Script for September 2003, QMH
From "Ten Percent Revue" - before stonewall (1987)
That song was called "Before Stonewall" and it came from a musical called "Ten Percent Revue," from 1987. Welcome to Queer Voices on KPFT and I'm JD Doyle. On tonight's edition of Queer Music Heritage, we're going to pick up from where we left off last month, with my review of an important area of our musical culture, the gay musical. And, just to recap a little, on these two shows I'm only talking about musicals where being gay or lesbian was the central part of a play's focus. So, that leaves out shows, even Broadway ones, that may have had gay characters, like "Chorus Line" or "Rent." And I'm trying to also limit my focus to only those musicals that had soundtracks that were commercially released.
I left off last month in 1984 with the big Broadway hit "La Cage Aux Folles." And the first musical I'm featuring on tonight's show happens to have been written by an artist with whom I'm pleased to say has become a friend over the years, Tom Wilson Weinberg. I featured Tom's career in more general terms on my April 2001 show, but wasn't really able to get into too much depth on his musicals. We'll correct that omission shortly, as he has two musicals being featured on tonight's show. The first was called "Ten Percent Revue" and it was produced in 1987. I'm going to share some interview comments from Tom on the show.
Tom, tell us about "Ten Percent Revue"
In 1985, '84, my lover and I moved to Boston, where he had a job, and I ran into a guy that I had met, only briefly, a few years earlier, Joey Brandon, an actor and singer. And he asked me what I was up to. I told him I was still writing and performing, and had made a couple of albums. He knew that, he had the albums, and it was his idea to put the songs into the form of a musical revue. I hadn't really thought about it, but said, let's get together and talk about it, and when we met he had a list of songs, and he had a concept, two women, two men, a piano, maybe a bass player, maybe a drummer, and we would sing and perform these songs.
So, we went ahead and did it, and Joey was in the first production and the show was in the Arlington Street Church, in Boston, in March of 1985. We had no idea, we thought maybe it would run for a couple of performances, but the newspapers came, and liked it and gave it a lot of attention, and pretty soon we were selling out every performance. It was very exciting, and it kind of took us all by surprise, we were pretty naïve. We had a great time. And then the show went to Provincetown for a ten-week season, which was tremendously successful, and a lot of people from around the country saw it, and that was a big boost, because people wanted to bring it to their cities. So pretty soon a producer signed on, by the name of Laura Green, and she led us around the country, and eventually to New York, where we had a good long run at the Actor's Playhouse, and the show was published. And it's had more that 50 sit-down productions, been all over the place, including a very nice production by the group in Houston, and it continues to get produced once in a while.
Do you have any special memories about a particular "Ten Percent Revue" performance?
Yes, what a great question. There is a particular "Ten Percent Revue" performance that I'll never forget. Most of the material was funny, and of course that's what we were going for, to give people a good time and to have fun and to make political points in a humorous way. In the summer of 86 we were performing in Provincetown and on a particular day the news came down that the Supreme Court had made their decision in Hardwick VS Bowers, the notorious Georgia case. Where the Supreme Court essentially said that same gender partners do not have a right to privacy of sexual conduct even in their own homes. We were devastated by the news and that night when we did our performance we stopped the show at a particular point and one of our cast members, Jennifer Firestone, told the audience about the decision. And then we went right back into the show and continued, continued with it with one of our more serious songs that felt relevant to that moment and people were crying, we were crying, and I'll just never forget it. It just gave the show a certain immediacy that was exciting and very vital. And then over the next few days I wrote a song about the whole business. It was called "And The Supremes" a spoof on the Supreme Court and on that dreadful anti-sex decision and we put it in the show a few weeks later and it remained in the show and continues to be performed whenever the show is performed.
From "Ten Percent Revue" - and the supremes (1987)
That song was called "And The Supremes." I wanted to particularly highlight Tom's comments on the 1986 Supreme Court ruling, which is obviously relevant to recent events.
As I said on last month's show, it's really hard to find lesbian musicals to talk about. I'm not sure it that's a cultural thing, based on the notion that gay men are more interested in musicals, [it's in their genes, you know] but there's a huge lack of musicals just about lesbians. I played a song from an English show last month, called "I Like Me Like This" and I've only found one other show to share that fits this bill.
In 1983 in Seattle there was a lesbian feminist theatre group called the Front Room Theatre, and they staged a production called "In Search of the Hammer" and it did so well that two years later it was followed with the sequel, "The Return of the Hammer." The shows were not actually recorded until 1988 when the casts were reunited to capture both productions on tape. I was able to talk with the writer of the play, Cappy Kotz, who still lives in Seattle, about the show.
How did you come to write "In Search of the Hammer"
Well, I was writing other material at the time, and the woman who started Front Room Theatre was looking for plays, obviously because it was her theatre, and she encouraged me to write something. So it kind of came out of a conversation I had with two other gals at a party. At the party we created the Three Must-Be-Queers and then I just set about writing about their adventures, and my collaborator, Phrin Pickett, wrote the music.
The Three Must-Be-Queers. I like that. The plot is a little complex from what I've read. Can you kind of sum it up, the plot of "In Search of the Hammer"?
