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June 8, 2022

Pride Timeline: 50+ Years of LGBTQ+ Plays and Musicals


Concord Theatricals proudly represents a great number of cornerstone plays and musicals in the LGBTQ+ canon. In celebration of Pride Month, we’ve assembled a timeline of influential and groundbreaking LGBTQ-themed theatrical works, placed in the context of queer history.

In this chronological list of seminal events and selected theatrical landmarks, you’ll find a wide variety of gay, lesbian and transgender characters and stories – from gay men in New York struggling with self-loathing in The Boys in the Band to a young lesbian in North Carolina proudly facing her family in The Cake. For more information on any title, click the link to Concord Theatricals’ US or UK website.

1968: The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 9m)
This groundbreaking play premiered off-Broadway at Theatre Four on April 14, 1968 – more than a year before the Stonewall Uprising – and ran for 1,001 performances. Subsequently made into a feature film with the original cast, The Boys in the Band was scathing and unapologetic in its frank portrayal of gay men in New York. In his Upper East Side apartment, Michael throws a birthday party for Harold, a self-avowed “thirty-two-year-old, pockmarked, Jew fairy,” complete with a surprise gift: “Cowboy,” a street hustler. As the evening wears on – fueled by drugs and alcohol – bitter, unresolved resentments among the guests come to light when a game of “Truth” goes terribly wrong.  

The attitudes of the play are pre-Pride in every way; the characters seem resigned to live in a world that refuses to accept them. In the 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet, Crowley said, “The self-deprecating humor was born out of a low self-esteem, from a sense of what the times told you about yourself.” The play’s honesty and brashness made it a game-changer; after The Boys in the Band, theatre would never be the same. (US/UK)

1969, June 28-July 3: Stonewall Uprising – Transgender, gay and lesbian patrons of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, NYC, fight back when police raid the establishment. The conflict and ensuing protests are widely recognized as the beginning of the Gay Liberation movement.

1970, June 28: NYC’s Stonewall Anniversary March becomes the first LGBTQ+ pride parade

1970: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, pioneering transgender activists, found Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR)

1973, June 24: Thirty-two people die in the UpStairs Lounge arson attack in New Orleans

1973, December 15: Homosexuality is removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental illnesses

1975: The Ritz by Terrence McNally
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 3f, 14m)
Terrence McNally managed to be both a traditionalist and a pioneer with this uproarious 1975 Broadway hit; he set his traditional door-slamming farce in a gay bathhouse. When Gaetano Proclo, a hapless, middle-aged, overweight, very married man takes it on the lam from his mafioso brother-in-law, Carmine Vespucci, he ducks into “The Ritz,” the last place anyone would look for him. In the bathhouse, he encounters towel-clad chubby chasers, go-go boys, bumbling detectives, and Googie Gomez, an over-the-top would-be Bette Midler looking for her big break. Post-Stonewall but pre-AIDS, The Ritz celebrated the free spirit of early “Gay Lib” with joy and high-speed hilarity. (US/UK)

1978, January 9: Harvey Milk is elected San Francisco City Supervisor

1978, November: Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone are murdered

1978: Gilbert Baker designs and builds the first rainbow flag

1978: Torch Song Trilogy by Harvey Fierstein
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 2f, 4m)
In 1978, gay “clone culture” was on the rise; many gay Americans tried to assimilate by appearing more “straight,” and Americans became more familiar with images of butch gay men. (The Village People’s 1978 hit “Macho Man” celebrated the phenomenon.) “At the height of the post-Stonewall clone era,” wrote playwright Charles Busch in a 2002 article for The Advocate, “Harvey [Fierstein] challenged both gay and straight audiences to champion an effeminate gay man’s longings for love and family.” Fierstein’s comedy opened off-Broadway at La Mama ETC in February and would transfer to Broadway four years later, in 1982.

Radically honest, hilariously contemporary and deeply moving, Torch Song Trilogy is constructed of three one-act plays (International Stud, Fugue in a Nursery and Widows and Children First!) exploring the life of Arnold Beckoff, a torch song-singing Jewish drag queen in New York City. In his uniquely appealing voice, Arnold tells of his struggles through love, loss, the challenge of child-rearing and the fight for acceptance. (US/UK)

