Every week I’m going to review the books, plays, gigs and any more queer culture I’ve devoured. And my first week has been a busy one! Two plays, one concert and one bookshop.
Disney’s Broadway Hits
Last year, after I met Lorraine Kelly, a friend asked me ‘who could you meet to top that!’. Only two people came to mind and one of them was on stage at the Royal Albert Hall last Sunday for Disney’s Broadway Hits. Make no mistake, this was a grown-up concert not a walk in a Disney park, stripping back the West End sparkle to just those incredible songs from almost a dozen shows, including big hitters Mary Poppins and The Lion King alongside the lesser-known Aida and King David. John Barrowman compered and sang a little, but let five sensational Disney leads own the stage: Ashley Brown, Merle Dandridge, Alton Fitzgerald White, Scarlett Strallen and Josh Strickland, accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra.
There were two highlights for me. Strickland’s vocal range made my heart leap, melt and love him all in one go as he sang Beauty and The Beast, followed by his duet partner Brown performing A Change in Me from the same show. Throughout both acts the orchestral arrangements, the singing and of course the unrivalled splendour of the Royal Albert Hall gave me goosebumps. And then the composer who wrote so much of what we heard, the ultimate Disney Legend Alan Menken came on stage. Of course he received a standing ovation, a unequivocal cultural hero to all the audience. With or without Menken’s guest appearance, I’d still go see the whole show again tomorrow.
— Royal Albert Hall (@RoyalAlbertHall) October 25, 2016
The Boys in the Band and The HIV Monologues
Later on in the week I went to see two plays which perfectly speak to gay life today, even more so as one of them premiered 50 years ago. The Boys in Band opened off-Broadway in 1968, telling the story of a New York queen’s birthday party. The core theme of Mart Crowley’s play, gay men’s self-presentation and closeting remain huge questions today, more likely asked on Grindr, The Guardian and Soho bars rather than behind apartment doors. There’s humour right next to cutting commentary on 8 men’s lives, written before the Stonewall Riots and modern gay rights movement. The show, complete with 60s style and soundtrack, was a joy to watch and keep contemplating on the train home. If you can’t catch it on tour in Brighton, Manchester or Leeds, the 1970 feature film is available on DVD.
Last year, writer Patrick Cash brought the steamy, sexual and scary world of saunas and chillouts vividly to stage in The Chemsex Monologues. His follow-up, The HIV Monologues, has just completed a three-night opening run at Miranda in Shoreditch’s Ace Hotel. Cash’s commentary on HIV/Aids stigma in the UK and the lives affected throughout the 1980 and 90s as well as today was played out perfectly in four monologues by Denholm Spurr, Sena Hart, Charley Flyte and veteran campaigner Jonathan Blake. Enabled by Luke Davies’ directing, the four strong characters take you vividly across London and their lives to uncover and address their own self-worth. I was naively worried it was heading to a sweetly happy-ending at one point, but as with The Boys in the Band, the twists of real relationships and desires keeps the intrigue going.
— Matthew Hodson (@Matthew_Hodson) October 28, 2016
Gay’s the Word
Jonathan Blake’s from the cast of The HIV Monologues was one of the first people in the UK to be diagnosed with HIV. His story has been shared a little before in Pride. One of the film’s settings is Gay’s the Word on Marchmont Street, three minutes walk from Russell Square tube. It remains Britain’s only specialist queer bookshop and like all good bookshops, I popped in for one purchase but left with four. The bookseller shared his thoughts on one of my new books, Love Notes to Men Who Don’t Read by North Morgan, who’d recently been in-store for a book signing. With plenty of author events and an unrivalled selection to browse and buy, I could suggest you make a detour whenever you’re next changing trains at Euston or King’s Cross but the obvious truth is it’s worth a visit by itself.