Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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15 LGBT-Themed Plays and Musicals That Changed Society

The Tony awards have always been a gay affair, complete with out hosts like Neil Patrick Harris and winners like David Hyde Pierce famously thanking their partners at the podium. This year will also be a night for the ladies, with musical Fun Home — based on out author Alison Bechdel's autobiographical graphic novel — up for 12 Tonys. While Fun Home is one of the rare shows to center around the lesbian experience, LGBT themes are not new to Broadway. Here are the shows that told our stories and helped change the public's perception of our lives:

 

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The Normal Heart
Before becoming an Emmy-winning HBO film, Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart debuted in 1985 at The Public Theatre in New York City. The play centers around the start of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, which felled many of Kramer's friends and former lovers. The play focuses on a writer named Ned Weeks, who's trying to nurse his partner back to health from a then-unknown disease, all while pleading for the government to take action. The play would be revived for Broadway in 2011, and win big at the Tonys.

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Angels in America 
This 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning play was written by Tony Kushner and set in New York City in 1985. The drama takes you on an unforgettable journey, touching on AIDS, sexuality, and religion. Divided into two parts, the first is titled "Millennium Approaches" and was first performed in 1991 by the Eureka Theatre Company in San Francisco. The second part, "Perestroika," was first produced in 1992, by the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Interweaving fictional characters with real ones — like self-loathing attorney Roy Cohn — the play was a revelation, winning Tonys and inspiring the 2014 HBO film.

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The Boys in the Band
In 1968, Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band made its debut at the off-Broadway Theatre Four for 1,002 performances, before being adapted into a successful motion picture in 1970. The story revolves around a group of gay friends coming together for a friend's birthday party in Manhattan, and ends with stories about long-lost lovers, and one character coming out to his wife. The play has been critiqued for its tragic and bitchy characters, but has never been forgotten.

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch
This rock musical about a heartbroken German-born transgender singer opened off-Broadway in 1998, winning the Obie Award and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Musical Musical. Created by out playwright John Cameron Mitchell, Hedwig inspired a feature film and a Broadway revival, with gay actors like Neil Patrick Harris and Andrew Rannells taking on the role.

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Fun Home
This critically-acclaimed Broadway musical was adapted by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori from Alison Bechdel's 2006 graphic memoir of the same name. It has been called the first mainstream musical about a young lesbian, and is also the first musical with a lesbian as the protagonist. The story follows the life of Alison, including a coming-out that's complicated by her father's own secret gay life. The musical is expected to do bang-up business at Sunday's Tony Awards.

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The Color Purple: The Musical
Based on Alice Walker's beloved novel about a black bisexual woman's struggles in the Deep South of the 1930s, the musical opened on Broadway in 2005 and eventually earned 11 Tony nominations. In January 2015, producers Scott Sanders, Roy Furman, and Oprah Winfrey announced they will re-open the production on Broadway at the end of this year.

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Rent
The rock musical, a modern retelling of La Boheme, tells the story of young, impoverished, sexually diverse artists attempting to make a way for themselves in a New York City nearly collapsing under the weight of crime, drugs, and AIDS. Rent won the Tony Award for best musical in 1996, as well as a Pulitzer Prize.

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Torch Song Trilogy
This collection of three plays written by Harvey Fierstein premiered in 1982. The play is broken into three acts: International Stud, Fugue in a Nursery, and Widows and Children First! All of the plots center around a Jewish singer named Arnold Beckoff living in New York in the late 1970s. Each act focuses on a different time in Arnold's life, from his relationship with a bisexual man, to adopting a child with his partner, to being a single dad raising a gay son. The play won a Tony Award in 1983 for Best Play, and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play the same year.

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The Captive 
In 1926, The Captive opened at The Empire Theatre and ran for 160 performances. The storyline was a daring production for the time — even though it dealt with a lesbian romance, it was welcomed by the public and it became a huge success.

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Safe Sex
Another award-winning play by Harvey Fierstein, Safe Sex premiered on Broadway in 1987 and took audiences into the life of a gay man caring for his lover as he succumbs to AIDS-related illness. After his partner's death, the protagonist must meet his lover's wife and son.

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The Pride 
Set in both the 1950s and 2008, The Pride, written by Alexi Kaye Campbell, parallels two gay love stories in two very different eras. The award-winning production was written to celebrate growing LGBT tolerance, as well as the heartache of the past. 

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Kinky Boots
Yet another award-winning play written by Harvey Fierstein, and with music from Cyndi Lauper, Kinky Boots was based on the 2005 film of the same name. Centering on the working relationship between a shoe factory owner and a drag queen, the musical received 13 Tony nominations, winning six Tonys in 2013, including Best Musical. 

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Take Me Out
The 2002 play written by Richard Greenberg takes us into the world of a professional baseball player who, at the height of his career, comes out to both fanfare and ridicule. The play won several awards, including three Tony Awards in 2003 for Best Play, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play, and Best Direction of a Play.

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La Cage aux Folles

Based on the 1973 French play of the same name by Jean Poiret, the musical La Cage aux Folles featured a book written by — who else? — Harvey Fierstein. The play focuses on gay couple Georges and Albin, and the adventures that ensue when Georges’s son brings home his fiancee's ultra-conservative parents for the first time. The original Broadway Production in 1984 was nominated for nine Tony awards and won six, including Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical. In the 2010 Broadway revival, the play was again nominated for 11 Tony awards and walked away with three, including Best Revival of a Musical. As most know, the stage productions were adapted for numerous French films and a very famous American remake, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.

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Bent 
This 1979 play, written by Martin Sherman, revolves around the persecution of gays in Nazi Germany, and takes place during and after the Night of the Long Knives, the violent 1934 uprising that brought Hilter to power. Bent was dark and horrifying, featuring performances by Ian McKellen and Richard Gere as the gay protagonist. The New York Times wrote, “Love is the basis of this play, and it is the constant that is normal. The war and the Holocaust are aberrations blocking the natural flow of love not only of two men, but also of all mankind.” 

 

 

The 2015 Tony Awards will be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City, on Sunday, June 7 on CBS.

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