1979, October 14: The first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

1979: Bent by Martin Sherman
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 11m)
Though it explored events that took place over forty years earlier, Bent was groundbreaking and unprecedented when it opened in the West End and on Broadway in 1979. The brutal portrait of gay men’s persecution in Nazi Germany shocked audiences, shined a spotlight on a critical period in gay history, and earned critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1934 Berlin on the eve of the Nazi incursion, Max and his lover Rudy, both avowed homosexuals, flee persecution by the murderous Nazis. Desperate and on the run, Max asks his own “discreetly” homosexual Uncle Freddie for help, but the older man offers little more than suggestions on how to live a closeted life. Rudy and Max are captured and, after a failed escape attempt, Rudy is beaten to death. In a death camp at Dachau, Max and fellow prisoner Horst, both branded with the pink triangle, hope to survive with only each other for comfort and courage. (US/UK)

1981, May 18: The New York Native publishes the first report of a disease later called AIDS

1981: March of the Falsettos by William Finn
(Full-Length Musical, Dramatic Comedy / 1f, 3m, 1 boy)
Two years after his experimental musical In Trousers introduced a gay character named Marvin contemplating the women (and men) in his life, William Finn expanded Marvin’s universe in the one-act musical March of the Falsettos, which premiered at Playwrights Horizons on May 20, 1981. The 5-actor show explores the aftermath of Marvin’s decision to leave his wife Trina for a man named Whizzer. Written before AIDS reached the public consciousness (and premiering just two days after the first published report of what was later called AIDS) Finn’s neurotic, delightful musical celebrates gay families, therapy, Jewishness and personal growth with no hint of the pandemic to come. (US)

1982, January 4: GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis) is founded by Nathan Fain, Larry Kramer, Lawrence D. Mass, Paul Popham, Paul Rapoport and Edmund White

1982: Torch Song Trilogy by Harvey Fierstein opens on Broadway on June 10

1983: La Cage aux Folles Book by Harvey Fierstein / Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman / Based on the play by Jean Poiret
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 3f, 7m +Ensemble)
A traditional book musical with a gloriously old-fashioned score, La Cage was nonetheless groundbreaking when it opened on Broadway on August 21, 1983. Based on the hit French film, the hilarious musical comedy presents a family headed by two gay men. Jerry Herman’s lovely “Song on the Sand,” sung by Georges to Albin, marked a theatre milestone: for the first time in history, a man stood on a Broadway stage and sang a heartfelt love song to another man. The show also introduced a powerful and enduring gay anthem; “I Am What I Am,” which celebrates gay identity, became the soundtrack for generations of LGBTQ+ protests, marches and celebrations. (US/UK)

1985: The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 1f, 8m)
A searing drama about public and private indifference to the AIDS plague and one man’s lonely fight to awaken the world to the crisis, The Normal Heart opened at The Public Theater on April 21, 1985. A barely fictionalized account of Larry Kramer’s life experience as co-founder of GMHC and ACT-UP, the play concerns Ned Weeks, a gay activist enraged at the indifference of public officials and the gay community. Relentless in his public and political fight, Ned confronts the personal toll of AIDS when his lover dies of the disease. Presented in the midst of a staggering rise in deaths from AIDS, The Normal Heart was both a desperate political wake-up call and an abiding artistic triumph. (US/UK)

1986, January 16: CDC reports more AIDS deaths than all previous years combined

1988, December 1: World AIDS Day is observed for the first time

1990: Voyage to Lesbos by The Five Lesbian Brothers (Maureen Angelos, Lisa Kron, Babs Davy, Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey)
(Full Length Play, Dark Comedy / 5f)
Legendary theater troupe the Five Lesbian Brothers made their debut with this outrageous and provocative comedy, which first appeared at the WOW Café in May 1990. Through several further collaborations, including Brave Smiles: Another Lesbian Tragedy, The Secretaries, Brides of the Moon and Oedipus at Palm Springs, The Five Lesbian Brothers continued to create and perform over the next two decades, a time when news of gay men and AIDS often overshadowed stories of lesbian lives.

This first play, Voyage to Lesbos, takes a darkly humorous look at the warping effects of internalized homophobia and phallo-centrism on the lesbian psyche. In Lesbos, Illinois, in a vaguely defined pre-Stonewall, post-Freudian period of American culture, five inextricably intertwined women ostensibly prepare for a wedding, while their every action serves to sabotage it. Highlights include several rousing musical numbers and a jerk-off session between the cousins Bonnie and Connie, involving banal heterosexual fantasy and a vacuum cleaner. (US)

1990: Falsettoland by William Finn and James Lapine
(Full Length-Musical, Dramatic Comedy / 3f, 3m, 1boy)
Nine years after Marvin and his family kvetched and struggled their way to happiness in March of the Falsettos, the lovably neurotic characters returned to Playwrights Horizons on June 28, 1990, when Falsettoland debuted. Taking place just a year after its predecessor, Falsettoland begins with a character announcing “This story needs an ending.” In this beautiful, heartbreaking and funny one-act, everyone is forced to grow up as AIDS takes its toll on three loving couples and a boy on the eve of his Bar Mitzvah. (US)

