By Jeff Walsh
It is hard to minimize the impact that the brutal death of Matthew Shepard had on the gay community in 1998. Even this site was flooded with a constant stream of poetry and other submissions in the days after his death, totally unsolicited, so much that we had to add a separate page to that month’s website as a special tribute to Matthew.
A few months later, I interviewed Alex Trout, one of Matthew’s best friends in Laramie, and that following June, got to hang out with Alex for a night of drinking and cruising in the Castro, as he and Matthew’s other friend, Walt Boulden, were honored as grand marshals in the San Francisco gay pride parade.
I’d really never given any further thought to Matthew Shepard since then, except for when his name came up in 2009 when federal hate crimes statute finally added LGBT protections with the Matthew Shepard Act. The most common touch point I’ve had to this 15-year-old case is that I often see my friend Garrin Benfield perform live in NYC, and his sets often include “What You're Hiding,” which has a chorus that ends, “Matthew, you lived your final hours, with the butt of a gun smashing in your brain.”
The case seemed simple and the justice swift. Matthew was the frail, baby-faced guy out in cowboy country of Laramie, Wyoming, who made a sexual advance on two guys, and they killed him for it. The lack of complexity was what made the case so perfect, and how everyone could easily put themselves in Matthew’s shoes, and imagine that simple gesture turning tragic.
In The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard, journalist Stephen Jimenez reveals how little of the narrative we’ve all come to know is accurate, as he spent more than a decade slowly peeling away protected layers until the real picture emerged.
By Jeff Walsh
Transgender dinosaur musical.
I don't know where I first saw those three words together, but I was immediately hooked. The phrase prepared you in advance. You knew the show wasn't going to be serious. You knew it was a musical. And, most obviously, that there would be dinosaurs. The reality was even more fun.
This musical spoof of Jurassic Park, begins with Morgan Freeman explaining some of the backstory, by which I mean a tall white actor who introduces himself as Morgan Freeman, the character he will play for the duration of the show, who is often mistaken for Samuel L. Jackson by the cast.
But let's face it, the show is really about actors portraying dinosaurs while singing uptempo numbers, doing fun choreography, and questioning gender identity.
By Jeff Walsh
Godspell is an odd mix of things that seemingly shouldn't work together: a series of parables from the Gospel of Matthew, amazing songs by Stephen Schwartz, and a lot of freedom in between on how to present both.
But somehow, the spare book, beautiful music, and lack of structure all combine to make something bigger than the sum of its parts. In its current Broadway incarnation, Godspell is a high-energy experience that barely lets you catch your breath.
Before I saw the show, in December, an elderly woman at the Patti Lupone/Mandy Patinkin show was giving me the rundown on all the new Broadway shows. When she came to Godspell, her demeanor changed and she clutched her chest, like even remembering the manic energy was exhausting her: "They keep running around, trying to make us have fun."
By Jeff Walsh
“Bring It On” hits all the notes you’d expect from a new musical inspired by the 2000 Kirsten Dunst cheerleading movie of the same name. There are catty cheerleaders, underdogs for the audience to cheer on, and high-flying aerial wizardry. But the members of its creative team have built their names by delivering theater that goes beyond our expectations, and that didn’t happen this time.
The story is pretty simple. A cheerleader is forced to change schools and goes from being head cheerleader of a winning squad to being anonymous in a more ethnic school that doesn’t even have or want a cheer squad. I never saw the original movie, but my friend who attended with me said it is not the same plot, so it is definitely more “inspired by” than “based on.”
By Jeff Walsh
So, I requested to be sent screeners of the "youth" movies being shown at Frameline, San Francisco's LGBT film festival, which is currently happening in San Francisco. I'm not certain if this is indicative of the larger programming this year, but the films I received nearly all focused on trans and gender identity issues, which will certainly appeal to a lot of people on the site here.
Keep in mind, these movies are just playing the festival circuit now, so you may have to hunt down when they are playing a festival near you, and the wait may be a bit longer for a DVD release.
Here's a breakdown of the films I received:
By Jeff Walsh
When I moved to San Francisco in 1996, one of my first purchases was a trade paperback of Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City," from the recently-closed gay bookstore in the Castro. I'd previously watched the PBS mini-series, but it seemed a necessary book to read upon moving here. The book begins with Mary Ann Singleton, in San Francisco on vacation from Cleveland, calling her mother to say she isn't coming home, she's staying in this enchanted city.
To fans of the book, Mary Ann, Michael "Mouse" Tolliver and Anna Madrigal aren't mere literary characters. Mary Ann is the eyes of the piece that clearly see the magic of San Francisco. Mouse is its heart yearning for connection. And Anna is its soul welcoming us unconditionally with joints taped to our apartment doors, whose 'anything goes' attitude is earned through her life experience.
