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The classic musicals which still resonate with LGBT audiences

As 'The Greatest Showman' rakes it in at the box office, Tadgh Dolan looks back at the LGBT community's most beloved musicals.

By Will Stroude

The Greatest Showman has catapulted to success since its release by 20th Century Fox earlier this year. Starring Hollywood heavyweight Hugh Jackman as PhineasT Barnum, a controversial circus owner who in the 19th century became infamous for his “freakshow”, the movie has become a surprise hit, amassing over $300 million already at the global box-office.

However, The Greatest Showman takes a more saccharine view of Barnum, choosing to focus on diversity and inclusion. As such, the film’s director Michael Gracey, focuses on the enamouring idiosyncrasies that make the film’s “outcasts” special and unique. 

It’s no secret that musicals have been historically popular with LGBT audiences, and The Greatest Showman is likely to resonate with the same queer sensibility that has made stars like Liza Minnelli, Patti Lupone, and the divine Bette Midler into icons.

Within The Greatest Showman it is Keala Settle’s rendition of ‘This is Me’ that acts as a mantra for diversity and inclusion.

It has become a global hit, with Settle being nominated for best song at this year’s Academy Awards. If she wins, it may send a global message that we need to be more inclusive of at risk groups, particularly minorities and those who are disenfranchised under the Trump administration.

In the build up to this year’s Academy Awards, we look back at some infamous musical numbers that have made an impact on LGBT audiences…

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Lauded by critics as one of the most notorious cult musicals of all time, Jim Sharman’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show has been entertaining (and in some cases horrifying) audiences for decades.

Richard O’Brien is the genius behind the shows hit numbers, ‘Hot Patootie’, ‘The Time Warp’ and that tantalising and all to risqué Tim Curry number ‘Sweet Transvestite’. The song was daring, especially for its time. The ’70s may have been the era of disco and sexual liberation, but in many ways, gays were segregated, isolated, and often kept on the fringes of society.

Of course, Dr Frank N. Furter isn’t gay, he’s bisexual, as is evident in his ambition to sleep with both Janet and Brad. He is a brazen and unapologetic representation of sexuality that falls outside the parameters of heteronormative behaviour.

Kinky Boots (2012)

Cyndi Lauper provided the lyrics for this modern musical based on the book by Harvey Fierstein.

In the original Broadway version of the show, Billy Porter takes the lead as Charlie Price, destined to live what he views as a mundane life, working at a shoe factory in Northampton, in the East Midlands of England.

“Land of Lola” (some might have seen Todrick Hall’s rendition on RuPaul’s Drag Race) is the catchiest number in the show, demonstrating the transformative nature of drag as a mechanism for exploring Charlie’s artistic ambitions, as well as bending perceptions around masculinity. As Lola, Charlie can begin to break down the barriers of expectation placed on him by his father.

‘I’m Here’ – The Color Purple (2004)

When Oprah Winfrey came on board as one of the main producers of this Broadway hit, the cultural landscape of Broadway theatre began to change.

Based on the 1982 novel of the same name, The Colour Purple was instrumental for its representation of black characters on stage. It gave voice to previously unheard stories, that centred on black lives, and engaged African-American audiences, who turned out in droves to see Alice Walker’s creation on the stage.

“I’m here” is the signature track from the musical. It sees Celie at a pivotal moment, where she must find the strength not only to persevere, but to survive. It perhaps resonates with many in the LGBT community who have had to overcome difficult times and somehow come out stronger and more determined.

‘Listen’ – Dreamgirls (2006)

This revival of the 1981 Broadway musical of the same name, became a hit with viewers across the world. The most memorable song, was Beyoncé Knowles anthem “Listen”, which became a lasting emblem of self-empowerment.

The song, through its catchy melody and relatable lyrics, shows the power that comes from self-actualisation. Within the musical, the song is sung by Deena Jones as she finds the strength to stray away from her controlling husband.

The song highlights a common problem, that of power and more specifically the abuse of power within a relationship. Deena, instead of being motivated and driven by her husband, is stifled by his dominance. It is only when she realises her own power that she can begin her journey towards self-determination.

It is after all, that hidden power within us all, that can ultimately lead us on the path to fulfilling our dreams.

‘Over the Rainbow’ – The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Judy Garland takes the leading role as Dorothy in one of the most infamous fantasy musical films of all time. ‘Over the Rainbow’ has become a signature song for overcoming hardship and has entered the hearts of generations of film-goers.

In more recent times, Ariana Grande performed the song after the horrific and devastating Manchester Arena bombing in 2017, where the healing nature of the song was evident once again in its simple yet impactful lyrics.