1992: AIDS becomes #1 cause of death for American men ages 25-44

1992: Falsettos, a pairing of March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland, opens on Broadway on April 29

1994, February 28: US Defense Department’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” takes effect, prohibiting discrimination against closeted LGB service members while barring openly LGB people from military service

1997: April 14: Ellen DeGeneres comes out on the cover of Time, saying “Yep, I’m Gay”

1997: Annual AIDS deaths in the U.S. decline by over 40% due to combination drug therapy

1998: The Judas Kiss by David Hare
(Full Length Play, Drama / 1f, 6m)
By the late 90s, audiences in the UK and
US were much more willing to accept complex gay characters and learn more about the lives of famous gay historical figures. The Judas Kiss, David Hare’s compelling depiction of Oscar Wilde just before and after his imprisonment, debuted in the West End on March 12, 1998, and opened on Broadway shortly thereafter, on April 29. Act One captures him in 1895 on the eve of his arrest. He still has a chance to flee to the continent but chooses to let the train leave without him. In the second act, Wilde is in Naples more than two years later, after his release from Reading Gaol. In exile, he is drawn to a reunion with his unworthy lover and a final betrayal. (US/UK)

1998: Matthew Shepard is beaten and killed in Laramie, Wyoming

2000: Vermont becomes the first US state to recognize same-sex unions

2004: The first legal same-sex marriage in the United States takes place in Massachusetts

2004: The History Boys by Alan Bennett
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 1f, 11m)
First presented by the National Theatre at the Lyttleton Theatre in London on May 18, 2004, and subsequently presented on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre on April 23, 2006, Alan Bennett’s The History Boys subtly explored gay themes its depiction of life among an unruly bunch of bright, funny sixth-form (senior) boys in a British boarding school in 1983.

Alan Bennett raises, with gentle wit and pitch-perfect command of character, not only universal questions about the nature of history and how it is taught but also questions about the purpose of education today. He also explores, with deadpan humor and forthright dramatic tension, the consequences of sexual assault and the social stigmatization of same-sex attraction. (US/UK)

2008, November 4: Voters approve Proposition 8 in California, making same-sex marriage illegal. The proposition is later declared unconstitutional

2011: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is revoked

2011: Bootycandy by Robert O’Hara
(Full-Length Play, Satire/Political Satire / 2f, 3m)
Robert O’Hara’s semi-biographical subversive comedy premiered at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, DC in June 2011, before opening off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in 2014.  A kaleidoscope that interconnects to portray growing up gay and black, Bootycandy tells the story of Sutter, who is on an outrageous odyssey through his childhood home, his church, dive bars, motel rooms, and even nursing homes. Weaving together scenes, sermons, sketches and daring meta-theatrics, O’Hara’s uproarious satire crashes headlong into the murky terrain of pain and pleasure and… Bootycandy. (US/UK)

2011: Rights of Passage by Robert Leone & Ed Decker
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 2f, 6m)
Exploring the lives of LGBTQ people worldwide, this engrossing and highly theatrical play premiered at the New Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco in August 2012. Mixing puppetry, mask and dance with modern devices such as digital media, Rights of Passage explores the struggle of Wayan, a young, gay Hindu man in Indonesia. Beyond Wayan’s journey, the play expands to tell true stories of LGBTQ struggles and triumphs from around the world.

2013: Fun Home Music by Jeanine Tesori / Book & Lyrics by Lisa Kron
(Full-Length Musical, Drama / 4f, 2m, 1 girl, 2 boys)
Nearly a half-century after the birth of the modern gay rights movement, Broadway finally welcomed its first musical with a lesbian protagonist. Fun Home, the first Tony-winning Best Musical with an all-female writing team, premiered off-Broadway at The Public Theater on October 22, 2013, and later opened on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre on April 19, 2015. In its portrait of a lesbian artist and her memories of her closeted gay father, the groundbreaking work brilliantly and heartbreakingly depicted, in the microcosm of one family, the contrast of generational experiences in the LGBTQ+ community.

