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Review - Applause: The Show That Opened The Broadway Musical's Closet Door

There are several reasons I'm looking forward to this week's Encores! concert performance of Charles Strouse (music), Lee Adams (lyrics) and Betty Comden and Adolph Green's (book) 1970 musical version of All About Eve, retiled Applause, this weekend. Like hearing those mod Broadway rock orchestrations by the great Philip J. Lang played by a full assemblage of musicians. And seeing that crazy segment of the title tune when the cast does a series of parodies of Fiddler On The Roof, Funny Girl, Hello, Dolly! and other classic musicals, including a challenge dance between Oklahoma! and Oh! Calcutta! And, of course, to see the wonderful Christine Ebersole in her first major role since nabbing the Tony for Grey Gardens.

But I'm especially interested in hearing the audience's reaction to a quick exchange that takes place in the first act when Broadway star Margo Channing invites her hairdresser, Duane, to join her opening night celebration. He declines, saying he has a date, and she replies, "Bring him along."

I'm sure that little exchange would sound completely innocuous to a New York audience in 2008, but when Lauren Bacall said those three little words to Lee Roy Reams in 1970, "Bring him along" was a landmark utterance. It was the very first time in the history of Broadway musicals that a character was clearly and undeniably acknowledged as being homosexual.

Of course, there had been characters before whose stereotypical behavior and winking remarks were meant to define them as gay to a knowing audience. Danny Kaye as the photographer in Lady In The Dark and René Auberjonois' fashion designer in Coco immediately come to mind, as does Steve Curry as the Mick Jagger-obsessed hippie in Hair who denies being homosexual despite his claim that he wouldn't toss the Rolling Stone out of bed. But this was the first time a Broadway musical was up front about our being in the presence of a character that would go out on a date with someone of the same sex. (And no, Henry Higgins asking Pickering, "Would you complain if I took out another fellow?" is not the same thing.)

My theatre-going days were still ahead of me when Applause played The Palace, but my informal survey of friends and colleagues who did see it reveals that some audience members laughed, others were shocked and, quite appropriately given the title of the show, many applauded.

But that was 38 years ago. Unless they are aware of the significance of the line, would audience members even notice it today? Will we even hear the line at City Center this week? Encores! generally trims the books for their concert presentations and without any reaction the exchange seems like surplus material.

I'll find out on Friday, but if you plan on making Applause a part of your theatre-going this week, why not give a big cheer if Christine Ebersole's Margo does in fact invite Mario Cantone's Duane to bring his male date along. It's the Broadway musical's answer to, "I have a dream."

Now... which was the first unmistakably open lesbian character to appear in a Broadway musical? Did anyone even notice when it happened?

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From This Author Michael Dale