Script for August 2003, QMH
From "Lovers" - celebrate (1975)
That song was called "Celebrate," and it's from a little-known musical from 1975 called "Lovers." Welcome to Queer Voices on KPFT and I'm JD Doyle. On tonight's edition of Queer Music Heritage, we're going to focus on a beloved area of our musical culture, the gay musical. And by using that term I immediately have to define myself. Musicals have always been a big part of our culture, to the point of it being stereotypical. But I'm not talking about musicals like "Chorus Line," or "Dreamgirls," "West Side Story," "Follies," "Gypsy," "Cats," "Cabaret," "Rent," or on and on, even though many may have had a gay sensibility, or gay writers behind them. In fact, it wasn't until 1970 that a Broadway musical even featured an openly gay character. That was done by Lee Roy Reams, playing a hairdresser in "Applause." And in tonight's show I'm also not talking about the works of Noel Coward, Cole Porter or Lorenz Hart. They were very gay, but their musicals weren't.
I'm talking about gay musicals where the central characters and plots were gay, and I'm further limiting my aim to only cover those that had soundtracks that made it onto vinyl or CD. In the early years, this didn't happen very often, as the productions were generally low budget affairs, far removed from even being off-off-Broadway.
To put things in perspective, the first non-musical gay play to have a soundtrack was "Boys In The Band," and that wasn't until it was made into a movie in 1968. It didn't take all that much longer for a gay musical to make it to vinyl. My research indicates the honor of being first happened in 1973, and goes to a musical called "The Faggot." It was written and directed by Al Carmines, and while I'm not sure what we would make of it today, it got a lot of attention then and it's first run lasted over 200 performances. It featured a large cast of men and women, and songs by a hustler, two leather men, a fag-hag bar owner, and included the characters Oscar Wilde and Bosie, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and Catherine the Great. I think we can safely say the plot was not memorable. From it, here's the opening number "Women With Women, Men With Men" followed by "The New Boy In Town."
From "The Faggot" - women with women, men with men / the new boy in town (1973)
Now I know I said I was going to focus on gay musicals, but I do think it's worthwhile to slip in a couple songs from more mainstream musicals of those years, songs that were very gay. And you can't get much gayer than a song called "I'm Gay." It's from a show billing itself as "a sexual musical." Writer/composer Earl Wilson set his goal to write the most liberated, most sexually free show he could. And he did, he called it "Let My People Come." And to use a quote from a review at the time, "it broke all barriers - simulated sex, orgies, lesbianism, homosexuality, simulated oral sex, bisexuality, all celebrated, all hilariously carefree." Well, most of the lyrics were so liberated they could make you blush if you were watching a porn movie, but it contained this sensitive ballad, called 'I'm Gay."
From "Let My People Come" - I'm gay (1974)
That was sung by Martin Duffy and Joe Jones. "Let My People Come" opened in 1974 and ran over 1100 performances before moving to Broadway, where ironically it caused so much controversy that it closed after only 106 more shows.
I also want to slip in another song from a Broadway show. One of our culture's most gifted composers is Stephen Sondheim, and a musical revue from 1976, called "Side By Side By Sondheim," featured this humorous twist on a song from the hit show "Follies." Here's David Kernan singing "Could I Leave You?"
From "Side By Side By Sondheim" - could I leave you? (1976)
Up next is something special, because I have an interview with one of the actors from one of the earliest gay musicals. In 1974, Doric Wilson (along with Billy Blackwell, Peter del Valle and John McSpadden) formed TOSOS, spelled t-o-s-o-s, which stood for "The Other Side of Silence." It was the first professional theatre company to deal openly and honestly with the gay experience. So this was not just a play with a gay theme, this was a theatre company designed to do only that. Their first production was a cabaret review with the long title "Lovers: The Musical That Proves It's No Longer Sad To Be Gay." I've contacted Doric Wilson and he told me that there were at least four productions of "Lovers," as it progressed from their venue at The Basement Theatre, to finally, with several cast changes, reaching Off-Broadway.
