Legit's link with gay culture stretches back decades

Like film and television, the queer colonization of Broadway has stepped up in the past year with a proliferation of gay subject matter.

The pink push was cemented during the 2003 Tony Awards telecast, when CBS aired a same-sex kiss between winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

But unlike decades past when the smooch might have unleashed a stream of protests, the network received barely a murmur of viewer complaints.

Shaiman and Wittman won best musical for “Hairspray,” adapted from a film by queer-culture pioneer John Waters (and now skedded for a musical feature remake at New Line). The same show took the actor Tony for Harvey Fierstein’s cross-dressing turn as a zaftig Baltimore hausfrau. Best play went to “Take Me Out,” about a star baseballer who kicks down the closet door.

The trend accelerated with the fall season.

The transfer of “I Am My Own Wife,” Doug Wright’s play about an East German transvestite, garnered the best reviews of any new play this season, while the best reviewed Broadway musical of the season so far is “Avenue Q,” a wry takeoff on “Sesame Street” that prominently features a coming-out storyline.

And, oddly, Broadway played host last fall to not one but two new musicals about gay pop stars.

Hugh Jackman followed his return to the Wolverine role in “X2″ by locking into a long run as flamboyant gay singer-songwriter Peter Allen in “The Boy From Oz,” drawing stellar reviews even in a mediocre show. And Rosie O’Donnell made her Broadway producing debut with “Taboo,” the Boy George bio-musical.

Gay-themed musicals are nothing new to Broadway, and the genre itself has a link with gay culture that stretches back decades.

“A gay character first appeared in a musical in ‘A Chorus Line’ and that really opened the floodgates for an audience that had been so gay and an art form created by so many gay writers and composers,” says writer-director Bill Condon, who scripted the film adaptation of stage tuner “Chicago.”

“Every time there’s a breakthrough like that, it underlines how there’s obviously a huge gay audience craving television and movies and shows about gay characters,” Condon adds.

“Taboo” shuttered in February and “The Boy from Oz” is doing only middling business. But both “Wife” and “Avenue Q” have quietly established themselves as contenders, as has the musical “Wicked,” which draws heavily on “The Wizard of Oz,” a movie with iconic gay status.

Next up: a revival of the popular stage version of cross-dressing musical “La Cage aux Folles,” slated for next season.

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