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Towleroad's Top 10 Plays and Musicals of 2014



Theatre is risky business. Trusted safety precautions include movie adaptations (What’s your damage, Heather?), stars above the title (NPH, lick my glasses!) and proven classics with stars above the title (Swooning for Denzel? Get in line). Though some hedged their bets, the year’s best plays and musicals took big risks that paid off. Whether breathing new life into beloved stories or creating new ways of telling (with puppets!), the top of the crop never failed to thrill, entertain and enlighten. From highbrow to lowbrow and, well, Hedwig—read on for a list of my top 10 favorites.

10. Heathers: The Musical: Transforming the treasured and twisted 1988 teen flick into a stage musical was no easy feat, but writers Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy pulled it off with an intoxicating mix of verve and camp. Profane, over-the-top and, yes, ballsy—Heathers wins the award for this season’s guilty pleasure most likely to get stuck between your teeth. But the musical also toed a fine line with its carefully crafted tone, balancing its bubblegum cynicism with genuine sympathy for every social strata of high school hell.

TIOY9. This Is Our Youth: Director Anna Shapiro’s fine-tuned production of Kenneth Lonergan’s seminal Gen-X comedy about twenty-somethings stalling to come of age in NYC marks the play’s Broadway debut, and a high point in both its nearly 20-year history and the fall season. With dynamite performances from Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and Tavi Gevinson, Lonergan’s trio of hyper-articulate, aimless thrill-seekers buzzes with the hallmark frenetic energy of youth in any age.

8. The Bridges of Madison County: With a soaring, resonant score by Jason Robert Brown (sung to perfection by Kelli O’Hara and Stephen Pasquale) and book by Marsha Norman, Bartlett Sher’s Broadway production elevated its Harlequin romance-inspired material into a vividly intimate and deeply felt love story. Also based on James Waller’s best-selling novel, Sher’s production was as nuanced and graceful as Clint Eastwood’s 1995 film is sappy and melodramatic.

Bootycandy7. Bootycandy: Writer-director Robert O’Hara’s semi-autobiographical and provocative coming-of-age tale about growing up black and gay defied generic formula for a more daring, fractious kind of storytelling. From outrageously funny to touchingly intimate, O’Hara’s collage of colorful snap-shot scenes assembled into a refreshingly inventive and wholly effective big picture of life outside the margins.

Countdown continues AFTER THE JUMP...

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Gay New Yorkers Talk About Safe Sex, Barebacking, PrEP, and Protection: VIDEO


Earlier this month we brought you the first in Impulse Group NYC's series intended to encourage dialogue about safer sex. That video, which you can watch at this link, explored sex, protection, health, stigma, and status.

The second in the series goes deeper into the subject of protection, asking the subjects how they protect themselves while having sex, what their thoughts are on bareback sex, how they ensure their safety when hooking up with a stranger, what the term "safer-sex" means to them, and if they've heard of PrEP. An HIV-positive participant is also asked if he would have taken PrEP had it been available when he was negative.


Impulse is an organization formed to mobilize gay men for social advocacy, HIV/AIDS health-centered education and community engagement, utilizing volunteer efforts of local community members to create campaigns, events and online content to gay men impacted by HIV.

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'Orange Is The New Black' Stars Join Thousands Rallying in NYC Against Police Violence

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The ladies of Orange is the New Black were spotted alongside thousands of protesters on the streets of New York City yesterday for the #MillionMarchNYC demonstration protesting police violence and the grand jury decisions surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. 

Vicky Jeudy, who plays Janae Watson on the acclaimed Netflix series, posted the above photo on Twitter. She was joined by Jackie Cruz (Marisol Gonzales), Kimiko Glenn (Soso), Lea DeLaria (Big Boo), Danielle Brooks (Taystee), and Emma Myles (Leanne Taylor). 

In a separate rally in DC yesterday, the Rev. Al Sharpton led thousands of demonstrators down Pennsylvania Ave demanding better oversight of policing. 

More photos and video from the rallies, AFTER THE JUMP...

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NYC City Council Passes Bill to End Discriminatory Transgender Birth Certificate Policy


The NYC City Council has passed a bill introduced in October by New York City councilman Corey Johnson which allows transgender people wishing to change the sex designation on their birth certificate to do so without offering proof that they have had surgery.

The bill passed 39-4 with three abstentions. Johnson posted a photo of the bill to Twitter (above).

The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund applauded the bill's passage:

The new policy will require that a licensed health care provider state that an individual’s true sex is not accurately recorded on their current birth certificate. Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign the bill into law. The Board of Health is expected to adopt regulations tomorrow that mirror this legislation.

Today’s action will make it easier for transgender people to correct the sex designation on their birth certificates. This new legislation comes after TLDEF clients Joann Prinzivalli, Patricia Harrington, Marco Wylie, and Naz Seenauth sued the City in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit challenging the requirement that transgender people undergo surgery in order to correct their birth certificates.

“We are thrilled by the passage of this legislation,” said TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman. “Today’s action will dramatically improve the lives of transgender people born in New York City. We thank Councilmember Corey Johnson, the City Council and the Board of Health for taking action. The city’s policy served only to harm transgender people and they moved to change it. We also thank the many activists and advocates who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the city’s harmful policy will be changed.”