I caught a break in that I happen to know one of the actors from that first production. His name is Zecca Esquibel, though then he went by Joe Esquibel. I know him because he's one of the most active musicians in NYC these days, and has a long history of involvement with various projects. In the 70s he was keyboardist for Cherry Vanilla, and was a fixture in the punk movement here and in England. Most recently he's just finished touring with Garland Jeffreys, and is working on a number of albums. On a future show we'll hear about his gay punk rock experiences, but tonight we're talking about the show "Lovers"
So, tell me about the play "Lovers"
Well, the play "Lovers" was really the organization T.O.S.O.S. It was just an expression of that. Doric Wilson had an original idea of creating an all-gay theatre company. He quickly got together a small group of friends, who believed in the same things. And the thing that strikes me so much about that period is the way we believed, the way we believed we could do this. We felt that there was a need for an openly gay theatre company to discuss being gay in plays, in musicals, and that there wasn't anybody specifically out there dedicated to that. And just our sheer enthusiasm made it happen. A friend of mine, Sean Delaney, who was the road manager for Kiss, had a great talent of putting people together, and he saw a triple need here of mine. We were good friends. I needed a place to live, Kiss needed a place to rehearse, and T.O.S.O.S needed a space. And all these problems were solved by me renting a loft. Kiss paid half my rent, T.O.S.O.S paid the other half of the rent, and I got to live in this space. But, I'm rambling, but I think what I'm trying to say is how easy it was for nine people to get together, rent a space, throw up some lights, grab some chairs, and put on a show that some of our members had written. We didn't feel that there were any great hurdles to overcome to pull this off. It was just rent a space and do it.
Kind of like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney?
Yes, it was very much that, you know, let's go out to the barn and let's put together a show.
How many were in the cast?
There were three couples, which were intended to be representative couples. There was an older couple, sort of retirement age. I think, if I remember correctly during the show one of them dies, so we have to deal with loss. There was a leather couple, which I was part of, with David Fernandez, and there was a Broadway show couple, of two gypsies, two Broadway dancers.
So, did the play have a plot? Did the couples know each other in the play?
This was so long ago. I remember scenes in which we are together, but I think these were more ensemble song-type scenes. I think the actual dialogue scenes between people were usually within the couple. My particular scene I think I was alone in a bar, so I got to sing about the loneliness of this life of a hunter out in a bar trying to get laid, or trying to meet somebody. God forbid we should actually meet somebody and fall in love. And David I think meets me in the bar.
Do you remember the songs?
Yeah, I had a great solo, which was the great solo of the show, "Somebody, Somebody Love Me." Which I just being all alone in the bar, somebody love me, somebody please need me. Somebody, somebody care. And of course the big production number, "At the Trucks" was the biggest gas. It was very much based on Sha Na Na, if you remember them, the fifties revival group. I had particular fun with that one, because I got to choreograph that one.
Was that one with just you and David?
No, that was the whole cast. David was the big sex object at the Trucks, and he's up on a separate platform, and the rest of us do our 1950's choreography, and sliding across the stage on our knees and stuff like that. It was great fun, we got to sing brilliant backup chorus lines like "shut up and shove it up, shut up and shove it up" [section of the song]
That was a little bit of "At the Trucks." Was this the first gay musical?
I had a feeling that Al Carmine's musicals were already out at that time. The think that you have to remember is that what the public has seen as a vision of gay life was "Boys In The Band." The majority of Americans, at least, knew only about gay culture from "Boys In The Band." The whole self-loathing, I will survive despite the fact that I hate myself attitude, because I've developed witty survival skills, was what America thought, when it thought of the gay subculture. And what we wanted to do with "Lovers" was to say, "No, we are not all miserable. Some of us really enjoy being gay and we really love our gay lives and we want you to see just a little slice, or perhaps three slices, three different types of couples, of the world that we know, and it ain't anything like "Boys In The Band."