"In Search of the Hammer" was basically, you know we had a local artist make us what looked like an old labris, so that was the symbolic hammer, and it had been found in an archeological dig. It was a very precious find, and then (President) Reagan decided to claim it as kind of his symbol, I guess, and so the Three Must-Be-Queers decided that they would have to go to Washington and get it back.
This was kind of a feminist, fantasy adventure?
Yeah, it was kind of.
Tell me about the song "Clothes Don't Make the Amazon"
That kind of dealt, so that ended up being the Three Must-Be-Queers. They were all, they were basically three butch dykes. That was their last kind of test that they had to do.
It seems that in the plot in order to rescue the hammer, they had to get into a fancy ball, and therefore had to wear gowns, which of course went against the grain of any butch dyke. So the song maintained that it was worth the struggle.
From "In Search of the Hammer" - the clothes don't make the amazon (1989)
That was "Clothes Don't Make the Amazon," from "In Search of the Hammer"
In Los Angeles Theatre Rhinoceros bills itself as the Nation's longest-running Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual & Transgender Theatre Company, and since they began in 1977, that's probably correct. And looking at their website, I'm familiar with a good many of their past productions. I wish more of them were recorded for commercial release. One that was, from 1990, was for the musical "Dirty Dreams of a Clean-Cut Kid," and it was perhaps the theatre's biggest hit. It's a nostalgic look back at the pre-AIDS gay life in San Francisco via musical reflections from five men anxiously awaiting HIV test results. I talked to John Karr, one of the show's co-directors.
John, tell us about your involvement with Theatre Rhinoceros.
When the theatre first began I was a reviewer for the local gay paper, and so reviewed their productions and of course was wildly supportive. Within a couple of years they moved to a larger space, which is the one they are currently in, a larger and more formal space, they'd been in a store front, and then they moved into an actual theatre space. And at that time I had become the editor of the paper, and was able to throw them much support. Three years later, when I stopped being editor, I was hired to be the theatre's publicist and after I had a season or so of that under my belt I directed my first production there, which was a double bill of Al Carmine's "In Circles," with a text by Gertrude Stein. And a friend of mine had set seven poems by Frank O'Hara to music, a song cycle that we staged as a curtain-raiser.
So, that was in 1985. The guy who composed the Frank O'Hara songs was Christopher Berg, and when he was living in San Francisco to stage that production he said, you should meet my friend, Henry Mach, who he knew from New York. So I was introduced to Henry, who was of course a lyricist who had been through the BMI workshop in Manhattan, where he was constrained from writing overtly gay songs. Not from any real homophobia, but they were doing very traditional theatre projects while they learned how to write musicals. But he kept writing gay songs, so he had a trunk full of them and he trotted them out and started reading them for me. And, being the sort of person I am, I immediately saw a through-line, how an arrangement of those songs could tell a straight-forward story. And from that came "Dirty Dreams of a Clean-Cut Kid."
So, you weren't just a co-director, you were involved in making it into a musical.
I was the actual motivating source, who said, I see the musical here, but it was Henry who knew the exact concept, which became the story line. And, I'm not sure if it's clear from the recording. The boys are in the waiting room of a HIV testing center, where they are waiting for the results of their lab reports [clip of song "Waiting for the Lab Report"] and so the entire musical, the entire span of the performance takes place in the one minute while they're waiting. On stage we slow the music down at the end of the first song, "Waiting for the Lab Report," and brought time to a stop, and so everything else happens in their minds. They think back to the wanton days of sexual liberation. They think of their dreams for the future, for romance, you know, they go through all the emotion stages that you can go through. And at the very end of the musical they come back to the present moment, and then of course we stop. They don't actually get their lab reports. That's left to the audience.
It's an excellent musical. The music is really well done.
I was both, I was surprised no, I wasn't really surprised. I was very pleased and I was not at all surprised to find how well the music stood up. The last time I listened to the album, which was just about a month or so ago. One would think of it as a period piece. It was written in the white heat of the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and addressed an emotional need of its audience so greatly, so that, you know, there were tears nightly, and the emotions of the time were running high. So, as I say, I was pleased but not surprised to find out that the quality of the score, although the times have changed, the quality of the score, I think, and its emotional appeal, holds up very well.
From it, here's the title track, "Dirty Dreams of a Clean-Cut Kid"
From "Dirty Dreams of a Clean-Cut Kid" - dirty dreams of a clean-cut kid
Again, that was the title track from "Dirty Dreams of a Clean-Cut Kid." There was quite a bit more of my interview with John Karr that was excellent, but I just couldn't fit on this show, but you can hear all of it from my website.
AIDS was much in the minds of playwrights during the 90s, one of the musicals focusing on the loves and losses was called "An Unfinished Song." It opened in New York in 1991, and a cast recording was done in 1995. One of the characters, Michael, has died and his friends gather to reflect on his life. In this song in a flashback, Michael sings to his lover about a time when they were trying to keep together their relationship.