They are an important part of our lives, and capture the magic and allure of a city where people come to redefine themselves, find love, build community, and explore... well, pretty much anything they want to.
So, going to see a new musical based on "Tales of the City," featuring music from members of the Scissor Sisters, and both the writer and director behind Avenue Q, had me of two minds. I couldn't wait to see it, but I was also nervous they might fail to capture the essence of the piece. (I'm well aware the second concern is a bit much, but what I can say? I should have been tipped off that the team knew what it was doing by the Tales of the City-branded condoms and rolling papers at the merchandise table.)
By Jeff Walsh
Violet Tendencies is a fun fag hag movie, starring Mindy Cohn (Natalie from TV's Facts of Life) as the hag in the starring role.
The movie, which comes out on DVD May 24, opens on a wedding, as a fag hag is getting married surrounded by hot gay men. The bride notes that she was the last fag left, quickly adding, well... except for Violet.
Violet is so surrounded by gay men that she barely knows how to navigate the straight world, and when she does meet straight guys through an online phone dating service, her gay-tuned candor and humor sends them packing.
Violet's gay friends are all in some state of taking their lives from where they are at present to a next level, whether that is monogamy or adopting children. When Violet finally meets someone interested in her, a Mormon architect with whom she doesn't share much of anything in common, she abandons her gay life for a chance at happiness.
There are two types of book in the oddly defined genre of “Young Adult Literature” that I've become sick of. The first is, unfortunately, books about queer youth. This is because they almost all have nearly the same plot line- young queer person discovers their sexuality. It gets old. The second type is books by two authors, in which each author narrates from a different character's point of view, simply because I find it grating.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan is a young adult novel about queer youth by two authors, each narrating from a different point of view. Somehow, miraculously, the book is fresh, funny, fascinating, and, without question, good.
Strange, I know.
Green (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns, also an internet celebrity of vlogbrothers fame, heterosexual), narrates as Will Grayson. Levithan (Boy Meets Boy, The Realm of Possibility, Wide Awake, and many more, very gay) narrates as Will Grayson.
Will Grayson and Will Grayson are two teens from two different suburbs of Chicago and two very different worlds. John Green's Will is a straight boy whose best friend is Tiny Cooper, “not the world's gayest person... not the world's largest person... but I believe he may be the world's largest person who is really, really gay, and also the world's gayest person who is really, really large.”
By Jeff Walsh
"Promises, Promises" seems to have everything going for it. Recently out Sean Hayes (known for his amazing turn as Jack McFarland on Will & Grace) stars with Kristin Chenoweth (from Wicked and Glee fame) in a revival of a show written by Neil Simon, with music by Burt Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David, based on the amazing movie "The Apartment," written by Billy Wilder, starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine, and it seems like there's so much going for it, it couldn't miss.
But then, it does.
It's like a lot of good things that never congeal into a great thing. I like Hayes and Chenoweth so much that it takes a while to get over the enjoyment of seeing them perform to realize you don't necessarily want to see them perform this show. Hayes brings out the bubbly charm that made Jack the highlight of Will & Grace, but a lot of strange fourth-wall stuff and one-liners never seem to get us invested in his story here (and no, I didn't have any problem accepting him playing straight).
By Jeff Walsh
I'll be honest. I almost skipped the press screening for Patrik, Age 1.5 (which is now playing in the Bay Area and select cities, details here).
The premise seemed too cute: a gay couple who think they're about to adopt a year-and-a-half old baby, only to find there was a typographical error and they get a 15 year old who is an anti-gay delinquent.
You just knew it was going to have some touching moment where they talked, found common ground, and ended with a warm hug that Patrik wouldn't pull back from. It is nearly a sitcom premise! I don't watch the Hallmark Channel at home, so why go out to the movies to see it?
But the fact that it won the audience award at the Frameline gay film festival here in San Francisco is what made me curious enough to attend. I just don't think a very special episode of Blossom is the kind of thing they would all vote for, especially for a Swedish film for which they all had to read subtitles.
As it turned out, this charming, beautiful movie took every expectation I had and defied it. Every character had their own engaging narrative, and nothing worked out as it might seem at first glance.
By Jeff Walsh
Semi Precious Weapons stormed into our lives with their monster hit "Magnetic Baby" in 2008. It was an online sensation before it appeared on their "We Love You" album in September 2008 (I previously interviewed lead singer Justin Tranter in Oasis).
The band recently released "You Love You," its follow-up after signing to Interscope Records. The new effort repeats the killer tracks with amped-up reworked versions of "Semi Precious Weapons," "Magnetic Baby," and "Rock and Roll Never Looked So Beautiful." Despite the familiarity I had with these tracks from the earlier CD, these new versoins are the definitive versions to me now.