Did you know at the time that it was recorded?
Yes, we did, we had done a live broadcast for WBAI, which I also think was a little bit groundbreaking at the time, and I think that is what is used on the original cast album that comes from that first cast. There's some slightly more refined recordings also on that album, which I think were possibly done in a studio, with a later off-Broadway cast, and it was all kind of put together on the one album.
What happened to David Fernandez and Sean Delaney?
Well, you're talking about two of my closest friends. Sean Delaney was probably the older brother I never had, for a very large period of my life. Sean and David eventually moved to California and I think it was there that David became involved with the Village People for a while, during the short period of time that they had offstage backup singers. David became their bass singer. And Sean continued to work with Kiss for many, many years as their tour manager and sort of eminence gris behind a lot of their imaginative doings. And they formed together a group called Skatt Brothers, and had two dance floor hits
"Walk the Night," and "Life at the Outpost"
Yes, "Walk the Night," and "Life at the Outpost." You can very clearly hear these two different voices, David singing backup, bass at the end of the track.
Let's take a quick diversion to help you remember those songs by the Skatt Brothers. I think it's neat that two of the actors we've been discussing from the first production of the musical "Lovers," went on five years later to be part of two disco hits, "Walk the Night," and "Life at the Outpost."
Skatt Brothers - Walk The Night / Life at the Outpost (1979)
Oh, yes, I remember those well, they were lots of fun on the dance floor, back in the days of Trash Disco. Okay, I've let us get a little astray from our subject. At the beginning of the show tonight I played the first song from the "Lovers" soundtrack, called "Celebrate." Now here is the show's big ballad, "Somebody Somebody Hold Me," followed by the closing song, "Belts and Leathers." And I don't think they're singing about menswear.
From "Lovers" - somebody somebody love me / belts and leathers (1974)
Those last two songs were from the musical "Lovers" and "Belts and Leathers" was probably the first song in a gay musical about bondage and S&M, and such a peppy song it was.
This is a good time to remind you to be sure to listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Sunday morning from midnight to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude. Also, I invite you to check out my website, at www.queermusicheritage.com where you can view the play list and see photos of the artists and recordings, and listen to the show anytime.
We left off with the 1974 musical "Lovers". Also in 1974 came another of the most popular musicals of our culture, called "In Gay Company." Written by Fred Silver, it's been produced many times over the years in many cities. It wasn't recorded until ten years later, in 1984, and here are two of my favorite songs from it. The first is called "True Confession" and I'm following it with one called "Sondheim," which is a must for fans of the work of Stephen Sondheim, as its lyrics incorporate just about every one of his titles that you could think of.
From "In Gay Company" - true confessions / sondheim (1974)
By the way, the song "Sondheim" from this cast recording of the show was done by Beverly Bremers, who's claim to fame is her big hit from 1972 called "Don't Say You Don't Remember." Oh, don't say you don't remember that song, okay, here's a little of it.
Beverly Bremers - don't say you don't remember (1972)
In 1975 one of the more well-known gay musicals was produced, called "Boy Meets Boy," and it has been produced a number of times over the years. There was even a production in Houston, at Theatre New West last fall. It was written by Bill Solly and David Ward, and is kind of an amazing play. It takes place in the 30s and has all the aspects of a screwball musical comedy, with mistaken identities and a dash of "Pygmalion." One interesting observation is that homosexuality is not mentioned during the whole show. The relationships are just taken for granted. Perhaps this play was way ahead of its time, but refreshingly so. From it, here's "Does Anybody Love You?" followed by the finale
From "Boy Meets Boy" - does anybody love you?/boys meets boy (1978)
I've got a footnote about "Boy
Meets Boy." It was first produced in 1975 by the Actor's Playhouse
in New York City. The cast album was not recorded until 1978, and
"Boy Meets Boy" is the only gay musical I know of that has
two different cast albums. In Minneapolis Out & About Theatre
had a production of the show in 1979 and released an album a year
later. This is one thing that makes talking about the year of a musical
sometimes a little confusing, as it might have an original production
one year and not be recorded for several more years.
