This year, the Outstanding Broadway Production category has returned to the GLAAD Media Awards for the first time since 2014, following an increase in LGBTQ-inclusive productions on Broadway. The nominees this year are wonderful examples of how theater continues to create more space for LGBTQ voices, storylines, and visibility.
Choir Boy is the coming-of-age story of a young African-American boy and his journey to become the leader of the prep school’s legendary gospel choir. Tarell Alvin McCraney, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Moonlight, is known for pushing forward the conversation about representation for the LGBTQ community and other marginalized communities, and Choir Boy does just that. In the production, Jeremy Pope plays Pharus Young, an openly gay high school student at the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys. In an interview with Build Series, Pope shared his excitement for being a part of the Choir Boy cast: “This was my Broadway debut, I feel so honored and I feel a responsibility to tell these stories and represent ambitious gay black young men.”
Choir Boy not only pushes for LGBTQ acceptance within the Black community, but also calls attention to the challenges facing the community as a whole. In an intimate interview with Entertainment Weekly, Pope explained the personal connection to his character and his commitment to sharing the story of underrepresented voices: “It’s because growing up black — it’s hard, and it’s not really accepted of us to be emotional in that way, to express our emotions. You don’t want to be no punk. That hypermasculine tension that you feel. Walking into a role that’s asking me to dissect the community and express a part of me and emotions and feeling. I’m so aware of the moment that we’re in and how important it is that, for a night on Broadway, a black queer narrative was the lead.”
Written by Diablo Cody with music from Alanis Morissette and Glen Ballard, Jagged Little Pill tells the story about an all American family that seems notably perfect, but in reality, they are far from it. Elizabeth Stanley portrays Mary Jane, the mother and glue that holds her colorful family of four together while struggling with long term traumas. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Stanley described the inner workings of her character and the play: “It was so painful to witness this shame spiral of ‘I’m not a good enough person. I can’t do it. That seemed like a very good place to begin with this character, who I think is trying so hard to keep up with this appearance, which makes the fall even harder. When you ask Alanis what this show about, she says it’s about healing, it’s about how we heal together as a collective, because none of us can just fix ourselves.”
Jagged Little Pill creates a safe space to address important topics, including race, sexuality and opioid addiction. Identity and sexuality are two of the main focuses of the play as Celia Gooding portrays Frankie, the Black, bisexual, adopted daughter of Mary Jane. Jagged Little Pill is thought provoking and highlights major social issues through Frankie’s character. In an interview with Shondaland, Gooding shared her connection to Frankie: “The life that Frankie lives is one that is similar to mine not in the aspect of interracial adoption, but in the fact that she is a black and queer activist in a predominantly white space.” Jagged Little Pill features some of Alanis Morrisette’s most beloved songs, like Ironic, Hand in My Pocket and the newly transformed queer anthem, You Oughta Know. In an interview with Playbill, Alanis Morrisette explained the depth of her connection to the topics within the play: “There’s some topics in there that I think some people involved in the musical were a little reticent, they were a little scared of it and my response to any apprehension on their part was, ‘It’s me, I’ll back it up.'”
Slave Play broke barriers for people of color on Broadway in more ways than one. The three-act play by Broadway’s youngest Black male playwright, Jermey O. Harris, is about sex, power, interracial relationships, and trauma. In an interview with The Guardian, Harris explained his understanding of his impact on Broadway: “It’s a lot of different emotions for me because there’s a history on Broadway and I’m not really a part of it, or people like me aren’t really a part of it. You can probably count on your hand, on your right hand, the amount of black queer men or women who have had successful Broadway careers.” The play follows three interracial couples going through therapy in order to become re-engaged within their relationships and features a queer narrative that brings light to the various adversities of interracial LGBTQ relationships.
