Review Roundup: Circle Theatre Presents Chicago Premiere THE VIEW UPSTAIRS

Review Roundup: Circle Theatre Presents Chicago Premiere THE VIEW UPSTAIRSTHE VIEW UPSTAIRS, a musical by Max Vernon, whose musical KPOP won Best Musical honors in off-Broadway's Lortel Awards and was also nominated for seven Drama Desk awards, is inspired by real life events of the 1973 arson attack at the UpStairs Lounge, a vibrant gay bar in New Orleans. Now accepted as a targeted anti-gay attack, the arson resulted in the deaths of 32 people and was, until the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting, the deadliest assault on a gay club in U.S. history. The show is inspired by and pays tributes to many of the patrons that frequented the venue.

In THE VIEW UPSTAIRS, which opened off-Broadway in February 2017, Wes, a young fashion designer from 2017, buys an abandoned building in the French Quarter of New Orleans and finds himself transported to the UpStairs Lounge in 1973. As this forgotten community comes to life, Wes embarks on an exhilarating journey of self-exploration that spans two generations of queer history. THE VIEW UPSTAIRS asks what has been gained and lost in the fight for equality, and how the past can help guide all of us through an uncertain future.

Let's see what the critics have to say!

Dan Jakes, Chicago Reader: All this might be the makings of a broad, self-aware comedy at the Annoyance, but they're employed here in earnest to curious results. In a 100-minute show, it's hard to see much beyond the central character and framing device, but there are some touching stories and moments on the periphery, like a mother (Selene Perez) lovingly applying makeup to the face of her drag queen son (Rubén Meléndez Ortiz) to cover his bruises. A brief a cappella prayer showcases the capable ensemble's vocal chops, even if Vernon's blandly pop-rock score by and large does not.

Kerry Reid, Chicago Tribune: The love story between Wes and hustler Patrick (Averis I. Anderson) provides an emotional spine as Patrick urges Wes to "be a person - not a personality." At times, Vernon's book feels like it's going through the motions in introducing the supporting characters - though I'd happily sit at the feet of elder Willie (Frederick Harris) to hear more of his stories.

Lauren Whalen, Chicago Theater Beat: The View UpStairs has a supremely talented ensemble, each bringing unique characterization and stunning vocals to the table. Music director Jeff Bouthiette, who also plays piano onstage, shines as a closeted husband and father who must protect his identity and his family. Though Wes is sometimes drawn a bit too broadly, Webb's angelic voice and fierce eyeliner more than make up for the character's shortcomings. Anderson's Patrick is charismatic yet tough, beautifully outlining his sad present and even sadder past. Rubén Meléndez Ortiz and Selene Perez supply the musical's most compelling moments as a young drag queen and his supportive mother. And Caitlin Jackson's sass is on full display in her portrayal of gruff lesbian bartender Henri. The View UpStairs is essential for anyone who wants to understand queer history or, really, humanity in general. Circle Theatre is a worthy company for the musical's Chicago premiere, giving it every ounce of the care it deserves.

Lawrence Bommer, Stage and Cinema: A parable and a promissory note, The View UpStairs reminds us just how conditional love is ("Lost or Found?"). A non-negotiable gift, it dies on the spot when it's taken for granted. Perversely, this hate crime required a lot of love to happen. That becomes the final view from upstairs.

Patrick Rybarczyk, BroadwayWorld: Webb shines as Wes with a performance grounded in sincerity, wit, and wonder. Whether he's incredibly animated or completely still, Webb's emotions pour out and envelop us at each turn. Standouts in this terrific cast include Frederick Harris as Willie who leaves us wanting more of his dazzling tales and Rubén Meléndez Ortiz as Freddy, the construction worker turned drag queen, who exemplifies the entire group's enviable courage. When united in song, the gifted ensemble fills the space with an impressive and gorgeous sound.

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