The band is currently opening up for Lady Gaga on her Monster Ball tour and even after playing these songs hundreds of times, they really captured all of their raw energy and dirty glamour.
The new songs bring a cohesive feel to the nine-song "debut," combining up-tempo numbers like "I Could Die," live staples like "Put A Diamond In It" and "Sticky with Champagne," and emotional ballads like "Leave Your Pretty To Me" and "Look At Me."
By Jeff Walsh
I'm an unabashed Kinsey Sicks fan, and love seeing them live as well as listening to their recordings. Their latest CD, "Each Hit and I," (say it out loud), is a great addition to your Kinseys collection.
At 20 tracks, this CD covers a lot of ground. There are parody covers, original songs, and a live track with the Silicon Valley Gay Men's Chorus. But when I think about the CD, my mind keeps drifting to Ani Difranco.
I used to love seeing Ani DiFranco live, but there was a bit of a dilemma for me. She would always be touring when a new album came out, but if you liked the new album, she was already sort of on to the next thing. So, you had to catch the previous tour to hear her really play the songs that would be on the album you eventually liked. Once the CD was out, you already sort of missed it.
This came up to me when I saw the Kinseys multiple times during a two week run in San Francisco. In concert, they were singing "BP is Creepy," an original song about the oil spill (see the video below), and "Bedroom Ants," a Gaga parody about ants largely to "Bad Romance." The new CD came out the day the run began, and these two crowd pleasers weren't on it. But tracks about Michael Jackson ("Dead," to the tune of "Bad") and Britney Spears ("Fertilizer," to the tune of "Womanizer") seemed to be getting a tad dated. So, I figure these were previous live gems that finally found their way onto my iPod, and that lag was unavoidable.
Now, I realize I'm reviewing a funny a capella drag queen album the way other publications are scrutinizing the new output from Arcade Fire, but it's just an observation I had.
By Jeff Walsh
Stonewall Uprising is a new documentary that details the birth of the modern gay rights movement in New York City on June 28, 1969, when a group of patrons at the Stonewall Inn fought back during a regular police raid, leading to three days of riots and our first "pride parade."
Unlike today, where every song at a Lady Gaga concert is covered from every angle by 400 different cell phone and video cameras and uploaded to YouTube, there isn't much footage of the Stonewall Riots, but when this documentary finally gets to that famous night, hearing the oral narrative from the people who were there, combined with photos and talking heads, is still gripping.
Hearing about that night, you understood why this film (which opens in the Bay Area this weekend) was made. But, it did seem to take its time getting to that fateful night. Don't get me wrong, I think context is great, but seeing the old news footage of how homosexuality was treated back in the day seems to run a bit long. Every time we see a talking head, we know they are setting the stage for the riots, and then we drift into more backstory, teased again.
I think recently seeing an oral history so expertly told with We Were Here, made seeing one that just doesn't measure up as effectively more obvious. I saw the same talking heads throughout this film, but it seems they were used more to advance the history of a people. They were there to serve the story of Stonewall, when in fact, they are the story of Stonewall. I'd rather hear them contextualize the history, weave in their own personal narratives, and use that to advance the story.
By Jeff Walsh
Easier With Practice is one of those movies that is impossible to review on a gay site, especially for someone as spoiler-adverse as me.
Because the distributor sent me this with another title, and I didn't even bother to read about it in advance, I just converted it so that I could watch it on my iPad and review it on the plane to or from Hawaii. And, for 90 percent of the movie, my thought was "Why did they send me an interesting, albeit seemingly heterosexual movie?"
In the back of my mind, of course, I thought, "The only way this would be a gay movie is if..." and, of course, that is what ends up being the case. So, we have a gay movie that is sort of a twist gay movie, except to review it on a gay website almost requires you to tell people the twist, so that it actually seems like a gay story.
The question I have, of course, is... if you watch this movie based on knowing it will eventually be a gay movie, even though it doesn't seem like it for most of the film and, because of that knowledge, figure things out in advance that you otherwise wouldn't or shouldn't, is it still a satisfying movie?
And I don't know the answer to that question.
By Jeff Walsh
Nick Nolan's "Strings Attached" is a fun beach read of a book. I can safely say that, as I read it on a beach all day today. But seriously, this novel starts out like your typical gay young adult novel, but then adds a lot of additional layers and metaphors to make it an even more compelling read.
When the book starts, Jeremy has to call 911 for his drunk mother, who almost died... again. He ends up living with his aunt, with whom his mother had a falling out after the death of Jeremy's father. This aunt is incredibly rich, with butlers and a huge mansion overlooking the ocean. In short order, Jeremy goes from poverty to posh.
