One doesn't have to be gay to love Broadway musicals, but it's a popular cliché that for a male to love them is tantamount to having “I'm gay” stenciled on his forehead, and strong scientific evidence of the existence of a “gay gene” in the DNA of homosexual men. Well, aside from the fact that I do hold with those who sincerely believe that there is a genetic predisposition to being gay, I also believe that there are very sound reasons why so many gays are drawn to musicals.
Musical comedies are happily-ever-after fairy tales to delight and comfort both children and adults. Other musicals, more serious in nature, lead us reflectively deeper into our souls. But almost all musicals can serve to reaffirm our too-often-battered belief in love and goodness and beauty and joy.
Musicals are fantasies for those who feel estranged from a “real world” in which they feel they do not belong. They are the right-there-on-the-stage encapsulated dreams of worlds we wish existed. Their stories are told largely in songs which often speak to basic human needs...most especially to the feeling of belonging; of not being alone, but a part of something infinitely larger than ourselves. Sitting in a darkened theater, our hearts and minds can let go of the world as we know it. We can pick from their songs those which speak directly to and for our individual souls, expressing our thoughts, our hopes, our longings better than we ever could ourselves. (“Maybe This Time” from Cabaret, “Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha, “What I Did for Love” from A Chorus Line, “I Am What I Am” from La Cage Aux Folles are just a few of the songs which grab me by the soul each time I hear them.)
Being different is never easy, and often painful, and the more “different” you are, the more painful it is. Of course, everyone is different in their own way, but for most people the areas of overlapping with the thoughts and feelings and experiences of others softens the edges of the pain. I grew up in a world in which those like me were considered—and often treated as—“an abomination in the eyes of God,” homosexual “acts” were literally crimes, and homosexuality was at best recognized as a mental illness. Is it any wonder that I and many like me, being told we did not belong, sought places where we could feel we did? Broadway musicals provided, and provide, an escape from reality.
Society has come further in the past 15 years regarding acceptance and inclusion of gays and lesbians than ever before in modern history. That there are now hugely popular musicals like The Boy from Oz, La Cage aux Folles and the unapologetically joyous, over-the-top, in-your-face-gay Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is further evidence of societal change.
I have no idea exactly how many musicals I have seen over the course of my life—probably close to 100, at least—and with very few exceptions I remember them with total contentment, happiness, and gratitude for the pleasure they have given me. The only thing I dislike about them is that moment when the last bow has been taken and the curtain comes down for the last time. It is then that I and my “gay gene” must once again walk out of the theater into the real world, the applause echoing in my mind and heart.