EllaRose Chary and Brandon James Gwinn share a vision for the inclusive musical theater they want to see and create. And that vision takes shape in songs on their new album Place and Time, a musical celebration of LGBTQ+ diversity in theater, featuring Broadway stars Tituss Burgess, Amber Gray, Telly Leung, Daisy Eagan, and a host of other talents performing songs written by the 2021 Richard Rodgers Award-winning duo.
Lyricist Chary, who’s lesbian, and composer Gwinn, who identities as queer and gender-fluid, teamed up while both were in the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at New York University. They’re on a mission to challenge the heteronormativity of a form and industry that many often regard as being “so gay,” but that can still feel unwelcoming to queer voices.
“I think that musical theatre, as a genre, as a form, as an expression is very queer,” says Chary. “And I think lots of people from across the queer rainbow and across the queer spectrum are drawn to this form, ourselves included, because of the queerness sort of inherent in it. Yet when we talk about the industry, when we talk about who gets to put their shows up with funding from other people, who has their voice listened to, which voices are prioritized — like with most things, cis white men are the ones who are the most prevalent.”
Adds Gwinn: “If you think about cis white gay men in musical theater, like Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Lenny Bernstein, Jerry Robbins, Arthur Laurents, Fred Ebb, all these gay men were basically writing all the musical theater canon that we love, but it’s all straight stories, all heteronormative stories, all cis stories. This is the opportunity for us to say, ‘Okay, well, what if we don’t do that? What if we, as queer people, don’t write just a straight story, just your heteronormative story?'”
Imagining an onstage world where queer characters of all persuasions share space and songs with the traditionally straight Tonys and Marias, Chary and Gwinn have been tuning up their rock musical TL;DR — Thelma Louise; Dyke Remix, described as a cool meta-analysis of queer women in media.
“It imagines a queer happy ending,” says Chary. “Instead of having to die, what if our characters got to go in search of a queer happy ending? Whatever the hell that is, because it’s so rarely modeled in media. So what does that look like if you got to have it? Does it look like heteronormativity? Probably not. Does it look like separatism? Who knows? Does it look like a polyamorous orgy queer party?” Apparently, it might.
“What [TL;DR] definitely says,” says Gwinn, “is it doesn’t have to end in a fiery ball at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It doesn’t have to end in trauma, doesn’t have to end in death. It doesn’t even have to explore trauma if it doesn’t want to.”
The songs on Place and Time, many drawn from the pair’s other show in development, Queer. People. Time., indeed skip the trauma to highlight “fun, flirty, emotional” aspects of queer existence not often explored onstage.
“Like, what if we have a song like ‘JM’ and the subject is ‘them,’ the subject is someone who uses a they pronoun? And the song isn’t about that, but we get to have a song where that’s what’s happening, or we get to have the love duet and it’s just two women, and it’s not about two women having a love duet. It’s just the kind of love duet that you have in musical theater.”
Place and Time is currently available on Spotify and Apple Music. Visit www.brandonandella.com.
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