From "An Unfinished Song" - remember the ocean (1991)
That was "Remember the Ocean," and was from the show "An Unfinished Song." The musical "All That He Was," from 1993, also dealt with reflecting on the life of a man who died of AIDS. Again, the play goes back in time to hear the deceased character sing, this time about happier days.
From "All That He Was" - our first Christmas (1993)
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.
In 1993 Tom Wilson Weinberg was back with another revue, this one called "Get Used To It!" And you remember earlier in the show where Tom wrote a song for the musical "Ten Percent Revue" called "And The Supremes." Well, for "Get Used To It" there was another song that dealt with the sodomy laws, called "Breaking the Penal Code With You." Here's a little bit of it.
From "Get Used To It!" - breaking the penal code with you (1993)
Tom tells us his second show
"Get Used To It!" was my second musical revue. I continued to write after "Ten Percent Revue" but I really wanted "Ten Percent Revue" to stay fixed. I didn't want to keep changing the material, although sometimes I did do that because it's a luxury with a musical revue. If you're putting on "Oklahoma" or "Sweeny Todd" it's set. Every word, every note of music really should be the same, or almost the same, from performance to performance. But with a musical revue, if stuff is dated or not working, you can take it out and pop something else in. But I tried to keep "Ten Percent Revue" as fixed as possible, and I kept writing and pretty soon I had a body of material that I felt was ready for an independent production.
And my good friend and musical producer at that time, Wayne Barker, and I, went to see John Glines, a producer in New York, who had taken "Torch Song Trilogy" to Broadway, won a Tony Award, and also produced a wonderful AIDS play called "As Is." And we played some of the material for him and he said, yes, he'd like to produce it Off-Broadway, and he did. And this was in '92, and we had a good run, at the Courtyard Playhouse, which is now called the Grove Street Playhouse.
And I'm very proud of the show, and I'm particularly proud of the CD. It's performed by wonderful singers, and Wayne Barker produced and accompanied the CD. And it's really just a great piece of work, in my humble opinion. The show did not have the same success that "Ten Percent Revue" had. It's had a number of productions, and they've been successful, but not nearly the amount of exposure as "Ten Percent Revue." And I've settled with that now, but for a long time I was quite frustrated by it because I felt that it was a stronger show, that the material was more mature, and I wanted everyone to hear it, at least as many people as heard "Ten Percent Revue." And, to some degree, that ain't gonna happen, but a lot of people continue to purchase the CD, and that's a good way for people to experience that show.
One of my favorite songs from "Get Used To It!" is this one, called "Hymn"
From "Get Used To It!" - hymn (1993)
Next is "The Ballad of Little Mikey." It was one of the better gay musicals of the 90s, and the story is set in the early '80s and chronicles, as one reviewer put it, the title character's journey "out of the closet, through the tearoom, and into gay activism and romance." In this song, Mikey and his friends celebrate a new gay student newspaper.
From "The Ballad of Little Mikey" - ten percent (1994)
But not every musical from the 90s was about AIDS or activism. Also from 1995 came this light-hearted gay version of "Loveboat," called "Cruisin'" It came out of Toronto, why not? From it here's the song "The Evening After."
- the evening after (1995)
Following "The Evening After" from "Cruisin'" you heard one from another gay musical, "Fairy Tales." That song was called "Stonewall Serenade," and the musical was written by Eric Lane Barnes. An excellent local production of the show was done in 2000 at Theatre New West. The show was more of a revue, no plot, but I think very interesting songs.
We're still in 1995 and a musical called "Most Men Are" also dealt with AIDS, and the song from it "Better Not To Know" tells one aspect of it.
From "Most Men Are" - better not to know (1995)
For a change of pace we go to Australia for the musical "Only Heaven Knows." It was originally produced in 1988 and was finally recorded in 1995. The story takes place in Sydney during the second world war, and the two men who meet and become lovers sing these songs to each other, "Without Him" and "Only Heaven Knows"
From "Only Heaven Knows" - without him / only heaven knows (1995)
The title song was sung by David Campbell, who's on his own is an excellent cabaret artist.
Well, I'm afraid we're running out of time for tonight's show, and I didn't get nearly as far as I wanted, but we covered ten years, that's pretty good. I've got one more to share with you, and it's a bit strange, but before I do, I want to thank you all for tuning into the show, and I want to thank Tom Wilson Weinberg, Cappy Kotz, and John Karr for the interview comments. 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 a special reference section I've set up on Gay Musicals. 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.
The last musical for tonight was written by Howard Crabtree. Crabtree was famous for his humorous musicals packed full of outrageous costumes. In 1997 he had a big hit with "When Pigs Fly," but that's getting ahead of things. In 1995 he debuted one called "Whoop-Dee-Doo!" It was a smash, and won New York Drama Desk awards for Best Musical Revue and Best Costumes. Subject-wise the songs were all over the map and all campy and fabulous. The one that appealed to me most was called "Tough To Be A Fairy," and I'll also let you hear the skit that introduces it. From "Whoop-Dee-Doo!" I know you'll enjoy "Tough To Be A Fairy."
From "Whoop-Dee-Doo!" - fairy bar / tough to be a fairy (1995)