June is LGBT Pride month, which commemorates the 1969 Stonewall uprising regarded by most historians as the beginning of the modern day gay rights movement. To salute LGBT Pride month, I am offering my Top 10 all-time LGBT-oriented Broadway plays and musicals.The criteria chosen for these shows include: 1) a successful run on Broadway (or off-Broadway); 2) significant LGBT characters; 3) an LGBT theme or storyline; and 4) groundbreaking for its time. I have selected 5 musicals and 5 plays to comprise the list.
There are so many worthy choices that the others that do not make the Top 10 are included in the Honorable Mentions section.
10. Kinky Boots with music and lyrics by Cindi Lauper and book by Harvey Fierstein received 6 Tony Awards including Best Musical among 13 nominations in 2013. Based on the 2005 film Kinky Boots, which was inspired by a true story, the musical tells of a struggling British shoe factory’s owner, Charlie, who forms an unlikely partnership with a drag queen named Lola, to save the business. Charlie develops a plan to produce custom footwear for drag queens and kings, rather than the men’s dress shoes that his firm is known for, and in the process, he and Lola discover that they are not that different.
9. The 2003 Tony Award winner for Best Play Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg touches on social issues that are in the headlines today. Largely set in the locker room of a professional baseball team, the all-male cast deals with such issues as homophobia, racism, class, and masculinity in sports. With a current push for gay athletes in professional sports to come out, this timeless play resonates like no other.
8. A new revival on Broadway, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a rock musical about a fictional rock and roll band, The Angry Inch fronted by an East German transgender singer, Hedwig. The text is by John Cameron Mitchell, and the music and lyrics are by Stephen Trask. The character of Hedwig was originally inspired by a German divorced U.S. Army wife who was a Mitchell family babysitter and moonlighted as a prostitute at her trailer park home. It opened off-Broadway in 1998 and played for over 850 performances.
7. The 1979 play Bent written by Martin Sherman is a powerful drama that describes the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany and how they must wear the pink triangle as a means of identification. Bent takes place during and after the Night of the Long Knives—an event that occurred from June 30 to July 2, 1934, when the Nazi regime carried out a series of political murders. The play helped raise awareness regarding the Nazi persecution of gays during that period.
6. The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley made the list for being a groundbreaking gay-themed play that opened in 1968 and played off-Broadway for over 1,000 performances. The varied gay characters’ backgrounds are revealed as they became increasingly inebriated during an Upper East Side Manhattan birthday party. Some believed that after seeing the play whereby the gay characters brought their feelings out of the closet, it set a tone that gays should no longer settle for considering themselves as pathetic, which could have been an inspiration for the Stonewall uprising in 1969.
5. Popular among the LGBT community, Rent initially played off-Broadway and eventually moved to Broadway where it won 4 Tony Awards in 1996 including Best Musical. With music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson and based on Puccini’s opera La bohème, Rent tells the story of a group of broke young artists and musicians including gay and lesbian characters struggling to survive and create in New York City’s Lower East Side in Alphabet City, with HIV/AIDS as a significant backdrop to the storyline. The song “Seasons of Love” is a classic. Larsen died suddenly the night before its off-Broadway premiere.
4. Kiss of the Spider Woman, based on the Manuel Puig novel El Beso de la Mujer Araña, captured 7 Tony Awards in 1993 including Best Musical. With music by John Kander and Fred Ebb and the book by Terrence McNally, it tells the story of a gay man, Molina, in a Latin American prison and his relationship with a straight cellmate, Valetin. Molina’s fantasies about the actress Aurora are their only ostensible escape. The show ran for over 900 performances on Broadway.
3. The 1983 Tony and Drama Desk Award winner for Best Play, Torch Song Trilogy, penned by Harvey Fierstein, is presented in three acts: “International Stud,” “Fugue in a Nursery,” and “Widows and Children First!” The story concerns Arnold Beckoff, a torch song singing Jewish drag queen living in New York City in the late 1970s and 1980s with each act focusing on a different phase of Arnold’s life.
2. Angels in America (Parts I and II) is a 1993 Pulitzer Prize masterpiece by gay playwright Tony Kushner. Presented separately, Part I, Millennium Approaches (4 Tony Awards in 1993) and Part II, Perestroika (3 Tony Awards in 1994) center on the AIDS crisis in New York City in 1985 and how it affects a group of dissimilar but connected individuals.
1. Without question La Cage Aux Folles, a record-breaking Tony Awards winner, ranks as the all-time leader of LGBT productions. Given that there were gay main characters, the music and lyrics were penned by a gay composer Jerry Herman and the book written by Harvey Fierstein who is also gay, there is no question La Cage deserves the top spot. Moreover, La Cage gives us the song “I Am What I Am,” which took on a life of its own and became an unofficial gay anthem. This show also demonstrated before it became widely accepted that children of gay parents turn out well—a powerful message amidst a ton of laughter and great music.
Honorable Mentions with Musicals shown in bold (in no particular order):
Falsettos, The Ritz, The Normal Heart, A Chorus Line, Love! Valour! Compassion!, Stop Kiss, Victor/Victoria, The Children’s Hour, The Color Purple, I Am My Own Wife, Avenue Q, Breaking the Code, Spring Awakening, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Deathtrap, The Rocky Horror Show, The Laramie Project, M. Butterfly, The Nance, Next Fall, Cabaret, Fifth of July, Six Degrees of Separation