Metro Weekly

Claybourne Elder Gets Personal In His Acclaimed Cabaret

The Broadway and Gilded Age star has created a personal journey with the cabaret "If the Stars Were Mine."

Claybourne Elder -- Photo: Matthew Tyler Priestley
Claybourne Elder — Photo: Matthew Tyler Priestley

While the ladies of The Gilded Age waged a cutthroat war over opera boxes across the entire second season of the HBO hit, one of the gays of the 1880s-set drama quietly crept closer to an arguably more meaningful victory.

In a brief but significant scene, socialite John Adams — portrayed by out gay Broadway musical man Claybourne Elder — informs his very closeted ex, Oscar Van Rhijn (Blake Ritson), that he’s involved with another man. “Are you happy with him?” asks Oscar. “I’m happy with me. That’s as much as I need or hope for,” John Adams replies, landing his giant leap towards liberation, as Oscar continues his hunt for a beard.

“When I read that scene, I was so excited,” Elder says over a relaxed, morning video call. “It felt like [we were] telling a story that wasn’t just…’Why the gay guy is going to be really sad and have everything bad happen to him,’ [but that] there could be a person that was like, ‘No, I’m going to live an authentic life,’ in that time period, for whatever that means for him.”

As Elder notes of Gilded Age New York, “it was technically illegal still to be gay, but there were a lot of gay people. There were a lot of gay clubs and gay bars. And so it isn’t a total fantasy to think that there was a person that was like, ‘No, I’m sort of living this life.'” In that moment between John and Oscar, the latter concedes he wishes he were brave enough to live so freely. “I rather envy you,” he tells John.

In turn, both men surely would envy the life Elder leads a century and a half later: out, successful, married to director-playwright Eric Rosen, the father of a six-year-old son, and free to delight audiences everywhere with a show that explicitly discusses — sometimes really explicitly — his modern life as “a nice, gay ex-Mormon dad.”

Billed as part cabaret, part stand-up, Elder’s If the Stars Were Mine started with his intention, after wrapping his 2022 run as Andy in Broadway’s Company, to take a theater break in order to spend more time with his young son. He also was open to exploring other venues for his talents.

“My music director [Rodney Bush], who plays the show with me everywhere, is a good friend of mine, and he was like, you need to put together a show,” Elder recalls. The performer had previously toured a different cabaret set, and, though he had a great time doing it, he harbored no plans for a new one. But something about the timing felt right.

“So I put the show together and I booked some dates, and I ended up just loving it,” says Elder, who has presented If the Stars Were Mine at clubs and cabarets from coast to coast, with many more to follow (when he’s not filming The Gilded Age‘s upcoming third season). “I thought last year was going to be the big year I did it, but this year, now I’ve booked it at twice as many places.”

Conceived by Elder, If the Stars Were Mine combines his takes on tunes from Sondheim, Whitney Houston, and the Great American Songbook, with humorous, heartfelt, and “surprisingly filthy” anecdotes exploring sex, fatherhood, and religion.

“I have done this show for a very wide range of people,” he says, clarifying just how filthy his fans should expect the show to be. “I did it in Provincetown during Bear Week, and I did it in Napa at a vineyard for a bunch of Napa people. Those, I think, are the two very opposite spectrums of the group. And it’s the same show. Maybe I change the words slightly, but I tell the same stories and the same things.”

Claybourne Elder -- Photo: Austin Ruffer
Claybourne Elder — Photo: Austin Ruffer

And even a good man gets a little dirty at times. “This is just me,” he shrugs. “Also, because of who I am as a nice, gay ex-Mormon dad, I don’t want people to come in thinking, ‘Oh, what is he saying?’

“Because the authentic version of myself is sometimes a little bit dirty, and definitely honest. And if I’m telling stories about my life, there will be stories that are about sex, and things like that. And not even just sex, but like, I tell a story about when I donated sperm to make my son, which some people think I talk about sperm a lot in that story. I just don’t want anyone to be surprised by what it is.”

If the Stars Were Mine plays Kingston, New York (March 9), Albany, New York (March 10), Salt Lake City (March 21-24), New Orleans (April 18), New Hope, Pennsylvania (May 4), and Provincetown, Mass. (July 7).

Visit for tickets and future date announcements.

Follow Claybourne Elder on Instagram at @claybourneelder.

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!