10 Lesbian and Bisexual Characters Who Have Made Their Mark on Broadway

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The critically acclaimed musical Fun Home opened for previews this past weekend, and has the distinction of having the first lesbian lead character in musical theatre. The musical, which is based on artist and writer Alison Bechdel‘s memoir by the same name, focuses on the relationship between Alison and her deeply closeted father. Three actresses portray Alison throughout different stages of her life: Beth Malone, Emily Skeggs and young Sydney Lucas (who I predict will walk away with a Tony this year).

10980760_366488023523467_3718538919995187870_nBroadway cast of “Fun Home”

While gay male characters have been mainstays of musical theatre productions, especially in the last 20¬†years, queer women haven’t really had much of a place the Broadway stage. Hopefully that will change, but in the meantime, let’s celebrate some of the lesbian and bi characters that have graced the Broadway stage in supporting roles.

Maureen and Joanne – Rent

These are probably the most well know queer female characters in Broadway history. Idina Menzel originated the role of the feisty and fearless Maureen, a bisexual woman who has had long term relationships with both Mark and Joanne. Her biggest love however, is the stage. Joanne, a lesbian lawyer, is perpetually smitten with her diva, all the while trying to fit into Maureen’s bohemian world. Their passionate duet, “Take Me or Leave Me” is one of the shows most popular songs and a karaoke staple for queer girls across the world. Never before had we heard two women express their affection for one another in a duet, and these roles will forever have a place of honor in queer Broadway.

Rent2650Original Broadway cast of RENT via New York Times

Dr. Charlotte and Cordelia – Falsettos

“Look, look, look, look, look, it’s a lesbian from next door! Followed by her lover who’s a lesbian from next door, too!” These are the first lines sung by Dr. Charlotte and her partner Cordelia in the final chapter of the Falsettos trilogy by William Finn and James Lapine. Its predecessors In Trousers and March of the Falsettos, follow the life of Marvin, a married father who realizes he’s gay and leaves his wife Trina for his male lover, Whizzer. In Falsettoland which takes place in the early ’80s, Marvin and Trina are divorced and busy planning their son Jason’s bar mitzvah. While the show is often silly and romantic, it also deals with the dawn of the AIDS epidemic. “Something Bad is Happening” is about Dr. Charlotte’s experience on the front lines watching the disease rip through the gay community. As Whizzer and Marvin face the crisis, the lesbian couple is there to offer support and friendship especially in the beautiful quartet, “Unlikely Lovers.”

falsettos8Original Broadway cast of “Falsettos”

Kate and Anne – If/Then

The recent Broadway hit If/Then gets double points for having one of the few out leading ladies of the New York stage, Jenn Colella, playing a lesbian in the show. While Colella’s character Anne is important, it’s actually Anne’s girlfriend Kate (played by the epically talented LaChanze) who has a more major role in the musical. Kate is best friends with Elizabeth (Idina Menzel) and the musical takes a look at what would have happened if Elizabeth followed two very different paths. The musical was intended as a vehicle for Menzel, and the show does indeed revolve around her character. Still, a lesbian best friend in a Broadway show is something significant.

10403134_743093035781871_1437978651102210614_n“If/Then” cast members Tamika Lawrence, Jenn Colella, LaChanze, and Idina Menzel

Madelaine and Sally- The Wild Party (Michael John LaChiusa)

Ah the dueling Wild Parties! There is also an off-Broadway version of The Wild Party (written by Andrew Lippa) but for consistency’s sake, we’ll just tackle the Broadway version which starred Toni Colette and Mandy Patinkin. The¬†musical is based on a poem with the same title, and takes place over one night in the decadent, bathtub gin days of Prohibition. Sex, drugs, booze and lots of supporting characters. One of these dynamic ensemble members is Madelaine, a saucy stripper who is in mad love with a beautiful morphine addict. She gets her own song, dedicated to her new amour “Like Sally” where she declares “I made Alice B. Toklas-cry!” Well, there’s an orgy, a few fights, and the sobered up Sally sings the haunting “After Midnight Dies.” The pull of addiction is much stronger than the first blush of love, and Sally leaves Madeline for a pile of cocaine. I didn’t say it was the most uplifting musical.

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Shug Avery and Celie – The Color Purple

The Color Purple premiered on Broadway in 2005, but it getting a second wind with a revival planned for fall 2015. The musical is based on the famous novel by Alice Walker, which details the life of a woman named Celie as she tries to survive and thrive a harsh existence in the post-depression south. The exquisite Jennifer Hudson will join the revival playing Shug Avery, the enigmatic songstress who wins the affection of both Celie’s dreadful husband and Celie herself. As Celie nurses Shug back to health, the two woman grow close and love blossoms. In their duet, “What About Love,” Celie sings “Is that me who’s floating away? Lifted up to the clouds by a kiss, Never felt nothin’ like this.”

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There may be a handful of small parts and additional minor characters, but these are the ladies who have left a significant mark in the musical theatre word. Straight plays (or non musicals) continue to have more and more queer female characters, as do off-Broadway plays and musicals. Maybe Fun Home will finally be the show that proves that lesbian, bi and queer female characters can also make compelling leads.

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