A Guide to Musicals for the Gay Man Who Hates Musicals
So, you’re gay. And you’ve been dragged to karaoke night at your favorite bar for a friend’s birthday. When his name is called, he runs onstage and prepares to sing his go-to song. You hear one piano chord that makes everyone in the bar scream, an you’re perplexed. Your other friends all start singing in perfect unison: “525,600 minutes … 525,000 moments so dear.” You’re standing there in silence when your friend’s co-worker from Express incredulously queries, “You don’t know the words to ‘Seasons of Love’? I liiiiiived for Rent in middle school!”
Yeah, you’re gay … but you don’t exactly love musicals.
Don’t revoke my gay card, but I don’t love them either. I’ve never been able to wrap my head around the whole “I’m talking, now I’m siiiiiiiiinging!” thing. In preparing to write this handy guide, I spoke with a friend of mine who could be summed up as The Ultimate Theater Queen, and I voiced this very grievance with musicals in general. He replied, “Actors in a musical should never start singing unless the emotion is so high that their words can no longer be spoken.” (And just so you can visualize how gay our conversation was, he said that with a Cosmo in one hand while gesticulating grandly with the other.)
I guess it’s lame to write off any particular form of entertainment without really trying to understand what its most ardent fans see in it, right? I mean, I hate country music but scream like an orc from Lord of the Rings whenever “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” plays in a gay bar. So I guess I kinda like country music?
Here’s a list of great musicals that even ‘gay men who don’t love musicals’ will love.
This is the show that beat Wicked for Best Musical at the Tonys — something no one saw coming. I think the reason why is the universality of this show. The main protagonist opens Avenue Q singing his fears about what life will be like now that he has graduated from college.
The brilliance of Avenue Q is that while the show is packaged like an episode of Sesame Street, with bright colors and puppets, it’s here to teach us life lessons. (Though I doubt Sesame Street would air a tutorial for kids called “The Internet Is for Porn.”)
You’ll love this musical because: Two puppets have sex. Wildly.
The Book of Mormon
If you don’t like this show, you need to have your pulse checked. From the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, this is a musical for everybody. The brilliance of this show is that you get all the edgy humor of a South Park episode with the heart of a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical (in the form of an unlikely romance between a Mormon missionary and an African village ingénue).
And it’s likely the only time you’re going to hear a song called “Fuck You, God” in a theater in your entire life.
You’ll love this musical because: You’ll have a smile on your face from overture to finale.
Cabaret started off as a stage musical in London, which then traveled to Broadway. The 1972 film version made it the legendary property it is today, and that’s thanks to director Bob Fosse. He made major changes to the story and eliminated all songs in the show that did not take place in the context of the film’s cabaret space, the Kit Kat Klub.
What that means is no one starts singing in casual conversation, which is what most people who hate musicals find most cringe-worthy. If you’re still not convinced, Fosse beat Francis Ford Coppola (director of The Godfather) that year for the Oscar. And fun fact: Fosse also won Best Director that year at the Emmys (Liza with a Z) and the Tonys (Pippin), a feat that’s likely never to be matched.
You’ll love this musical because: One word: LIZA. She has never been better, and she delivers her Oscar-winning performance with heartbreaking earnestness.
Dear Evan Hansen
I will freely admit that I only saw this musical (two weeks ago, in fact) because I saw that Beyoncé had Insta’d a backstage pic with the star. Well, if Beyoncé liked it…
This show deals with some pretty intense subject matter, especially for a musical. If you’re in NYC and are lucky enough to score a ticket, witnessing Tony winner Ben Platt’s insanely athletic performance as the title character is something truly extraordinary. (He leaves the production mid-November, and The Real O’Neals actor Noah Galvin will take over.)
You’ll love this musical because: You have to. Beyoncé loved it, and therefore it is law.
This show has not even opened yet on Broadway and it’s all people can talk about. In true Disney fashion, the back wall of the famed St. James Theater had to be blown out to accommodate Elsa’s rising castle.
This will be a major event on Broadway, and the songwriters from the movie (Robert Lopez also wrote Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon) have written 11 new songs for the stage that are sure to keep tweens singing for years to come.
You’ll love this musical because: Admit it, you’ve always had a soft spot for “Let It Go.”
You’ll be surprised how many songs you already know from this legendary musical that pays tribute to the ‘free love’ and war protest of the 1960s. Aaaaaaand … they all get naked at the end of Act One. This might be a show to splurge on front row seats for (or at least bring binoculars).
You’ll love this musical because: Culture with a side of D is never a waste of time.
You’ve heard about this one. (Here’s hoping, anyway.) People are paying thousands of dollars to get into the theater for it, and every celebrity in the world has Insta’d a photo backstage with the cast. (Except Madonna, who was famously not invited backstage when she was seen texting throughout the entire performance!)
This is a show that lives up to the hype. Perhaps it’s the racially diverse cast, delivering the show’s message through a hip-hop filter, that has made this musical appealing to a wider audience. But this show has all the goods to back up its already legendary status. It’s a story about who made America and what makes America great, and it’s an excellent refresher course during these troubled times.
You’ll love this musical because: You’ll never embarrass yourself again by wrongly listing Alexander Hamilton as a U.S. president. (He was our first Treasury Secretary.)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Considered by some to be the “Hamlet of male musical theater roles,” Hedwig is a story about love and self-exploration set to some of the greatest rock music ever written for the stage. Similar to Cabaret, the entirety of the show’s musical numbers take place within the context of a show.
If you’re lucky enough to see a production of this show live, you’d be hard-pressed not to fall in love with the title character, beautifully written by the show’s co-creator and first star, John Cameron Mitchell. If seeing it onstage isn’t an option (though it is a favorite of local theaters the world over), the film version, directed by Mitchell in 2001, is equally brilliant.
You’ll love this musical because: The music is absolutely amazing, and Madonna’s longtime stylist, Arianne Phillips, did all the costumes for the recent Broadway revival.
West Side Story
OK, this one might test your ability to suspend disbelief, but stay with me. You’ve heard of this musical before, of course: Two rival gangs on the West Side of Manhattan who … uh … fight each other using knives and … dancing. Stay with me!
If you’re going to watch one movie musical from Broadway’s Golden Age, let it be this one, if for no other reason than experiencing a musical created by four men considered geniuses in their respective fields. The music was by the legendary Leonard Bernstein, choreography by Jerome Robbins, script by Arthur Laurents and the lyrics were by a very young Stephen Sondheim.
Also, the performances, particularly by George Chakiris and Rita Moreno (who both won Oscars for their roles) are incredible. This film won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Art Direction, et al, and it really is a feast for the eyes. Give it a shot; you won’t regret it.
You’ll love this musical because: It’s some of the greatest music ever written for the stage, and you’ll be humming it for days.
This one’s the rare example of how a really bad movie musical can still be enjoyable. Olivia Newton-John is so damn likable that she makes this turd shine! The entire movie is just one slow build to the finale, in which the title song is performed by the entire cast (including an incredibly spry, roller-skating Gene Kelly) inside a skating rink nightclub.
The subsequent stage musical really played up the cheese factor of the movie, and it starred a pre-American Horror Story Cheyenne Jackson as the doofy hunk Sonny.
You’ll love this musical because: Jackson in cut-off jean shorts. (Although it’s not on Broadway anymore, you can watch the Tony Awards performance on YouTube.)
Featured image by RightFramePhotoVideo via iStock