A Musical of Love and Loss
The single-act musical based on the UpStairs Lounge finally comes to the Greater New Orleans area through the Jefferson Performing Arts Society.
The 1973 arson attack of New Orleans gay bar the UpStairs Lounge was a horrific tragedy and was the deadliest attack on LGBT individuals in American history until the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. That lingering sense of dread, and knowing full well how things will end, never quite leaves your mind while watching The View UpStairs, but the musical does a tremendous job of focusing on the human element that was taken away by that incident in an interesting way.
The musical, which was created in 2017 by composer, lyricist, and playwright Max Vernon, focuses on Wes (played by Donyae Asante), a modern day, 20-something fashion designer who purchases the former UpStairs Lounge in order to turn it into a retail store. He suddenly finds himself transported back in time to 1973 where he interacts with the many colorful patrons of the bar. Through these interactions, Wes learns to reevaluate his concepts of love and life, as well as learn how much things have changed, and in some cases stayed the same, since the 1970s.
Highlights & Thoughts
The main strength of the musical, in my opinion, are all of the different characters that Wes meets when he is back in 1973. The UpStairs Lounge patrons provide a lot of heart, humor, and drama throughout the play and really help to make the almost two-hour runtime just fly by. Characters such as bar owner Henri (played by Lauren Sparacello), bar musician Buddy (played by Marshall Harris), drag queen Freddy (played by Eddie Lockwood), and hustler Patrick (played by Ty Robbins) all help to show how the UpStairs Lounge was like a real home to members of the LGBT community. A particular standout was Rayshaughn Armant, who was really giving it their all in their portrayal of the campy and heartfelt Willie.
The musical also does a great job in comparing and contrasting the realities faced by the LGBT community in both the 1970s and the modern day. It is a sobering thought that just 50 years ago, LGBT individuals were constantly at risk of police harassment and social discrimination, which could lead them in jail, out-of-work, disowned, homeless, or worse. Wes' presence and insight helps show the many strides that LGBT rights have been able to achieve into the modern era. However, with hindsight and personal knowledge, Wes showcases to the other characters (and to the audience) the difficulties the community has faced since the 1970s and still continues to face today.
Sound wise, the music was very catchy and the lyrics gave good insights into each of the characters' thoughts, feelings, and backstories in some cases. There were a few mic issues on opening night where I had trouble hearing what some of the actors where saying (even though I was sitting in row P), but these instances were infrequent and did not hamper my enjoyment of the overall experience.
With good music, great performances, and an interesting story, The View UpStairs is a respectable way of showcasing the lost humanity of the UpStairs Lounge. This musical is not only a tribute to the patrons who were killed during the fire, but also serves as a nice way to keep their memories and spirits alive in audience's minds.
Showtimes and Tickets
The View UpStairs will be playing at the Jefferson Performing Arts Center, located at 6400 Airline Dr. in Metairie, on September 10, 14, 16, and 17. Performances will start at 7:30 p.m., while Sunday matinees will be at 2 p.m., and tickets range from $25 to $80. Visit jpas.org or jeffersonpac.com to purchase tickets and to learn more.