Our Love Is Here To Stay:
Gays and Musicals
by John B. Kenrick
"Wendy, instead of lying there in your silly bed, you could be flying about with me saying funny things to the stars."
"The only times I really feel the presence of God are when Im having sex, and during a great Broadway musical."
Father Dan in Jeffrey
Daughter: Didn't you always teach me not to judge people prematurely?
Gay Father: No, we taught you never to judge a musical by the road company.
- Dialogue from It's All Relative, ABC-TV - 2003
"Tuesday on Queer Eye For the Straight Guy: He's into musical theatre and he's straight? It's a world gone crazy, people!"
- Bravo TV promo, May 2004
- Have you flown with Mary Martin? When she asked if you believed in fairies, did you clap with all your heart?
- Have you twirled on a mountaintop with Julie Andrews?
- Descended a staircase with Carol Channing?
- Did you ride that tugboat with Barbara Streisand?
- Have you dreamed with Kiley?
- High-kicked with Chita?
- Belted with Merman?
- Floated on air with Rogers and Astaire?
If so, consider yourself among the lucky and don't be surprised if you happen to be gay. Of course, many musical theatre fans are heterosexual, but musical queens can attain such complete release that we swim in the flow of the rapture. Yes, I happily confess it I am a musical theatre queen. It is more than just a hobby; it is an energizing, enriching and integral part of my life. A great musical sets my world glowing, putting the rest of life in a brighter perspective. For me, life without musicals would be as dull as a life without ice cream, sunsets or warm embraces. One might be technically alive, but what would be the point?
Not all gay men have what I call "musicalmania," but there is a widespread, inter-generational relationship between gays and musicals. In all that has been written on contemporary gay culture, remarkably little attention is given to our passion for musicals. It is so much a part of who we are, and of how others perceive us, that it has been taken for granted.
Much of what has been written on this subject is practically useless, thanks in large part to that creeping linguistic plague known as "academese." For example, try this quote from D.A. Miller's Place For Us: Essays on the Broadway Musical (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998. p. 7):
"The elation of the ego worked by the show tune is not just voluntary, having its source and sustenance nowhere outside a subject who pulls himself up by the tongue on his tap shoes, but also vacuous, too exhausted by the violence of affirmation to acquire any objective reality beyond its own thus belittled grand gesture."
Hunh? Professor Miller is a respected commentator and his book makes some valid points, but trying to find them in all that academic verbiage is like digging through granite to find potatoes.
We need a clear, accessible examination of the relationship between gays and musicals and I hope these essays provide just that. I must also note that Our Love Is Here to Stay: Gays and Musicals was written in 1996 and posted on the internet in early 1998. The fact that John M. Clum's book Something for the Boys: Musical Theatre and Gay Culture (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999) echoes many of the same ideas expressed here is merely a delightful coincidence.
Once the objects of scorn, musical theatre queens have recently become quite a fashionable breed. We can be proud to know Dear World (Herman, Lawrence & Lee 1969), Darling of the Day (Styne & Harburg 1968) and Pleasures and Palaces (Loesser 1965), shamelessly hum obscure show tunes, and openly rejoice when a new hit musical comes along. The gay cultural fads like "disco" and "techno" and "whatevero" come and go, but the gay affection for musicals is here to stay.
Musical theatre queens are an accepted part of the basic gay stereotype. When a young man comes out in the TV movie Doing Time on Maple Drive (1992), his friend's first reaction is, "You're not going to wanna listen to show tunes during long car trips now, are you?"
It is time for gay men to stop accepting the idiotic notion that we are some sort of splinter group, sub-culture or side show. In many areas, including our interest in musicals and other cultural phenomena, we are trailblazers for the mainstream. As community activist David Nimmons explains --
"Yet look at the soul beneath the skin, and you see we are rewriting the defaults of what a culture of men can be with and for each other. The time has come to note the experiments of heart and habit now arising in gay worlds, to discern what they mean for gay men ourselves and for the shared world culture. Because our cultural practices don't just differ from the dominant society, they shape them. . . We are still in the process of becoming, the ink still wet on our ways and practices. But we have already proven ourselves a prolific source of societal change."
- The Soul Beneath The Skin: The Unseen Hearts and Habits of Gay Men (St. Martin's Press, NY, 2002), p. 10.
In Celluloid Closet, Vito Russo recalled an incident that illustrates what the situation --
Some years ago, New Yorks New Museum sponsored a forum called "Is There A Gay Sensibility And Does It Have An Impact On Our Culture?" After a lot of evasive huffing and puffing about everyone from Marcel Proust to Patti Page, Journalist Jeff Weinstein said, "No, there is no such thing as a gay sensibility and yes, it has an enormous impact on our culture."
What is the history of this ongoing musical romance, and why do so many gays have this "thing" for musicals?