As you know is a gay young adult novel, you start lining up all the things that will likely happen, and most of them don't. Or few things happen as you initially suspect. If anything, I'd go as far as to say Jeremy's awakening about being gay, while integral to the story, is less dramatic than the family drama around which it is set.
By Jeff Walsh
Watching "8: The Mormon Proposition," it's hard to get past the central irony of the Mormon church fighting against alternative marriage, given the church's polygamist roots. But this documentary covering the Mormon's church's fight against gay marriage does make you almost sorry for people who can put such questionable religious teachings above their own family members, friends, and loved ones.
The documentary sheds light on one of the core problems the Mormon church has with gay marriage, which is related to their concept of an afterlife. I will write it out without editorial comment for the sake of brevity. In a nutshell, when you die, you go to your own planet, are reunited with your spouse, and you then have babies and repopulate your planet. I can't watch such nonsense twice to see if I'm missing any details here, but suffice it to say if they allow gay marriage, then their afterlife doesn't work because you have two guys sitting on a planet alone, OK?
By Jeff Walsh
Let's address the obvious straight away. Evelyn Evelyn, the conjoined twin sister singing duo that played San Francisco this weekend, aren't lesbians, or gay, or trans, which may raise the flag of why I'd be reviewing their show for a gay youth site.
I find this sort of thinking to miss the mark entirely. Growing up as conjoined sisters gives them a unique take on life, sure, but it still shines the same light on all of the same issues we see here on a regular basis: difference, adversity, trying to fit in, and trying to pull away from a gift that you were given at birth. For the Neville sisters, it's one another; for everyone else, your sexuality.
As they sing in the bridge to their namesake song: "I never asked for this! I never wanted this! All that I want is some time to myself!" Sound familiar?
With that out of the way, seeing the sisters in their reluctant spotlight at the Great American Music Hall on Sunday night was inspiring. Even with the adoration from the crowd, the sisters always seemed timid and uncomfortable being center stage. In the darkness, they told the tale of their horrible upbringing through an inventive use of shadow puppets, giving us a peek at the tragedy that hangs just underneath the surface of their songs.
By Jeff Walsh
When you watch a movie called "The Big Gay Musical," you know what you signed up for. The only question is, will it deliver? Thankfully, this movie gives you all the laughs, songs, hot guys, and camp that you expect going in.
The movie centers on two actors playing Adam and Steve in an Off-Broadway musical. It has a queeny God, hot muscular angels, and a lot of campy dialogue with double entendres, like this one from their time in the Garden of Eden:
Adam: Last night, you figured out how to pull the skin back! It's so much better that way.
Steve: I know! Now, I really like bananas!
So, yeah, that's the kind of show to expect.
Offstage, the guy who plays Adam is sorting out how he feels about dating, monogamy, and hookups, whereas the actor playing Steve isn't out to his highly-religious parents, who are coming to opening night. With a few other characters and the slutty angels in the show, it ends up being just campy enough, just sexy enough, and with just enough heart to make it fun to watch.
By Jeff Walsh
When I first saw the program for Girlfriend, a new musical based on Matthew Sweet's 1991 album of the same name, I was surprised to only see two names on the cast list. I knew the show was about two teenaged boys who fall in love, but where would the drama come from? It just seemed a tall order to have no outside pressures or voices.
Watching the beginning of the show, though, made me think of a lot of the journals I see here on Oasis on a regular basis, and then I immediately remembered that gay teens don't need external forces to create drama. You can do enough damage on your own.
Girlfriend obviously takes place in the recent past, as the popular student Mike gives the nerdier gay boy Will a mix tape of songs he likes. Like, a literal cassette tape (You can see what one looks like here). Will, of course tries to figure out why this boy, who has all but ignored him for years, is now giving him cassettes and wanting to talk on the phone right before graduation. The mix tape becomes the soundtrack of their relationship, the songs they sing alone and together, and the way they can let their feelings come to the surface in ways they don't when they're just awkwardly talking.
I just got home from Sacramento, where I went to see the FINAL show in the FINAL CITY of the Rent Broadway tour, which is the FINAL time Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal will ever be in the show.
The crowd was electric, filled with many former cast members, and people who flew from all corners of the globe to be there.
When Adam Pascal walked out with his guitar, the crowd erupted. It seemed like it couldn't get much louder. Then Anthony walked out, and I realized I was wrong. The crowd was on its feet before they could even hit their marks, and they stopped and gave the crowd the time to calm down.
Anthony didn't start in with his normal opening line and instead said that this show, like every show, is dedicated to the memory of Jonathan Larson. Then it began.