Ato Blankson-Wood and Cusati-Moyer portray Gary and Dustin, two queer men in a socially unbalanced romantic relationship. In an interview with NewNowNext, Blankson-Wood described the space constructed by Slave Play: “This play, I think, lives in a queer space more than a gay space, There is something about these characters that is outside the normal gay experience—something ‘alternative’ in the way they relate to each other and are trying to work through their relationship.” Cusati-Moyer also spoke to NewNowNext about his interpretation of Slave Play and the importance of the play on Broadway: “The play is so much about power, and how we give our bodies and hearts over to people who abuse that power. Are we taking care of each other, or are we abusing each other? Human beings are looking for connections in all different forms. Within gay culture is a fear of a scarcity of love as opposed to abundance, so we’re operating in that scarcity.” Slave Play highlights the evolution of the queer community and marginalized people through controversial and proactive conversation.
Based on E.M. Forster’s Howards End, The Inheritance is a story that looks at the lives of gay men from three different generations in New York and reflects on the history of the gay community – specifically the AIDS epidemic – through the themes of love, loss and hope. Playwright Matthew Lopez created a space to encourage gay men to talk through their traumas and learn the beauty and importance of creating inter-generational relationships. In an exclusive interview with Billboard, Lopez recalled: “I grew up a young, queer Puerto Rican kid, in Panama City, and then I moved to New York when I was 21, and I did not understand those older white men who came before me. I felt that I had no compassion for them, I felt that I had no use for them. I felt that they were aloof and didn’t seem to have much interest or compassion for me. But I decided that I really wanted to understand that generation, and that group of older gay men, and as a queer young man of color, I made a conscious decision to investigate what the lives of older white gay men were.” Not only does The Inheritance connect with the audience on an intimate level, but it also aspires to improve compassion and comradery within the LGBTQ community.
The two-part Broadway production promotes the importance of open conversation about social class, and its relevance to queer men in modern-day Manhattan. Matthew Lopez also explained the reason behind the setting of the play: “It’s one thing for a play to be set in one apartment in New York, it’s another thing for a play like this, where New York is a character in the play. We go to so many places, and we generally go to the places that the audience goes to. Every New Yorker has an acquaintance or relationship with at least a few of the places that we go: uptown, downtown, Brooklyn, upstate, Hamptons, Fire Island. So I think that mentally, the audience can sort of hold the geography of the play in their minds.” Named the most important American play of the century by The Telegraph, The Inheritance is a moment in history that is changing Broadway’s trajectory.
The Constitution of the United States of America is a document with fundamental principles that guide the American government. Although the document is meant to provide human rights to all citizens within the country, it does not mention the word ‘woman’ once, and Heidi Schreck is determined to change that in her Broadway play, What the Constitution Means to Me. Schriek describes What The Constitution Means to Me as her teenage love letter to the government and her plea for equality for all. Throughout the play, Schreck highlights women’s rights, immigration, LGBTQ equality, and domestic abuse. Based on the prize-winning speech Schreck gave at 15 years old at the local American Legion Hall, What the Constitution Means to Me highlights the need to protect and recognize the rights of marginalized people. As the playwright and actress in the play, Schreck shared her traumatic family history and the connections they have to the Constitution with NPR: “I wanted to explore how their existence had been shaped by this document, circumscribed by this document, and, in some ways, harmed by this document.”
What the Constitution Means to Me is an emotional and honest representation of the battles facing many marginalized people. Schreck explained the fear she had when she decided to take the play on stage: “When I spoke it out loud in public … I was overwhelmed by terror and grief.” She enlisted two high school debaters to help create an understanding of the document and its true purpose to protect every human. Schreck said: “The Constitution is the key to our liberation, we have the oldest active constitution in the world. My opponent wants you to think this is a bad thing, but the reason it has lasted so long is because it gives ‘we the people’ the tools we need to free ourselves from tyranny.” Schreck hopes to go on tour with the play and create more conversation about the Constitution nationally in order to “make space for us to all be in a room together and think about the future of our country.”
For more information about the 31st Annual GLAAD Media Awards, including the full list of nominees and how to buy tickets, visit www.glaad.org/mediaawards.