The glamourous world of theatre has always been a great platform to show LGBTQ+ stories. The first thing that comes to mind is of course Rocky Horror Picture Show, but we can find examples in Hungary as well - famous theatre director Róbert Alföldi adapted La cage aux Folles to stage. Even though the show depicted gay men and drag artists in a rather stereotypical way, it was still a huge milestone in introducing LGBTQ+ people to mainstream art culture.
However, lesbian* characters stayed in the background, only getting minor roles. Since the beginning of the 2000’s, LBTQ+ women has gotten more and more visible and lesbian love is playing a bigger role in musical theatre.
Rent - Bohemian Life
Every theatre lover has come across the famous rock musical. The show, based on Puccini’s La Bohéme, has been constantly on stage since 1994. It premiered in 2010 in Hungary, with its text translated by Tibor Miklós. Jonathan Larson has mostly kept the original names in his adaptation. Giving it a personal touch proved easy for him: he has also been struggling with poverty and bad life conditions while living in New York. Fear and uncertainty of the AIDS epidemic also plays an important role in the modern version. The movie adaptation came out in 2005, and in 2019 FOX aired the play live starring Vanessa Hudgens and Kiersey Clemons as the main couple. The bisexual Maureen (played by Vanessa Hudgens) is a free spirit, flirting with several women and after the epic Take me or leave song, ends her engagement with Joanna Jefferson. The story still has a happy ending by the couple rekindling.
Fun Home: A family tragicomedia
Fun Home was first released as the memoir of Alison Bechdel, the famous comic book writer. The musical adaptation premiered in 2013, in New York. The 69th annual Tony Award, in 2015 brought 12 nominations and 3 awards and the piece plays an important role in the LGBTQ+ theatre scene. This is the first musical with a lesbian lead and Bechdel is an important figure both artistically and in introducing the Bechdel test that can measure sexism in movies.
The main storyline revolves around Bechdel’s relationship with her father and her sexual awakening. At the age of 19, admitting her sexuality, she was very mad at her closeted homosexual father and that lead to a lot of fighting. The title gives a lot away - her tyrannical father worked as a high school teacher while managing a burial company called Funeral Home. This meant that death played an important role in Bechdel’s family - no wonder her father’s alleged suicide is depicted in a rather graphical manner in the play. In the stage adaptation, Alison Bechdel is played by three different actresses: a child, a teenager and a grown-up. We still need to wait for the Hungarian premiere - hopefully not for long.
Oklahoma!’s story dates back to its Broadway premiere in 1943. Authentic, Western America is depicted with the help of Richard Rodgers’ and Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyrics. The story is set in 1906 when cowboys and farmers stage “song battles” in order to win the heart of the desired lady. The original had no same sex couples, but that changed with Bill Rauch’s new adaptation for the play’s 75th anniversary. The openly-gay director knew from his own experience that theatre plays an important role in LGBTQ+ people’s positive reputation - so he fought to be able to include LGBTQ+ characters in the new version first staged at the Shakespeare Festival in Oregon. According to Bill Rauch, in America’s small, Western communities there bound to be at least 1 or 2 people of sexual or gender minority. “In every town, be it ever so small, you can find LGBTQ+ people. So this play shows you the reality of the small towns of the United States of America.” The musical adaptation is a beautiful proof of the power of inclusion and the wonders seeing relatable characters in a play does for young LGBTQ+ people.
The Color Purple :
Alice Walker wrote the Color Purple in 1982, and the movie version directed by Steven Spielberg came out in 1987. Written as a diary by the uneducated, but honest and lovable afro-american girl Celie, the story explores her spiritual life, the horrors of domestic violence and forced marriage. By breaking the chains of racism and sexism, Celie can finally become a free woman. She draws strength from writing letters to her sister Nettie and her love for dancer Shug Avery.
Theatre is getting better and better in being a tool for propagating love and diversity. This not only assures the audience in accepting themselves and others, but paints with all the colours of the rainbow by including LGBTQ+ lives.
Translated by Dóra Bajnóczi