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Musical Theater and Film  
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For all its vaunted hipness, Jonathan Larson's Rent (1996), which includes among its couples a Black man and a Puerto Rican drag queen, builds on the same stereotypes.

At least the megahit The Producers (2001; book, music, and lyrics, Mel Brooks) is aware of the outrageousness of its cartoons of gay stereotypes, who at one point sing a number aptly titled "Keep It Gay." Brooks's gay caricatures, an essential element of a musical in which everything is over-the-top parody, mock traditional stereotypes more than they mock lesbians and gay men.

The irony of casting openly gay Nathan Lane as the ostensibly straight leading man adds to the possibilities of gender and sexuality bending.

The more realistic musical comedy The Full Monty (2000; book, Terrence McNally; music and lyrics, David Yazbek) has a gay couple among the unemployed steel workers who have taken up stripping to gain cash and regain their self respect. Here gayness is not exoticized in any way, although it is presented rather cautiously; and the gay couple develop one of the show's least problematic, most loving relationships.

Musicals Written for Gay Audiences

There have been gay-themed musicals since gay culture in American cities became open in the late 1960s. These shows see their primary audience as gay men and seldom attract a large number of heterosexual theatergoers.

From early low budget works such as Boy Meets Boy (1975; music and lyrics, Bill Solly) to recent works such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch (1998; book, John Cameron Mitchell; music and lyrics, Stephen Trask), Closer to Heaven (2001; book, Jonathan Harvey; music and lyrics, the Pet Shop Boys), and Mother Clap's Molly House (2001; book and lyrics, Mark Ravenhill; music, Matthew Scott), there have been musicals that speak directly and powerfully to a predominantly gay audience.

These works demonstrate the variety of approaches to gay musical theater. Moreover, many of them share the diva worship that has been an essential element of gay men's relationship to musical comedy.

For example, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with its brilliant, hard-driving rock score, is a contemporary gay version of the traditional diva musical. A rock concert cum autobiography, Hedwig tells the story of a German who aspires to being a rock diva.

A more conventional book musical, Closer to Heaven combines aspects of musical theater popular with gay men. In essence a show business biography, the musical tells the story of Straight Dave, a young man from Ireland, who gets a job as a dancer in a London gay club whose shows are presided over by a hilarious larger-than-life transsexual diva. Straight Dave discovers he is not as straight as he thought, comes out, and becomes a successful singer.

Amidst the powerful songs and humor, Closer to Heaven is a hard hitting look at the sometimes destructive marriage of drugs and club culture for young gay men. The musical posits the possibility of a gay male star to rival and, perhaps, transcend the appeal of the traditional musical diva. However, the most theatrically powerful character is the transsexual diva who has the best lines and the most enjoyable musical numbers.

Although mostly set in eighteenth-century London gay male culture, Mother Clap's Molly House features another diva role, a shrewd London woman who gains wealth and personal empowerment from running a "molly house," a gay club. Mother Clap, brilliantly portrayed in the original production by Deborah Findlay, is a direct descendant of Angela Lansbury's Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd and Carol Channing's Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly!

Closer to Heaven did not find an audience beyond its core gay constituency, and gay men in London do not seem as invested in musical theater as gay men in American cities. Mother Clap's Molly House had a successful though limited run in repertory at London's Royal National Theatre.

The Revue

Musicals whose primary appeal is to a gay audience tend to be intimate productions. The revue, a satirical mix of comedy and song, once a mainstay of the larger commercial theater, has proven to be a viable form for gay audiences.

Robert Schrock's Naked Boys Singing (1998), for example, is a small-scaled revue, representing the popularity of cabaret with gay audiences. As in many gay-themed revues (such as the compilation show The Gay Nineties [1995] and Eric Lane Barnes' Fairy Tales [1997]), the songs in Naked Boys Singing satirize aspects of urban gay life. The "Gratuitous Nudity" celebrated in the title and opening song is a popular, some would say essential (for box office success), aspect of gay theater.

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