Musical theater has long been a space for queer people to tell stories that deserve to be shared. However, it’s only been over the last 50 years or so that queer characters have been brought to the forefront. The stories these individuals are telling are worth highlighting as they take audiences on a journey through queer exploration, hardships, and the pure love and kindness queer communities create.
Here are five queer musicals that brought marginalized stories to the limelight.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Obie award-winning rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch follows Hedwig, an East German transgender singer who fronts the band Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Hedwig is modeled after John Cameron Mitchell’s (who wrote the book for the musical) childhood babysitter Helga. The flashy costumes complement the 70s glam rock sound fused with the punk-influences of Lou Reed.
Through song and monologues, Hedwig tells her story as Hansel Schmidt in East Berlin, as she meets an American GI that promises to take Hansel to the States as long as he receives a sex change. The operation was botched, and Hansel, now Hedwig, is abandoned in a Kansas trailer park. Soon after, Hedwig meets Tommy Speck, and the two begin a relationship and collaborate musically until Tommy leaves Hedwig after finding out she isn’t biologically female. Tommy, now under the stage name Tommy Gnosis takes his and Hedwig’s songs and rises to fame, leaving Hedwig behind.
The genderqueer musical is a journey of self-realization, pain, and love and is commonly referred to as the best rock musical of all time.
Based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 illustrated memoir of the same name, Fun Home is a story of cartoonist Alison Bechdel over three stages of her life, her childhood, her young adulthood, and her current middle-age adulthood. Alison has to navigate her relationship with her closeted father as she herself realizes she is lesbian.
Told through non-linear vignettes that are linked via middle-aged Alison’s narration, Fun Home is told in a unique way that allows audiences to experience Alison’s life over the years firsthand. The first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist, Fun House is a queer coming of age story that made history in its adaptation.
Fun Home started off-Broadway in 2013 and was picked up to be performed on Broadway from 2015-2016. It then went on its year-long national tour and began to be picked up by other countries, including Canada, England, Singapore, Australia, and Austria.
The Tony Award-winning musical has music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron.
A Strange Loop
Winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, A Strange Loop is a Black and queer musical with music, lyrics, and book by Michael R. Jackson. The show focuses on Usher, a Black queer man who is writing a musical about a Black queer man writing a musical. Usher navigates living as a fat Black queer man among homophobia and racism coming from the surrounding world as well as from his own parents.
A Strange Loop started off Broadway in 2019, and was eventually picked up by the Wooly Mammoth Theatre company in Washington DC from 2021-2022, before running on Broadway from 2022 until January of 2023. The London premiere followed soon after, and will run from June until September 2023.
A Strange Loop is the 10th musical to win the Pulitzer Prize Drama, the first musical written by a Black person to win, and is also the first musical to win without having had a Broadway run. The committee for the Pulitzer Prize described the show as “a metafictional musical that tracks the creative process of an artist transforming issues of identity, race, and sexuality that once pushed him to the margins of the cultural mainstream into a meditation on universal human fears and insecurities.”
Based on the 2005 British film Kinky Boots, the musical of the same name has music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and book by Harvey Fierstein. The show revolves around Charlie Price, the son of a shoe factory owner, as he struggles with running the failing business his deceased father left behind. Charlie meets cabaret performer and drag queen Lola, and the two work together to create a feminine boot that holds the weight of a man – meant for Lola and her fellow drag performers.
The original production of Kinky Boots premiered at the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago, Illinois in 2012. Shortly thereafter, it had its Broadway debut at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in April of 2013, before being picked up to go on a US tour in 2014. The Broadway production ran until 2019.
Despite its initial underwhelming reception, with six Tonys and one Grammy, Kinky Boots managed to bring its queer story to center stage.
Two-time Tony Award winning musical Falsettos is a story of family dynamics, Jewish identity, the AIDS epidemic, and gay life in the late 70s and early 80s. It is a sung-through musical, meaning most of the spoken dialogue is replaced with song.
William Finn and James Lapine wrote the book, and Finn also wrote the music and lyrics. Falsettos is split into two acts, the first of which is based on March of the Falsettos (1981,) and the second of which is based on Falsettoland (1990).
Falsettos is the story of Marvin and his family, as they deal with Marvin leaving his wife Trina for a gay relationship with Whizzer. Much to his family’s dismay, Marvin wants to keep his family together, with the addition of Whizzer. The musical is a journey of navigating family and romantic dynamics during a time when homophobia was more common than not.
Falsettos premiered on Broadway in 1992 and ran for a little over a year, with 487 performances. Falsettos won a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score in 1992.
In 2016, the musical was revived on Broadway in 2016, playing 30 previews and 84 performances in just under three months, closing in January of 2017. The revival received five Tony Award nominations including Best Revival.
From stories about drag queens, to family dynamics, and rock bands, there are plenty of queer musicals out there ready to be discovered. It’s important for playwrights and directors to create queer stories in order to represent marginalized communities and the stories they share. And oftentimes, the stories represent more than just strife, but how queer people navigate hardships and come out of it with the support and love of others.