WORTH A LOOK?: ****
WHERE? Soho Theatre RUNTIME: 120 minutes (no interval)
WHEN? 18/7, press night 23/7, runs to 24/8/19
It’s the 1st preview and this European premiere of a recent Off Broadway success is starting 15 minutes later than advertised and running 15 minutes longer than expected – but receives a standing ovation at its climax.
- Read on for reasons including why this is a show worthy of repeat viewing
The View UpStairs is a musical by Max Vernon about the 1973 arson attack at the UpStairs Lounge, a gar bar in New Orleans. A total of 32 people were killed and before the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting it was the deadliest attack on a gay club in US history.
The show is set in the UpStairs Lounge in both 1973 and the present day. It is in the latter where we first meet Wes (Tyrone Huntley proves what a fine actor he is as well as excelling in the later songs) a fashion designer in his 20s who is so self-obsessed that he imagines himself back in the club on that fateful night.
Through him we meet a bar full of characters each with a story to tell including construction worker/drag queen Freddy and his inspiring mother, here played by the fabulous Victoria Hamilton-Barritt who doesn’t waste one of the show’s best songs, The Most Important Thing.
What works here is the juxtaposition of a 2019 gay man into 1973 with Wes unrelenting in the sheer volume of his right to assert himself at a time when others are the victims of hate crimes because of their frowned-upon sexuality.
Wes gets most of the best lines (‘I’m not judging you, I just have resting judgemental face.’) and can’t help but fall for the vulnerable hustler Patrick (here brought vividly to life by Andy Mientus) who is so open and honest that he is utterly charming.
Throw in the always reliable John Partridge as a failed Elton John-esque pianist complete with wife, old school butch lesbian bartender Henri (Carly Mercedes Dyer probably has the strongest voice here despite much competition) and sage Willie (Cedric Neal is just gloriously camp) and the stage is set for quite a reckoning.
It’s beautifully staged with a set that is utterly transportive and we appreciated the balance of the story where this thrown together family couldn’t quite understand the alienation of homeless hustler Dale.
If we had a minor gripe, it would be that the songs remind of Rent, are more rock than you might expect and aren’t quite the match of the story and staging. But otherwise it’s so good we’ve downloaded the soundtrack and we’re taking friends to see it once more before it closes.
It’s exactly the kind of show that is both so entertaining and thought-provoking that you just don’t want the spell it casts to be over quite yet.