Let’s be honest, LGBT+ representation is not new on Broadway. The community has always been one of the first bastions to accept what’s different. In fact, 1970 was the first year to have an openly gay character in a Broadway musical who was not the antagonist, and it even had a scene in a gay bar. It was only three years later in Seesaw that we had the first gay character become a Tony-winning role. And with the next year came A Chorus Line, which broke all sorts of boundaries, including openly gay characters who were allowed to embrace their identity fully.
Most of this representation is mostly focused on the “G” of LGBT+ representation. Which is not to say it’s not important or relevant or meaningful, because it is all of those things! We love gay representation at the Board. However, most of us are girls, and at least one of us (me, editor-in-chief, Molly) is a lesbian. We’ve already talked at length from every angle about the shocking lack of B representation, but the L has also been criminally undersold.
In my research, the very first L I can find to grace the Broadway stage is Lorraine in Nick and Nora in 1991. That’s right, we didn’t get our first representation until 21 years after gay men got that milestone. And from what I can tell, the first show to actually be about gay themes and have gay leads would be The Rocky Horror Show in 1973. Lesbians didn’t get that honor until 2015 with Fun Home, and the first romantic lesbian love story to be the main story came with The Prom, which opened on Broadway just this season.
Despite being so late to the party, The Prom made history this year by being the first LGBT+ kiss on the nation’s most watched broadcast, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. With this, of course, came the backlash (and the hate groups, and the homophobic tweets…) and everything else that comes with a broken boundary. I can’t even imagine Caitlin Kinnunen and Isabelle McCalla’s twitter mentions right now. (Caitlin and Isabelle, if you’re reading this, the entire Board is ride or die on your side, and what you’ve done means so much to us.)
Even so, I’m thankful this is a hurdle we’ve now crossed, and more importantly, that this hurdle belongs to the L. We’ve stood in the shadows as the supporting characters of the gay men and straight women for far too long. When I watched the parade performance, I sat there and openly wept even before it got to the kiss. I was just so unused to seeing two women who loved each other as the focal point; their story was important enough to have their song be the one The Prom would send to one of the (if not the single) most critical press performances. Even now, as I type and stare at the words on my screen, I’m tearing up.
I’ve always had to cobble together representation from other sources, like gay male characters or straight female characters (just last week I wrote about how Katherine Plumber from Newsies was an icon for me when finding the courage to come out). I’ve been doing that for so long that even having a lesbian lead, especially in a show that has so many people whom I love involved, means everything to me. Now THAT is something to be thankful for.
I, Hayley, have been watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade every Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember. When I was a very small child, I watched for the balloons and floats featuring my favorite cartoon characters. As I grew up and became more and more interested in theatre, the best part of the parade became the hour right before the parade arrived in Herald Square, when the casts of Broadway shows would wake up at ungodly hours and perform in the freezing cold for millions of families watching at home on TV. In the past four or five years, I’ve become more and more attached to the parade when shows I love (or am looking forward to seeing) get the chance to perform, and subsequently exclaiming my love for their performances on social media. I fondly remember waking up at the ass-crack of dawn to watch the cast of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder perform “I’ve Decided to Marry You” in 2014’s parade, and the cast of Something Rotten! perform “A Musical” in 2015.
Last year, when the cast of SpongeBob Squarepants performed “Bikini Bottom Day,” the internet kind of exploded in confusion - people were tweeting how the show shouldn’t exist, or that the live-action character interpretations were terrifying, or how weird or desperate for money the concept of a SpongeBob musical sounded. (Even Tina Landau got in on the fun - she tweeted something along the lines of “I’ve never directed something with this much controversy before!”) But no one was prepared for the kind of controversy this year’s parade performance caused.
The delightful new musical, The Prom, just opened a week and a half ago to sparkling reviews, so the choice to have the show perform on the parade was kind of a no-brainer. The number they chose to showcase the show with, though, was unexpected. The finale, “Build A Prom/Time To Dance,” is the culmination of the entire show’s arc for our heroine, Emma Nolan. She finally gets the chance to dance with her girlfriend, Alyssa Greene, at the prom built by the visiting Broadway activists. There’s lots of fun Casey Nicholaw choreography and ensemble enthusiasm, and the number builds up to Emma and Alyssa sharing a sweet, romantic kiss as the prom-goers dance around them. This one kiss, the first LGBTQ+ sign of affection in the entire history of the Macy’s parade, was a victory for queer kids everywhere who want representation in everyday media coverage (and a nightmare for the kind of homophobic “family values” Christians The Prom gently pokes fun of nightly). Twitter was abuzz with cheers of joy from Broadway accounts and liberal-leaning Tweeters, and cries of horror and calls to boycott Macy’s and NBC from the right. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it before in all my years of watching the parade.
As a lesbian longing for more widespread, positive representation in all media (theatre especially), seeing Caitlin and Isabelle kiss on live TV was a triumphant way to start Thanksgiving. I didn’t even watch the rest of the parade live at first; I was too stunned and thrilled by the representation. Going forward, I hope more wonderful queer shows get to Broadway, get to perform on the parade, and keep that joyful representation coming. This year, I’m thankful for The Prom and their parade performance. What a morning to remember.
(Photo from NBC)