Ethan Mordden

Gays on Broadway

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A fascinating look at the gay and lesbian influence on the American stage by an internationally-recognized authority on the topic

From the genteel female impersonators of the 1910s to the raucous drag queens of La Cage Aux Folles, from the men of The Normal Heart to the women of Fun Home, and from Eva Le Gallienne and Tallulah Bankhead to Tennessee Williams and Nathan Lane, Gays On Broadway deftly chronicles the plays and people that brought gay culture to Broadway.

Writing with his customary verve and wit, author Ethan Mordden follows the steady liberation of gay themes on the American stage. The story begins in the early twentieth century, when gay characters were virtually banned from productions. The 1920s saw a flurry of plays closed on moral grounds as well as the Wales Padlock Act, which forbade representation of “sex degeneracy”. While authorities made consistent attempts to shutter the movement, the public remained curious, and after a few decades of war making, a truce broke out when The Boys In the Band became a national smash hit. From this point on, gay theatre proved simply too popular to abolish.

With this change, theatre was graced with a host of unforgettable characters - from thrill killers to historical figures to drag performers, as well as professional gays (such as the defiantly effeminate window dresser in Kiss of the Spider Woman), closeted gays, and those run-of-the-mill citizens who don't reside entirely within the colorful nonconformist identity (such as the two male lovers in the dinner-theatre comedy Norman, Is That You?).

Spoken plays and musicals, playwrights, directors, and actors all played their part in popularizing the gay movement through art. Gays on Broadway is an essential chronological review of the long journey to bring the culture of gay men and women onto the American stage.

Author: Ethan Mordden

Paperback  Published June 2023  352 pages

"A gossipy, insightful survey of the (often closeted) gay contribution to American theatre." - David Benedict, The Guardian



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