Your Ring of Keys
Pride Month may be over, but that's no reason to stop celebrating, and definitely not a reason to stop advocating for LGBTQI rights and representation. While there is an ever-growing list of mainstream musicals where gay and lesbian characters are treated as more than the punchline, very few of these musicals have been filmed live and publicly released. Oh, how I wish Head Over Heels (which in 2018 featured the first openly transgender woman, Peppermint, originating a role on Broadway) and The Prom (telling the story of a group of Broadway actors who help a lesbian student bring her girlfriend to prom) had been filmed live during their Broadway runs. #MORELesbiansOnBroadway!
In alphabetical order, here’s a look at some filmed live musicals with LGBTQ themes and central characters who identify as LGBTQ.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie tells the story of a gay teenager who lives in a Yorkshire council estate and dreams of becoming a drag queen. Composed by first-time theatre writers Dan Gillespie Sells (music) and Tom MacRae (book and lyrics), it was inspired by the 2011 BBC documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16. The musical opened on the West End in 2016. It was filmed live in 2018, and broadcast in cinemas throughout the UK and Ireland, and in the North America. A movie adaptation was due for release this year, but has been postponed due to COVID. I really hope they release the filmed live version, because it is GLORIOUS.
Adapted from earlier William Finn works, Falsettos tells the story of a dysfunctional but loving Jewish New York family in the late 1970s. Marvin leaves his family, wife Trina and young son Jason, when he falls in love with another man, Whizzer. Trina ends up with the family psychiatrist Mendel, and the “family” is completed by lesbian neighbors Dr. Charlotte and Cordelia. When Whizzer is diagnosed with AIDS, the whole family comes together.
The musical first opened on Broadway to rave reviews at the Golden Theater in 1992. Lincoln Center staged a highly praised revival in 2016, which was filmed live in 2017 for Live from Lincoln Center and later broadcast in cinemas across North America. The musical was also broadcast on PBS, and is now available to stream on BroadwayHD.
Composed by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, and based on Alison Bechdel’s best-selling graphic novel of the same name, Fun Home is an intimate musical in which grown-up Alison looks back on her life in relation to her closeted father’s suicide shortly after she came out as a lesbian.
After an award-winning run at the Public Theater in 2013, the musical transferred to Broadway where it played a the Circle in the Square Theatre and became the first musical to win a Tony Award for Best Original Score by an all-female writing team.
Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago staged a production well-received production in 2017 which was recorded for archival purposes. In response to the COVID-19 shutdown, Victory Gardens Theater streamed the archival recording for a limited time in May.
Inspired by a true story, Kinky Boots tells the story of Charlie, who reverses the sinking fortunes of his family’s shoe business after meeting Lola, a drag queen in need of a sexy but sturdy shoe. With a score by Cyndi Lauper and book by Harvey Fierstein, the musical adaptation opened on Broadway in 2013 starring Billy Porter in the role of Lola.
The West End production opened in 2015 and was later filmed live by BroadwayHD. It was aired in cinemas in 2019, and is now available to view on BroadwayHD.
Pieces of String
Pieces of String is an original musical set both in 1940 and the present day. When Jane returns to the family home after her father’s funeral to begin clearing out the house, she unfolds a devastating secret, the ramifications of which stretch across generations.
Writer and composer Gus Gowland was inspired to create Pieces of String after seeing a BBC documentary that briefly mentioned gay relationships in the UK and USA during World War II, and modern day stories of gay men being unable to donate blood. Gowland sought to widen the scope for the way gay male characters are portrayed in musical theatre (a topic which he later explored in his PhD dissertation), and attempted to ensure women were also equally represented in the musical.
Pieces of String premiered at the UK’s Mercury Theatre Colchester in 2019 where it was filmed live. The musical is currently available to rent on Digital Theatre.
A modern re-interpretation of Puccini’s La Boheme, RENT tells the story of a group of friends and artists living in the East Village in New York in the late 1980s. The musical features several gay characters, including Tom Collins, a college professor who is gay and HIV positive, Angel Dumott Schunard, a drumming drag queen who is also HIV positive, Maureen Johnson, a bisexual performance artist, and Joanne Jefferson a public interest lawyer and lesbian.
Following a sold-out run at the New York Theatre Workshop, RENT transferred to Broadway in 1996 and went on to play 5123 performances before closing in September 2008. The final night of the original Broadway production was filmed live, and RENT: Filmed Live on Broadway is widely available on DVD, YouTube, Amazon, VUDU, and Google Play.
Taboo the Musical is a love story set against the artistic backdrop of the New Romantic period in 1980s England, interweaving autobiographical elements from the lives of Australian-born performance artist Leigh Bowery, and unashamedly-out pop star Boy George. The musical opened on the West End in 2002, and despite lukewarm reviews, was a smash hit with audiences. The original London production was filmed in 2003 and is available on DVD (Region 2 only).
YANK! tells the story of male soldiers falling in love, depicting the gay world that “thrived just beneath the surface of the US Army in the 1940s.” The musical was a hit of the NY Musical Theatre Festival in 2005, and had a successful off-Broadway run in 2010. Below 54th hosted a 10th anniversary concert earlier this year, and the video is currently available on YouTube.
These musicals are not specifically focused around LGBT storylines, but feature LGBT characters or themes.
Bad Girls: The Musical
Based on the award-winning British drama, the musical premiered in 2006 before transferring to the West End in 2007. It was filmed live during its West End run is now available to rent on Vimeo.
Naked Boys Singing
A revue-style musical, with, as the title suggests, a group of men singing in a state of undress. Although the musical was a long-running off-Broadway staple, the filmed live version was panned by critics. If watching a bunch of naked dudes singing about things that affect dudes is your thing, you can watch it on Amazon.
The Rocky Horror Show
The cult-phenomenon started life as a stage show in 1973 that was put together in just three weeks.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Royal Court Theatre in 2006, a special production of The Rocky Horror Tribute Show was staged featuring original cast members from stage and screen. The event was filmed live and is now widely available on DVD.
A 40th anniversary gala production was staged at the Playhouse in London in 2015. and the event was livestreamed in cinemas across Europe and the UK. It was later briefly available in the USA on BBC America. The film has not yet been officially released.
Starring Julie Andrews and based on the 1982 film of the same name, the musical tells the story of Victoria Grant, an out-of-work British soprano who unsuccessfully auditions for a jazz club in Paris. She befriends Toddy who convinces her to disguise herself as a man pretending to be a woman. Filmed live on Broadway for Japanese television in 1995 with the original cast, the musical is widely available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Bonus Audio Content
Queer Music Heritage has an excellent list of musicals queer-centric musicals that received commercial cast recordings.
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