When her father dies unexpectedly, graphic novelist Alison dives deep into her past to tell the story of the volatile, brilliant, one-of-a-kind man whose temperament and secrets defined her family and her life. Moving between past and present, Alison relives her unique childhood playing at the family’s Bechdel Funeral Home, her growing understanding of her own sexuality, and the looming, unanswerable questions about her father’s hidden desires. Refreshingly honest and wholly original, Fun Home set a new standard for LGBTQ+ representation in musical theatre. (US/UK)

2013, December 17: Part of a decades-long wave of antigay legislation in Africa, The Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 is passed, with a punishment of life in prison for “aggravated homosexuality”

2015, June 26: In Obergefell v. Hodges, US Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage

2015: Perfect Arrangement by Topher Payne
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 4f, 3m)
Inspired by the true story of the earliest stirrings of the gay rights movement, Perfect Arrangement merges madcap sitcom-style laughs with provocative drama as two closeted U.S. State Department employees struggle to maintain their cover – and their sanity – in 1950s America.

Reaching back over 60 years before its premiere, Perfect Arrangement addresses the predicament gay and lesbian citizens faced in pre-Stonewall America, turning a harrowing period in American history into a riotous but thought-provoking comedy.

2015: The Rolling Stone by Chris Urch
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 3f, 3m)
ris Urch’s portrait of violent homophobia in Uganda premiered at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester in 2015 before transferring to the Orange Tree Theatre in London. The play won the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting in 2013, the Manchester Theatre Award for Best New Play in 2015, and Best New Play at the Off West End Awards 2017. It premiered off-Broadway at Lincoln Center in 2019.

Set in Uganda, a country subjected to severe anti-homosexuality laws, The Rolling Stone is an intimate yet explosive family drama about two brothers at odds – one a gay man in a clandestine relationship, and the other a church pastor who fervently rails against the lifestyle his brother is forced to conceal. (US/UK)

2016: Southern Comfort by Julianne Wick Davis, Dan Collins
(Full-Length Musical, Drama / 5f, 6m)
For decades, while Broadway frequently presented cross-dressing characters for comic purposes, actual transgender people remained virtually invisible in musical theatre. That changed when Southern Comfort introduced a nuanced, compassionate portrait of a family of transgender friends. After its World Premiere Production at Barrington Stage Company in Barrington, MA in Summer 2013, this bluegrass musical opened off-Broadway at The Public Theater on March 13, 2016.

Based on the 2001 Sundance Film Festival documentary, Southern Comfort follows the last year of Robert Eads, a transgender man in Georgia, as he is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. He surrounds himself with his chosen family, who are predominantly transgender, as they share monthly potluck meals. Like any family, they have their own trials and tribulations, but ultimately, they all seek acceptance for who they are in their own skin. (US/UK)

2016-2017: US State lawmakers introduce dozens of “religious exemption” bills to permit refusal of service to LGBTQ+ Americans

2017: The View UpStairs by Max Vernon
(Full-Length Musical, Drama / 2f, 8m)
Decades after the birth of the modern gay rights movement, this contemporary musical, which opened off-Broadway at the Lynn Redgrave Theatre on February 28, 2017, revisited the 1973 UpStairs Lounge arson attack and the ensuing decades of gay history.

When Wes, a young fashion designer from 2017, buys an abandoned building in the French Quarter of New Orleans, he finds himself transported to the UpStairs Lounge, a vibrant seventies gay bar. As this forgotten community comes to life, Wes embarks on an exhilarating journey of self-exploration that spans two generations of queer history. This smash off-Broadway hit features a gritty, glam rock score and a tight-knit ensemble of unforgettable characters. 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. (US/UK)

2017: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie by Tom MacRae, Dan Gillespie Sells & Jonathan Butterell
(Full-Length Musical, Dramatic Comedy / 8f, 10m)

Funny, fabulous and feel-good, this musical sensation, which premiered in Sheffield and moved to the West End in 2017, celebrates drag, self-expression, friendship and community. A half century after the fear, anger and bitterness of The Boys in The Band, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie features a confident and proud queer teenager. (US/UK)

2018, March 24: Trump administration bans most transgender people from military service

2018, June 4: US Supreme Court rules in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple

2019: The Cake by Bekah Brunstetter
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 3f, 1m)
As “Religious Exemption” bills continued to crop up across the country, Bekah Brunstetter brought humor and humanity to both sides of the contentious civil rights issue with The Cake, which opened off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club on March 5, 2019.

Della makes cakes, not judgment calls – those she leaves to her husband, Tim. But when the girl she helped raise comes back home to North Carolina to get married, and the fiancé is actually a fiancée, Della’s life gets turned upside down. She can’t really make a cake for such a wedding, can she? For the first time in her life, Della has to think for herself. (US/UK)

2020, June 15: US Supreme Court rules that federal employment discrimination laws protect LGBTQIA+ employees

For more great shows for Pride, visit Concord Theatricals. In the US/North America, check out these Pride Plays and Pride Musicals. In the UK/Europe, check out these Pride Plays and Pride Musicals.