The NYCLU also praised the Council's actions. Said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman:

“This change comes as welcome news to the many New Yorkers struggling with harassment, discrimination, and endless bureaucratic nightmares all because they lack identification documents that match who they are. We applaud the City Council and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for their efforts to promote equal opportunity for transgender New Yorkers.”

Bradley Cooper Is ‘The Elephant Man’ on Broadway: REVIEW



Make no mistake: The main attraction at the Booth Theatre, where a prosaic revival of Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 drama The Elephant Man opened last night, isn’t the freak-show headliner in the title, but the A-list name emblazoned above it in twinkling lights. They will flock from near and far, empty their wallets, step right up and see: Can the Hollywood hunk believably play a deformed half-man, half-beast? And deliver the high-octane performance required to mask the mediocrity of his chosen star vehicle? The answers are—well, sort of and no, not really.

Elephant1Bradley Cooper, last seen on Broadway opposite Julia Roberts in Three Days of Rain, certainly brings an impressive physical dedication to his performance as John Merrick. The character and his story are based on the life of Joseph Merrick, a man who lived with extreme deformities in the late 19th century. Pomerance’s play follows the Elephant Man’s ascent from circus aberration to high society marvel under the protection and guidance of Frederick Treves (Alessandro Nivola), a gifted and ambitious doctor.

We first encounter Merrick as a haunting outburst of grunts and gasps behind a freak-show curtain, before Cooper (notably shirtless for the first few scenes) appears next to a slideshow of real photographs of Joseph Merrick. As Mr. Nivola details Merrick’s physical deformities, Cooper contorts his face and body into the warped shapes he firmly maintains through the rest of the play (the role is historically played without makeup or prosthetics).

Elephant2Thanks to these early visual aides and Cooper’s bodily discipline, it’s possible to imagine the very handsome Cooper as the extremely hideous Merrick—though, it’s much easier not to. This is partly because the actor’s looks and his celebrity are stacked against him, and partly because his performance doesn't overpower them. As his position in society improves, Merrick becomes increasingly curious, bright and charming—like a neglected child receiving his first welcome attention. But, too often Cooper voices his character much like an animated one, with a palpable detachment between his vocal delivery and Merrick’s lurid personal history and singular circumstances.

As Mrs. Kendal, the actress who befriends Merrick and introduces him to London’s upper crust, Patricia Clarkson is radiant and the production’s indisputable highlight. With a riveting and sensitively rendered performance, Ms. Clarkson takes her character from a vain, preening bird to the play’s emotional center. Her signature ease and reserved grace stand in marked contrast to Cooper’s effortful portrayal and Nivola’s bland turn as the impassioned doctor.

Elephant3Pomerance’s play, which also concerns itself with the clash between Christianity and modern science, is grounded in British colonial ideologies (i.e. the beastly Other must be saved! Cured! Civilized!). Though an integral context for Merrick’s true story, the imperial entitlement on which the plot hangs is the real elephant in the room. Director Scott Ellis’ production, while efficient and finely dressed (with beautiful costumes by Clint Ramos), hangs its hat on its star rather than offering a fresh take on stodgy material. 

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)

Joyce Brabner’s ‘Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas, And Dealers Plotted Against The Plague’: Book Review


SecondavenueJoyce Brabner’s nonfiction graphic novel recounts the early years of the AIDS crisis as experienced by a tight-knit circle of “gay artists, writers, actors, musicians, dyke activists, drag queens,” who respond to the devastation of the disease with acts of remarkable daring and generosity. 

Brabner’s story centers on Ray, a struggling playwright who earns his living as a nurse. When a doctor he works with offers to hook him up with his “connections in Mexico” in “a potentially beneficial business deal,” Ray begins selling pot to his circle of friends. “The NEA isn’t giving grants to Avant queers,” his partner Ben reasons. “This is our Colombian Arts Council Grant!”

They’re careful to sell only to people they know, and we meet Ray’s vibrant circle of friends, most of them artists, writers, and performers—among them Brabner herself—as they come to his apartment to buy weed. “Fabulous herb…fabulous fantasies…and fabulous friends,” Ray muses, and his apartment becomes the site of “a celebratory, slightly stoned, queer-communal pleasure.”

BrabnerThese early pages of the book are exuberantly joyful, as Ray’s apartment is packed with friends eating and drinking and smoking together, playing games and singing songs, throwing out ideas for plays and musicals, and above all gossiping, cattily and lovingly. Mark Zingarelli’s direct and emotive illustrations capture beautifully the intimacy and trust between these queer outsiders, who create a rich and sustaining family for themselves.

The strength of that community will be tested by the new disease afflicting Ray’s patients. He cares for a man who is “the 24th known case” of what would eventually be called AIDS, and as the scope of the crisis becomes clear, he calls on his friends to “locate gay doctors, researchers, people with some medical training,” quickly creating a network both for information gathering and for providing care to those caught by the wave of infections that sweeps through Ray’s community.

Ray is terrified by the speed with which he loses his friends. “One went so suddenly,” he says, “we knew about it only when we learned he had been buried in a potter’s grave because no one had come to claim him.”



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