Sounds of Pride: Across the Footlights of Broadway

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By Randy Slovacek

Writer/Editor of the Award winning LGBT blog, “The Randy Report” , and special guest contributor

  • Let’s begin with the 1979 Tony Awards and “The Aggie Song” from Carol Hall’s The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. My dear friend Thommie Walsh (the original “Bobby” in A Chorus Line) was among the six nominations for the show at the Tony Awards that year, his for ‘Best Choreography” with Tommy Tune.  Thommie went on to win 2 Tonys – for A Day In Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine and My One and Only.

A sexy, naughty topic with hunky football players, the performance on the Tony Awards that year had to be edited for the national telecast 😉  In 2001, Thommie directed and choreographed a national tour of the show starring Ann-Margret.  Hello? How gay could this get?

Sadly, Thommie died on June 16, 2007. I miss him every day. What an unbelievable spirit. 

 

  • TheOUTfront opens the door for a little “outside the box” here with the title “Sounds of Pride,” so I have to include Paul’s monologue from the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Chorus Line.

Originated by Sammy Williams, who won a Tony Award for his performance, standing in a single spotlight for seven minutes, “Paul” shared his journey from bullied gay student to drag queen to aspiring Broadway dancer.

As I wrote earlier this year when Sammy passed away at 69, never before had a Broadway audience experienced such a raw, unfiltered version of our experiences in life as gay men. I remember seeing Sammy in the role in NYC and he was heart-stopping.

For the record-breaking “longest on Broadway” performance at the Shubert Theater in NYC, genius director/choreographer included past and present cast members in the ultimate celebration of the show.  For this moment, Bennett utilized a Greek chorus of “Pauls” chiming in with Sammy Williams as he re-created his Tony Award winning performance. 

I wish I had the full monologue by Sammy but this gives you a sense of the incredible power of Sammy’s performance.

 

  • Idina Menzel’s awesome performance of “Defying Gravity” from Wicked at the 2004 Tony Awards might seem like an unlikely choice for a Pride playlist, but her fearless rendition reveals much about the awesome sense of power we one day discover within ourselves. 

Like countless audience members, I’ve enjoyed the show several times. But in this performance, check Idina’s expression at the :23 mark – she’s almost afraid as she realizes her own power. 

“Something has changed within me, something is not the same.”

I never saw another “Elphaba” embody that specific thought.  And coupled with the blond, totally mainstream “Glinda” (by a perfect Kristin Chenoweth) who stands in admiration of her friend (check that 3:14 mark).

“Unlimited – together, we’re unlimited.”

The message, at least to this gay writer, was clear. Our mission every day is to realize our own power.  Even in the face of our haters.

“Look at her, she’s wicked. So we’ve got to bring her down.”

And of course, they do not.

  • From the ground-breaking RENT, the reprise of “I’ll Cover You” delivers in wide-ranging depth the sense of loss felt during the height of the AIDS epidemic. 

RENT reached the Great White Way the same season that I did in my Broadway debut in the 1995 revival of Hello, Dolly! with Carol Channing. I remember hearing the rave reviews about it moving uptown from off-Broadway. And they were all spot on.

I wish I could find a great video of original “Tom Collins” Jesse L. Martin bringing this to life. But my friend Michael McElroy, veteran of 9 Broadway productions and who in 1999 became the founder and director of the Broadway Inspirational Voices, definitely has the goods in this clip from the official live-from-Broadway recorded version of the show.

“Live in my house – I’ll be your shelter. Just pay me back with 1,000 kisses. Be my lover and I’ll cover you.”

 

  • And finally, the gayest of the gay – the Tony Award performance by the original Broadway cast of the 1984 smash hit, La Cage Aux Folles

I mean, seriously.   Not only was this the first time Broadway musical audiences were presented with a loving same-sex romance, but the indomitable Jerry Herman handed us our own anthem – “I Am What I Am.”  Check out this performance from the 1984 Tony Awards where La Cage won 6 Tonys including “Best Musical as well as acceptance speeches from Jerry Herman, Harvey Fierstein , Arthur Laurents, and George Hearn.

“And now, I beg you – open your eyes…”

 

Thank you Larry for letting me play in your sandbox. 
 
I’ve lived a lucky life in that all three Broadway productions I appeared in (Follies, Chicago, Hello, Dolly!) were all nominated for Tony Awards. It’s quite the heady experience. That was never lost on me.
 
Knowing the inspiration the Tony Awards have given the LGBTQ community so many times over the years, I’m looking forward to this year’s honors.  — R.S.
 

Follow The Randy Report on Twitter @randyslovacek Facebook  and be sure to catch his weekly podcasts on iTunes!

 

Previous posts from theOUTfront series “Sounds of Pride –The Music of Community, Love, and Equality”

Pet Shop Boys, “Go West”

Whitney Houston’s “My Love is Your Love,” Jonathan Peters REMIX 

The Flirtations’ “Everything Possible”

Sylvester’s Disco hit, “You Make Me Feel (Might Real)” 

 Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing”

Fanfare for Gay Pride 

#proufOUTloud

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