Hedwig, The Book of Mormon and More: Gay on the Great White Way

As part of Playbill.com's 30 Days of Pride, we look at Broadway plays and musicals that feature gay characters. From A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder to Kinky Boots, gay characters appear in many theatres on the Great White Way.

Lena Hall and Neil Patrick Harris
Lena Hall and Neil Patrick Harris (Photo by Joan Marcus)

*

As 2011 Tony Awards host Neil Patrick Harris famously explained during his big opening number, "Broadway is not just for gays anymore!" That being sung, audience members of many sexual orientations and gender identities can currently see themselves represented on the Main Stem. And what better time than LGBT Pride Month to celebrate Broadway's rainbow of queer characters?

Harris himself headlines the Broadway premiere of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's cult rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch as Hedwig, a glittery East German singer and self-described "slip of a girly boy" living as a female after a botched gender-reassignment operation. Meanwhile, Lena Hall butches it up as Yitzhak, Hedwig's husband and backup singer, who's itching to unleash his inner drag diva.

Alan Cumming also embraces androgyny to reprise his Tony-winning performance as a seedy pre-war Berlin nightclub's outrageously omnisexual Emcee in Roundabout's revisited revival of Cabaret, which also stars Michelle Williams as boozy chanteuse Sally Bowles. Cliff Bradshaw ( Bill Heck), a bisexual American writer and Sally's newly liberated lover, is based on Christopher Isherwood, gay author of the Kander and Ebb musical's source material.

For more bisexuality with a historical bent, join the circus at Diane Paulus's Pippin revival and witness King Charlemagne's conflicted son ( Kyle Dean Massey) come of age, so to speak, in a cage orgy with both guys and gals. Simple joys indeed. Whether or not late greats Moss Hart and Billie Holiday were bisexual, it isn't addressed in the bioplays Act One and Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill. 'Tain't nobody's bizness, anyway. When ringing The Book of Mormon's bell, say "Hello!" to Elder McKinley ( Matt Loehr), the closeted Mormon leader of a Ugandan mission. Convinced his pesky gay thoughts are a "curable curse," McKinley leads a pink-sequined chorus in "Turn It Off," a showstopper about suppressing indecent impulses.

LaChanze in If/Then
Photo by Joan Marcus

Something gay and indecent is also afoot in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak's musical farce. Jefferson Mays plays a total of eight ill-fated English aristocrats, so it makes sense that one would be a little light in the Edwardian loafers. Before he's killed by a swarm of bees, effeminate cousin Henry D'Ysquith duets with Monty ( Bryce Pinkham), a dangerously ambitious heir to the D'Ysquith fortune, in the subtext-stung ditty "Better With a Man."

It got better for two gay men in Terrence McNally's moving drama Mothers and Sons, which examines the enduring aftermath of the AIDS epidemic and marks the celebrated playwright's 20th Broadway outing. Tyne Daly stars as grieving mother paying an unexpected visit to her late son's former lover Cal Porter ( Frederick Weller) and his younger husband Will Ogden ( Bobby Steggert). With their adorably precocious son and enviable Central Park West apartment, the non-traditional Ogden-Porters might just be the happiest family on the New York stage.

Three decades after writing the book for La Cage aux Folles, Harvey Fierstein slips back into drag with Kinky Boots, an inspirational musical about Lola ( Billy Porter), a feisty female impersonator who saves a small town's struggling shoe factory. But this adaptation of the 2005 film isn't just a Cyndi Lauper-scored showcase for flashy numbers and fancy footwear; when not dolled up, Lola is simply Simon, a sensitive, soulful gay man defending himself from bullies and dealing with his daddy issues.

Boys will be girls too in Fierstein's Casa Valentina, a new play inspired by real-life husbands who identified as heterosexual but congregated in the Catskills during the 1960s to dress and act like housewives. Clutch the pearls! These complicated fellas consider themselves "transvestites," but contemporary audiences may recognize some as gay or transgender. Transcending labels, stage vets such as Patrick Page, John Cullum and Reed Birney are cross-dressed to impress.

Of course, LGBTs on Broadway aren't defined by drag, distress, and death. In If/Then, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's musical exploration of chance and choice, Idina Menzel stars as a spirited divorcée starting over in Manhattan with the help of two friends: Lucas ( Anthony Rapp), a nerdy bisexual activist, and Kate ( LaChanze), a perky lesbian kindergarten teacher. These charming supporting characters even get their own love interests, played by Jason Tam and Jenn Colella. Thankfully, it's getting harder to find a Broadway musical without at least one LGBT character. Looking for a loan to record a demo in Once, Guy and Girl meet a quirky bank manager ( Andy Taylor) who turns out to be a closeted musician and a not-so-closeted gay man. The testosterone-charged tuner Jersey Boys pays tribute to Bob Crewe ( Peter Gregus), a flamboyant gay producer and lyricist who was instrumental to the success of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Even Rock of Ages and Mamma Mia! sneak in surprise gay twists in their second acts.

Not just for gays anymore, eh? Maybe so, NPH, but Broadway sure wouldn't be the same without them.

Voss is a contributing editor of The Advocate.