From "Gulp!" - hand out the leaflets (1977)
I should mention that the director of "Gulp!" John Glines, went on to much larger success, by winning a Tony Award for 1983 for producing "Torch Song Trilogy."
Also in 1977 came the Anita Bryant onslaught, and that inspired a show called "Joseph McCarthy Is Alive And Living In Dade County." The show was a mixture of political comedy skits and music. And the cast included Amanda McBroom. She's a cabaret performer and songwriter whose name you may not know, but you definitely know a song she wrote called "The Rose." From "Joseph McCarthy" my favorite song is sung by Gerrard Wagner, and is called "Who Have You Loved Today."
From "Joseph McCarthy Is Alive And Living In Dade County" - who have you loved today (1977)
You may have noticed that so far almost all of the music you're hearing is male-oriented, and I refer again and again to "gay musicals," instead of "gay and lesbian musicals." Well, I had to look very hard to find a lesbian musical that's been recorded, and I had to look to England to do it. In 1979 in London the Gay Sweatshop Women's Company produced a show called "I Like Me Like This." It dealt with several serious topics like rape and molestation and lesbians being considered outlaws from society, but it also included this very light song, "Cowboys and Lesbians"
From "I Like Me Like This" - cowboys and lesbians (1979)
This next song comes from a musical that is really three musicals. In 1979 William Finn introduced 'In Trousers," which would become part one of the Falsettos Trilogy. In 1981 he issued "March of the Falsettos," and finished it off in 1990 with "Falsettoland," and two Tony Awards to go with it. The three shows follow a confused, Marvin, amidst a Jewish family in New York. Marvin is pulled by different forces, but finally leaves his wife and son for another man, and there are other complications. My favorite song from the series is by Marvin's character, sung by Michael Rupert.
From "Falsettoland" - what more can I say (1990)
From Falsettoland, that song was called "What More Can I Say?"
In 1981 one of the first west coast gay musicals was produced, called "Sparkles." Its subtitle was "The Ultimate Fairy Tale" and it was a musical comedy fantasy, where the heroes are feeling sorry for their hum drum lives, and then are swept off to a fantasyland, where they learn to appreciate what they have back home. Does this sound familiar? The resemblance to the plot of "Wizard of Oz" was obviously intentional, and it comes across a little high schoolish, but this number from it was fun.
From "Sparkles" - steppin' out with the boys (1981)
That was "Steppin' Out With The Boys" from the very rare soundtrack from "Sparkles."
Well, I'm afraid that tonight's show was only long enough for me to try to do justice to the first ten years of gay musicals. There are many more that deserve our attention, so next month I'm continuing with Part 2 of Gay Musicals. For tonight, I've got one more to cover, but before I do, I want to thank you all for tuning into the show, and I want to thank Zecca Esquibel for the interview about the musical he was in called "Lovers." If you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write me. And please check out my website, logically enough, at www.queermusicheritage.com, where you can see photos of all the recordings I've played tonight, and also I've poured though my archives, and found photos from many of the shows themselves. They are on the site, too. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston, and I'll be back on the fourth Monday of next month with another installment of Queer Music Heritage, and more gay musicals.
The last musical tonight was one of the most famous, and successful gay musicals on Broadway. It was also Broadway's first totally gay musical. It picked up three Tony Awards in 1984, including best musical, and George Hearn got the Tony for best actor in a musical. The music and lyrics were written by gay composer Jerry Herman, and the book was by Harvey Fierstein. It was inspired by a French movie from 1979. I sure hope by now that you've figured out that I'm talking about "La Cage Aux Folles." In it, George Hearn sang an excellent song I'm using to close tonight's show. It's also one of the very few songs from a gay musical that went on to a life of its own, outside the musical, and has been recorded by a number of other artists. Here's "I Am What I Am."
From "La Cage Aux Folles" - I am what I am (1983)