The View UpStairs — a new musical written by Max Vernon and directed by Scott Ebersold — opened Off-Broadway last night at The Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project in New York City.
The production pulls you inside the UpStairs Lounge, a vibrant ‘70s gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Inspired by one of the most significant yet ignored attacks against the LGBTQ community, The View UpStairs examines what has been gained and lost in the fight for equality, and how the past can help guide all of us through an uncertain future.
The one-act musical features an ensemble cast full of vibrant performances. Nathan Lee Graham dazzles as the campy older queen Willie, channeling divas Eartha Kitt and Tina Turner with growls and high-kicks. American Idol’s Frenchie Davis portrays bar owner Henri with ease and integrity, showcasing her incredible vocals whenever she gets the chance. Michael Longoria is the bar’s resident drag queen, and he sports an energy that would even make a Ru girl applaud.
Another breakout star whose performance is worth admission alone is the handsome and talented Taylor Frey. You may recognize him from when his wedding with Nashville’s Kyle Dean Massey littered the headlines, with gay blogs sharing pics of the handsome couple’s gorgeous Palm Springs wedding.
No stranger himself to the stage or screen, we caught up with Frey right before opening night. He also shared some very steamy photos he recently took with photographer Brian Kaminski.
What has been your path in performing?
I got my first cool job as Link Larkin in the national tour of Hairspray. And then from there I moved to New York City. I did three Broadway shows right in a row — Finian’s Rainbow, South Pacific and How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (three revivals). And then I decided to move to L.A. I did a soap opera there for a little while. I did a film called G.B.F. that went to the Tribeca Film Festival. I then came back to NYC, did a show at Radio City, went to Italy, shot a film that went to the Venice Film Festival and now I am doing this.
Who is Patrick, the character you portray in The View UpStairs?
Patrick was having sexual experiences with a cousin of his during his early teens, and he started to come into his own. I don’t think it was something he was fearful of when it was happening. It was something he didn’t understand, but it was something that felt good, even though it was being done at an inappropriate time.
Soon after that, his parents started to pick up that he was gay, and they took him to a therapist to perform conversion therapy on him — electroshock therapy on his mind. And so he dealt with that for years, and he needed to get away, so he moved to New Orleans. He left his family and everybody to go be on his own. To survive, he started hustling. We use that term, since it was the ’70s. He was doing sexual favors for money just to stay alive, because he had left his home. Patrick is a very sexual guy. He doesn’t mind the work he does hustling, because he actually enjoys having sex. Is it always convenient? Is it always what he wants it to be? No, but he is staying alive. I think he thinks his life is OK and he is doing alright.
The thing about Patrick that I like is, I was raised in a pretty strict Mormon household. My entire Mormon family came to my wedding; every single person came. They spoke. They have completely opened up their hearts and minds to me and to my husband, which has been beautiful. But there was time there when it was very tricky, just because they didn’t understand. They didn’t really get it. They didn’t even know a gay person. It is kind of crazy. So much like Patrick that when I became the age I could leave home, I left for New York City as soon as I could just to be my own person and figure my own shit out.
I do like playing that every night. Much like Patrick, I found my own little paradise much like the show says.
Why is it important to tell this story right now?
First off, nobody really knows it happened. It was a tragic event. It was something that happened due to a lack of tolerance or the inability to be able to see the other side. Depending on who they believe who set the fire for sure, there is some self-hatred, misunderstanding each other even in our own community. There is still a lot of progress to be had.
And of course, the political climate with Trump and Mike Pence, who believes in conversion therapy. Speaking specifically to my character, that is fucking crazy. It is crazy that we have a vice president in the White House who believes in some of these tactics and therapies to get rid of the gay. I thought we were so far past that. The show makes so many digs at Trump and where we are at, and that is what I love about the piece. It shows how far we have come, but it also shows how far we have to go.
I think it is amazing that people can come into this paradise of a bar and hear that in 1973 they went through similar things that are we kind of going through right now.
There is so much diversity in our own community, and there is a lot of diversity in the show. What are your thoughts on the cliques and sub-groups interacting with each other in the LGBT community?
That is another theme in the show. Even in our own community, we are struggling to still try and accept one another. I am not sure if it’s because of the way so many of us were raised, because a lot of us did come from such conservative households. I think a lot of gay men are still trying to figure themselves out and what is acceptable and what is cool in the gay community.
Everybody still just wants to be loved, and I think people see other gay men as this reflective mirror of themselves. If someone is too flamboyant or too this or too that, it scares them and they shut them off. Like, “masc for masc” is such bullshit. And really if we could just let everyone be who they want to be and celebrate them for their differences, I think everyone would get along better. No one should be shut out. Some of these cliques that occur in our community are an interesting dynamic, because we have been outside ourselves all our lives. Again, we have to love each other. Instead of just tolerating our differences, we have to celebrate them.
What is something — a lesson or a moral — that someone from the LGBT community will leave with after seeing The View UpStairs?
You know, this is going to sound so cheesy and so cliché, but I just think that any person who comes to the show — especially in our community and especially with the climate right now in our world, with the chaos that is going on — they can come and just feel love. Can they think about our progression or lack thereof? Sure. But they can come and understand that we just need to love each other.
That is what is so great about this show. We are a bunch of misfits up in this bar, and in this world we are all a bunch of misfits, you know? The people who claim they are not and they are the status quo — that is who I don’t like anyway. So anyone who comes and sits in this theater can truly leave having their heart just kind of hugged. That is what this show is. It’s a message of love. We have to love one another. We have to lift one another. Especially right now more than ever.
The View UpStairs runs Off-Broadway at The Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project through May 21
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