Whatever your entertainment needs, we got your back (and hopefully your mind) with Queerty’s weekly “Culture Club” column with some of the highlights of new releases, streaming shows, classics worth revisiting, and what to drink while you watch.

The Catch: Firebird

Actor Tom Prior makes his bid for full-on leading man status with this historical romance which he also co-wrote and produced. Firebird adapts the story of Russian writer Sergey Fetisov’s memoir. Sergey (Prior), is a young private in the Soviet army in Estonia, circa the 1970s. His life of gray sameness and oppression erupts with the arrival of Roman (Oleg Zagorodnii), a dashing fighter pilot whose love of life and culture makes him irresistible. Sparks fly between the two men—a dangerous thing, considering the homophobic atmosphere of the army and watchful eyes of the KGB.

As directed by Peeter Rebane, Firebird has all the makings of an intense queer drama, starting with sexually charged performances by Zagorodnii and Prior. Both actors commit to their roles and have authentic chemistry together. The rest of the film feels just as credible, even if it’s not quite as enthralling. Firebird represents an intensely personal project for both Rebane and, in particular, Prior, both of whom met Sergey Festiov prior to his death, and who have shepherded the film to completion. And yet, the film never feels like a vanity piece. On the contrary: it announces Prior less as a leading man than as a passionate artist, unafraid to take professional risks. That’s exactly the kind of actor that makes us fall in love.

In theatres April 29.

The Legit Part I: Tootsie – The Musical

The long-awaited national tour of the 2019 Broadway musical kicks off in Los Angeles this week. Tootsie reimagines the plot of the 1982 comedy classic, resetting it to 21st century New York. Michael, an egotistical actor, can’t hold down a job due to his difficult reputation. In need of work, he begins dressing as “Dorothy,” a middle-aged woman who becomes a smash in a Broadway musical. But how long can Michael keep up appearances? And how does he reconcile his alter-ego with his growing affections for Julie, his leading lady?

Tootsie doesn’t quite have the snappy wit of the original movie, though the staging does allow for some very funny physical comedy. The updated book also addresses some of the issues raised by the movie that it never addressed: namely that a man appropriates a role intended for a woman, and the film’s alleged transphobia. For our part, we enjoyed it: Tootsie may not be a major musical work, but it still offers a fun evening of theatre.

Runs at the Dolby Theatre April 26-May 15.

The Legit Part II: Hadestown

Also on the long-delayed tour front, the Tony-winning smash Hadestown resumes its inaugural tour this week. The story reimagines the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice set in a world of juke joints and steampunk. Orpheus, a songwriter, romances Eurydice who initially rejects him for being poor. Then the god Hades kidnaps her to his underground sweatshop, and Orpheus vows to journey to Hell to find her.

The broad strokes of the myth remain intact here, augmented by a thrilling folk-blues-jazz score by Anaïs Mitchell. The show also boasts a unique visual look, mixing elements of sci-fi, horror and 1920s blues clubs into a surreal environment for the characters to occupy. In a landscape dominated by revivals and films-adapted-as-tourist-musicals (see above), Hadestown restores our faith that one of America’s few home-grown art forms—the Broadway musical—may well survive a journey to Hell and back.

Runs April 27-May 29. Also plays at Segerstrom Center for the Arts August 9-21.

The Legit Part III: Romeo & Bernadette

New York theatre lovers should take note of this new Off-Broadway musical comedy from seven-time Emmy winner Mark Saltzman. Romeo & Bernadette posits a sequel to Romeo & Juliet whereby the title lover wakes up hundreds of years after the events of Shakespeare’s tragedy, and goes looking for his lost lady in 1960s Brooklyn. He doesn’t quite find her, instead developing eyes for Bernadette, the daughter of a local mob boss. How’s that for chemistry?

As with much of Saltzman’s work, Romeo & Bernadette mixes farce with historical and literary allusions. That makes for a unique flavor of humor: audiences can enjoy the snappy dialogue and situational comedy as well as the esoteric in-jokes. As the above two Legit entries indicate, in an era of big-budget musicals based on existing properties, Off-Broadway has become the place to catch fresh new works (Hadestown started Off-Broadway before transferring). Could Romeo & Bernadette become the next toast of New York? Catch it in its infancy to find out.

Opens May 3 at THEATER 555 in New York City.

The Sing-Along: Jesus Christ Superstar: The All-Female Version

As if three major productions wasn’t enough for all you theatre queens out there, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best score gets the remaster treatment, and with an all-female cast. We’ll not retread the plot of Jesus Christ Superstar here—given the proximity to Easter earlier this month, you probably already know. This new version, however, is noteworthy for its genderblind casting, and for full-throated performances by Morgan James as Jesus, Shoshana Bean as Judas, and Cynthia Erivo as Mary Magdalene. In particular, Erivo enchanted us with her “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” while Bean’s wailing through the title track gave us chills. We have to wonder how a full-on staging of Superstar would look with an all-female cast…and, for that matter, just now nuts Christian hyper-conservatives would get over the notion of a woman Jesus. Hey, we’d pay to see it just for the controversy.

Available for download April 29.

The Giggle: Help! I’m in a Secret Relationship

https://youtu.be/xXShnTVdtOw

Actress Rahne Jones (The Politician) co-hosts this new MTV reality show about—as the title implies—people caught in relationships they must keep hidden from friends and family. Jones, along with co-host Travis Mills, meet with their various subjects to take stock of their relationship histories, and offer a bit of investigation as to how and why they’ve ended up in such an unenviable position. That includes several queer relationships, which, of course, often have something to do with the closet.

A show like this could easily turn into a Jerry Springer-style trash fest, though to the credit of the producers, Secret Relationship treats its subject matter with empathy. It also helps that Jones and Mills both have rich, charismatic personalities to help keep us engaged. Secret relationships often carry their own degree of emotional and psychological abuse. Here’s a show willing to address those subjects without sensationalism or exploitation.

Airs on MTV Tuesdays beginning April 26.

The Spin: rei brown – “Could I Be Somebody”

This tender pop ballad from queer singer rei brown took us off guard with the ways it manages to evoke youthful feelings…especially the sneaking suspicion that our attraction to a person of the same sex wasn’t quite the same for anyone else. The surreal accompanying video reminds us a bit of ET set in a cabin: the feeling of a special bond with someone different, and the lingering sense that in a world of straight people, we’re aliens.

Streams on YouTube.

The Jam: Rock Europa “Can You Feel The Weight?”

And finally, the breezy folk-pop coming out song we didn’t know we needed. Queer singer Rock Europa penned this track based on his experience growing up in rural Mississippi and the loneliness and shame he felt living in the closet. We can relate. How strange then that he’s taken such feelings and made them into a an upbeat, sunny tune?

Streams on SoundCloud.

The Sip: The Firebird

via shutterstock

Honoring Firebird…as well as the way it mocks Russian homophobia without ever saying a word about Vladimir Putin…we offer up this cocktail that shares the film’s namesake. Fruity, sweet, strong and unique, it somehow seems to fit with the story of Sergey Fetisov.

  • 1 1/2 oz silver tequila
  • 1/2 oz creme de bananes
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 2 oz lemonade

Mix ingredients in a glass over ice. Stir well and serve.

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