Lights. Curtains. Glitter. Action – Musicals part 1

Musicals Musicals

Keep it light, keep it bright, keep it gay

Lights. Curtains. Glitter. Teeth. Tits. Show tunes. Your idea of theatrical heaven? Or three hours of hell?

Gay men are supposed to adore a good musical – and even a bad one, for that matter. Is it in our genes? Were we born singing show tunes? Or is this just a stereotype with less basis in fact and more in showbiz legend?

“I think like all clichés, it’s based in fact but is a generalisation that doesn’t apply to all gay men,” suggests Mark Shenton, theatre critic for the Sunday Express and The Stage. “I know lots of gay men who are into sport but can’t stand musicals – but lots of gay men do seem to love them!”

So what’s the attraction for the gay community? Is it the element of camp, the spectacle, or purely the emotion tied up in the music?

“I think gay men are attracted to musicals because we’re attracted to a make-believe world,” says Shenton. “Musicals interpret the world in a different way, through rose-coloured spectacles, and solve the world’s problems.”

Self-confessed musical theatre obsessive Rich Callegari agrees.

“It sounds cheesy but it’s about escapism,” he says. “Anything can happen in a musical – in normal life people don’t walk along the road and burst into song. It’s theatrical, fabulous and sparkly.”

Gay men take musicals very seriously, seeing favourite shows like Legally Blonde up to 20 times (although he claims he’s far from the über-fans who see shows like Wicked two or three hundred times).

“If I were straight, I don’t think I’d be into musicals. It feels like an in-built gene alongside being gay. For some people the idea of musicals would be hell but when you go as often as I go, you can see the audience is made up of lots of gay men, especially every time a new show opens.”

Some gay men take their love of musicals one step further. Actor Ian Stroughair loved them so much he now appears in them and is a West End veteran of shows including Cats, Fame and Chicago, and now presents his own musical cabaret as alter-ego Velma Celli.

“I grew up watching musicals. My dad is a big rugby fan and we’d come down to Wembley every August for the rugby final and then go to see a musical in the evening. The first show I saw was Starlight Express and I’ve loved them since then, and love performing in them.

“It’s not true that all musical theatre actors are gay men or lesbian women, although I do applaud straight actors who do it, as you have to have been doing it since school to make it into the West End and there’s an awful lot of anti-gay stick goes along with that, regardless of your sexuality. Luckily these days singing and dancing are cool.”

Academic and teacher Alex Taylor, Head of Voice at the Birmingham School of Acting has also seen this anti-gay connotation attached to musicals.

“When you hear people saying ‘he’s a fan of musical theatre’ off the cuff, it’s a slang way of saying someone is gay but it’s pejorative, which gets my back up. Let’s face it, musicals couldn’t be successful on the gay audience alone, so lots of other people must like them. They have to appeal to a mass audience.”

Catch part 2 Monday the 31th August