It seems incredible to think now that in the first half of the twentieth century, theatres could be shut down and cast members arrested for staging a production with queer themes. Thankfully, that is no longer the case; attitudes have changed and the world has moved forwards in leaps and bounds. Yes, we still have a way to go, but over the last few decades LGBTQ+ theatre has pushed to celebrate the artists of the queer community and advocate for their recognition on stage. Today we’re looking at 10 shows that have made important contributions to LGBTQ+ theatre’s rich history.
The Drag (1927)
Under the pen name of Jane Mast, Mae West’s The Drag caused outrage over her depiction of homosexuality and cross-dressing. Originally staged with a cast of exclusively gay actors from a Greenwich Village club, the play was shut down and never made it to Broadway as planned.
The Boys in the Band (1968)
Mart Crowley struggled to bring The Boys in the Band to the stage. Agents and producers shied away from the then-controversial script about the lives of a group of gay men. However, the play became a surprise Off-Broadway hit and was revived in 2018 on Broadway for the first time. The 2018 cast reprised their roles in the 2020 Netflix film adaptation of the play.
La Cage Aux Folles (1983)
The original production of La Cage Aux Folles ran on Broadway for over four years and broke barriers as one of the first hit musicals to center around a flamboyant homosexual relationship. The show won 6 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
The Normal Heart (1985)
Based on playwright Larry Kramer’s own experiences, The Normal Heart is a powerful, stirring drama based on the harrowing true story of the beginning of the AIDS crisis in New York City, and the gay men who fought with an entire political system to take their plight seriously. Kramer adapted his play into a 2014 screenplay, directed by Ryan Murphy.
Angels in America (1991)
Staying in 1980s America, Tony Kushner describes Angels in America as a “Gay Fantasia on National Themes” set in the middle of the AIDS crisis. It is an epic play, split into two parts: Millenium Approaches and Perestroika. Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane both won Tony Awards for their roles in the 2018 Broadway revival, and Garfield dedicated his win to “the LGBTQ people who have died for their right to love”.
Jonathan Larson’s hit musical Rent paints a stunningly raw and emotional portrait of the gritty bohemian world of New York City in the late 1980s, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. Tragically, Larson died the day Rent began previews Off-Broadway and he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well as the Tony Awards for Best Book of a Musical, Best Musical, and Best Original Score.
Fun Home (2013)
Although there are a few early instances of lesbian relationships on stage, particularly Off-Broadway, few female-centric plays had broken into the mainstream queer canon of performance. Fun Home changed all that, winning 5 Tony Awards with its coming-of-age story of lesbian author Alison Bechdel.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (2017)
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is inspired by the 2011 television documentary, Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, which followed the real-life story of sixteen year-old Jamie Campbell. It depicts Jame’s battle to overcome homophobic prejudice, stand up to the bullies, and emerge as a fully-formed drag queen. The hugely successful London production is still running and the show is due to make its American premiere at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in February 2022.
The Prom (2018)
Following on from the Broadway success of Fun Home, The Prom follows the story of a lesbian high school student, banned from bringing her girlfriend to the prom. The show tackles small town homophobia head-on and was a huge hit on Broadway in 2018. The cast also performed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, marking the first televised LGBTQ+ kiss in the Parade’s history.
The Inheritance (2019)
Following on from Tony Kushner’s exploration of 1980s America, Matthew Lopez’ epic, two-part play The Inheritance explores what it is like to be a young gay man in New York, living and loving in the shadow of the AIDS crisis. The production has been nominated for 11 Tony Awards and you can watch the postponed awards ceremony this September.