in the Broadway musical Rocky, which didn’t last very long (singing while boxing? really?), but it gave Karl a great reason to work out and he has a dorky/sexy thing going on that is rather appealing. More importantly, however, is the fact that he is excellent in the musical comedy Groundhog Day. Like Rocky, the plot of Groundhog Day may seem like an odd subject for a musical, but the songs are catchy and the show is funny, very funny. Theater aficionados know a good thing when they see it, and the buzz around town is that this show may be the surprise hit of the season. Go see it soon, so you can be cool before it becomes popular and everyone starts going.