The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington belting out Broadway showstoppers is a time-honored tradition for the storied 36-year-old troupe. And yet, their annual Spring Pride Concert contains a clever thematic twist that provides the evening a timely bit of freshness, while infusing it with a deeper, underlying meaning: the selections are from shows that contained LGBTQ content and were showered with Tony Awards (not to mention a good drenching of nominations).
“Broadway is important to the gay community as a breeding ground for musicals and plays that reflect issues and themes which resonate with us,” says Tom Boeke, a tenor with the chorus for 11 years. “It can be more daring and brave than movies or TV in presenting gay characters and situations.”
“This show was the brainchild of John Moran,” says Frank Shutts, who took over as its stage director when Moran unexpectedly passed away in December. “It mirrors almost perfectly LGBT history.”
“It celebrates the countless LGBTQ artists who were nominated for Tonys,” adds GMCW Artistic Director Thea Kano. “We will recreate pivotal moments in musical theater, and depict how those moments corresponded to the equality movement.”
We asked Kano, Shutts, and longtime chorus members Boeke and Bill Cutter to reflect on several of the songs we’ll hear this weekend in And the Tony Goes To: A Musical History of Gay Broadway.
“Over the Rainbow,” The Wizard of Oz
TOM BOEKE: It’s an anthem of longing for something better. Historically, Judy Garland was an icon for the gay community and Stonewall. Her funeral took place on the same weekend in 1969.
THEA KANO: We include this anthem to honor Judy Garland and to recognize the start of the LGBTQ movement. Soon thereafter gay characters started to come out on the stage.
“But Alive,” Applause (1970)
FRANK SHUTTS: Hairdresser Duane is the first non-villainous gay character in a Tony-winning musical. He is asked by Margo Channing [the show is based on the movie All About Eve] to bring his boyfriend along on a night out in Greenwich Village.
TOM: It was the first time a gay character was positively featured in a musical, reflective of the societal changes happening in the 1970s.
Tony Nominations: 12 – Wins: 4
“Being Alive,” Company (1970)
THEA: The show highlights a gay, single man’s journey, surrounded by loyal friends. This song is powerful, and one of my favorites.
FRANK: Stephen Sondheim’s unsatisfied protagonist’s search for someone to complete him is universal. We all want that special someone who can break our heart and then heal it.
Tony Nominations: 14 – Wins: 6
“It’s Not Where You Start,” Seesaw (1973)
FRANK: Gay icons Tommy Tune and [director/choreographer] Michael Bennett both received a Tony for their work on this show. In just two years, Bennett would set Broadway records.
Tony Nominations: 7 – Wins: 2
“I Hope I Get It,” A Chorus Line (1976)
THEA: A huge number where the dancers are dancing for their lives. It ends with Paul — a young, scared, closeted dancer — telling his story of accidentally coming out to his parents.
TOM: This show had a huge impact because it talked about growing up gay and the genuine experience of coming out in the ’70s.
Tony Nominations: 12 – Wins: 9
“I Am What I Am,” La Cage Aux Folles (1984)
TOM: The show celebrated the relationship of two men and their challenges, similar to any straight couple.
BILL CUTTER: The ultimate song of defiance. This is who I am and if you don’t like it, that’s just too damned bad. Drag queens started our movement. It’s only fitting they lead the rebellion.
FRANK: With the Moral Majority at its peak, gay writers Jerry Herman and Harvey Feinstein stand [lead character] ZaZa in the spotlight and declare their right to exist unapologetically as they are.
Tony Nominations: 9 – Wins: 6
“What More Can I Say?,” Falsettos (1992)
TOM: This song is told from the perspective of an older gay man reflecting on his relationship and love for a younger man, and the effect the AIDS crisis has on their relationship.
BILL: This may be one of the most beautiful songs ever written. It speaks to the heart in ways that only music can. Everything you ever need to know about love is in it.
Tony Nominations: 7 – Wins: 2
“Dressing Them Up,” Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993)
FRANK: During the AIDS crisis, the theater community looked to escape. [Main character] Molina takes himself, and us, from ugly reality, until the deadly “spider woman” catches up with him.
Tony Nominations: 11 – Wins: 7
“One Song Glory,” Rent (1996)
TOM: One of the first musicals that discussed AIDS and celebrated gender diversity. The diverse cast of characters reflected the East Village and bohemian lifestyle of the young.
FRANK: The character who sings this isn’t gay, but was infected with the virus by his girlfriend. The world, especially the youth, sees the universal crisis.
Tony Nominations: 10 – Wins: 4
“Willkommen,” Cabaret (1998)
FRANK: The 1998 revival, revealing the show’s gay characters and themes, had a stronger punch to its message of intolerance and political apathy than the original production.
BILL: The 1920s were a time of change and freedom. That freedom threatened some and I see Cabaret as a cautionary tale that resonates very loudly today. Don’t take our rights for granted, as they could be taken away with the flourish of a pen. History does repeat, if we let it.
Tony Nominations: 10 – Wins: 4
“If You Were Gay,” Avenue Q (2004)
THEA: This duet is a dialogue between two roommates, one trying to get the other to admit to being gay. The show was revolutionary for addressing social justice issues with puppets!
TOM: It normalized sexual orientation to a wider audience by saying it is okay to be gay in a humorous and relatable way.
BILL: The ’90s were a time of LGBTQ progress and that means it’s time to lampoon that progress. You know you’ve made it when they write a showtune about you.
Tony Nominations: 6 – Wins: 3
“Expressing Yourself,” Billy Elliot the Musical (2008)
FRANK: Our youth chorus, GenOUT, perform this showstopping number about expressing yourself, regardless of your age. A needed message to LGBTQ youth.
Tony Nominations: 15 – Wins: 10
“I’m Not My Father’s Son,” Kinky Boots (2013)
THEA: The character singing this song is not willing to live up to his father’s expectations at the sacrifice of his own identity and beliefs.
FRANK: Speaking directly to a community who has long sought equality but, as a whole, is slow in joining the LGBT community’s struggle, Kinky Boots puts forth a plea for unity.
Tony Nominations: 13 – Wins: 6
“Wig in a Box,” Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2014)
THEA: Hedwig was revolutionary for being the first the musical to feature a transgender character as the lead.
FRANK: Through this groundbreaking work, Broadway asks us to look at our own members who haven’t received the level of acceptance the rest of us have.
Tony Nominations: 8 – Wins: 4
“What I Did For Love,” A Chorus Line (Encore)
TOM: This song is about acknowledging the past and looking forward to the future. To remember whose shoulders we stand on, and pass along our LGBTQ experience to the next generation
THEA: The lyrics of this song sum up the dedication we all have as artists to our art. We will sing it to honor the countless LGBTQ artists who paved the way to Broadway.
“Raise You Up/Just Be,” Kinky Boots (Encore)
THEA: This number serves well as a celebratory finale, featuring our dancers in — what else?– Kinky Boots!
BILL: Our community needs to raise each other up, not tear each other down. There really is strength in numbers and we each and every one of us to move forward. Especially now.
The GMCW’s And the Tony Goes To will be performed Saturday, June 3, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, June 4, at 3 p.m. At the Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. NW. Tickets are $25 to $65. Call 202-888-0050 or visit gmcw.org.
This year’s Tony Awards will be broadcast live on Sunday, June 11, at 8 p.m. on CBS.