In his March 10 article entitled “A Broadway Makeover for ‘Priscilla’ Queens,” New York Times writer Patrick Healy reports on the new musical, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and its journey to the Broadway stage. You can read his article here: http://nyti.ms/fOqwOP. And if you didn’t know, this musical is based on the 1994 movie, featuring two drag queens and a transsexual.
As you might imagine from the title, Mr. Healy spends a significant amount of space in the article highlighting the many changes made by Broadway producers (including Bette Midler) “for the highly competitive market of commercial Broadway.” Throughout the article, Healy uses words and phrases that repeatedly illustrate the underlying intention of the producers: to sell more tickets by making the play more palatable for middle American audience members who travel great distances to “Six Flags Times Square” to “ride” the newest thrill musical.
Here are some examples of his language and the language of his interviewees, named as such when necessary, along with my response in italics:
“…a musical about two drag queens and a transsexual on a road trip didn’t need extra raciness or profanity” – a paraphrase of Bette Midler (JS: I wonder what Bette’s friend Barry Manilow thinks about this.)
“…it’s not quite as down and dirty, not as in your face so much that you might pull back.” – Bette Midler (JS: Since when did Bette Midler care about something being too down and dirty?)
“But this is also an era when Broadway productions with gay themes are packaged as family shows, so much so that the casual observer might not have realized that the main characters…were gay lovers.” (JS: I don’t even know how to respond to this statement.)
“At the same time much of the main advertising has been as comely as possible, featuring the beautiful women—actual women—who play the divas, supporting characters who deliver some of the songs. Mr. Phillips [the show’s director] said he opted against extensive marketing with images of the three male leads in drag because ‘drag is incredibly difficult to photograph.’” (JS: Since when is drag difficult to photograph? The marketing for Hairspray featured images of Edna Turnblad. Such a cop out here.)
“’The most ridiculous [safe change] was the insistence that Tick look like an American-style leading man, a romantic lead, masculine, less gay, in order to get more bums in the seats.’” – Tim Chappel, costume designer for the show (JS: Amen. Well…)
“…accommodations did not stem from prudishness.” – paraphrase of Garry McQuinn, a lead producer (JS: The lady doth protest too much, methinks.)
“We’re responding to a certain sensibility in New York that if you do X, you’ll sell more tickets.” – Garry McQuinn (JS: a very heteronormative sensibility that perpetuates the idea that a group of people should be “tolerated.”)
“…a major payoff of the current version is its impact on heterosexual men in the audience, who have been known to shed some tears as Tick and Benji sing ‘You Were Always on My Mind’ to each other in the finale.” –paraphrase of Allan Scott, co-writer of the script (JS: Is this meant to make me feel better? How is making straight men cry a “major payoff”?)
“All along we’ve wanted the audience to go away with a greater appreciation for tolerance and a greater appreciation for family.” – Allan Scott
As I read this article, these were the statements that got me a little worked up. I particularly have trouble being “tolerated” as a gay man. I appreciate not getting the crap kicked out of me, but being “tolerated” automatically implies a “less than” status that I refuse to be assigned.
I have not seen this new show yet, but Mr. Healy’s article makes me less inclined to rush out and buy a ticket. It’s fantastic that a show is about to open on Broadway with all of these sexual identities and gender expressions represented, and I appreciate that the producers and creators want audiences to see a family at the heart of the show’s plot. However, it sounds like they’ve messed with the very DNA of the story in order to sell seats. It’s the age-old struggle to make back the investment and subsequently turn a profit. I just wish that people would stop diluting culture to make a buck. Or if they do dilute it, don’t proclaim that nothing’s lost and that the Kool Aide’s at full strength. I’m tired of being watered down.
Do you think they cut the ping pong ball moment?