As someone who used to work in online LGBT news media, and who now works in theatrical media, Pink Paper’s “Top 5 gay West End musicals” article piqued my interest for multiple reasons when it turned up on Twitter.
Unfortunately, it’s so riddled with errors that it’s almost laughable.
The West End has never had so much competition attracting tourists as the capital has become the place to be this summer.
Rather than give up, the industry has pulled out all the stops to entice eager theatre fans, and it seems they have followed the advice of theatre producer Max Bialystock, following the manta: “whatever you do on the stage, keep it snappy, keep it happy, keep it gay!”.
Unfortunately, while that quote does indeed come from The Producers, where Max Bialystock and business Leo Bloom attempt to create an über-camp pro-Nazi musical with the hope of fleecing their investors, the line quoted comes from the director they hire, Roger De Bris, and not Bialystock.
And if West End producers really were following the “manta” [sic], surely all five musicals would be gay, or gay-themed? Instead, only one of the five could be said to be gay-themed – and it’s neither a musical nor in the West End.
Here’s the Pink’s list:
1. Torch Song Trilogy, Menier Chocolate Factory
The only definitively gay entry in the list. Not a musical, more a play with songs – and the Menier’s Southwark location is far from the West End.
2. Ghost the Musical, Piccadilly Theatre
Not gay in the slightest (although its lead actor, Mark Evans, is very happily out and quite pleasant on the eye).
3. Rock of Ages, Shaftesbury Theatre
Well, there’s a gay subplot, albeit one that comes from nowhere and is mainly done as a comic throwaway rather than anything more deep and meaningful. So maybe the Pink’s gay musical count can go up by a half point. But they should have it taken away again for saying how pretty Oliver Thornton is. I agree with them on that point – but the Wicked/Priscilla Queen of the Desert star isn’t in Rock of Ages. However, Oliver Tompsett is…
4. The Wizard of Oz, London Palladium
The film which coined the phrase “friend of Dorothy” has always been a gay favourite – and this musical adaptation rather unnecessarily (and clumsily) inserts that line. So again, another possible half point – deducted for a poor joke about “Sophie Evans as Liza, sorry, Dorothy”. Any gay publication that mixes up mother-and-daughter gay icons Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli should, quite frankly, have their homosexual membership cards revoked immediately.
5. Matilda the Musical, Cambridge Theatre
Just because a demonic female character is played by a man doesn’t necessarily make it gay. I haven’t seen this yet, but everyone who has has praised Bertie Carvel’s portrayal of Miss Trunchbull – for which he won an Olivier Award earlier this year – has done so precisely because he goes against the archetypal man-in-drag performance. Indeed, he himself told the BBC:
The thing about the pantomime dame is there is a certain kind of tongue-in-cheekness that the actor is sending up the fact they are cross-dressing, and that is not what I’m trying to do at all.
I suppose I might have let the Pink Paper off in this instance, if they didn’t immediately misspell the name of director Matthew Warchus (who also directed Ghost).
All in all, it feels like a curious attempt to concoct a story around a list of musicals, which is further let down by poor fact-checking and poor choices. Why is Billy Elliot not listed, for example, when Billy’s friend Michael develops feelings for his best friend (one of the sweetest portrayals of young same-sex affection I’ve seen on stage)? And no mention of Mamma Mia!, with its perennial formula of Abba songs and a male ensemble that spends much of the show topless? I think the Pink Paper missed a trick on both counts.
It also seems a curious year to even attempt such a list, especially in previous years we’ve had both Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and La Cage Aux Folles running at the same time…