A New Musical Harkens Back to a Simpler, Sexier Time: The '70s

Disaster!

We’ve flashed back to the 1970s. In fact we do it several times a week. It’s very gay. And it’s all Jack Plotnick’s fault.

Ah, Jack. The actor who was in the original Ellen show, and the star of the cult hit film Girls Will be Girls. Jack has us producing his new musical comedy, Disaster!, on Broadway. The show is a mash-up spoof of the 1970s disaster films we love to hate. Add in the greatest music hits of the era, and you have some “Hot Stuff” at “Daybreak.” Please, please, “Baby Hold on to Me” so I “Don’t Cry Out Loud.” You get it. Gays of a certain age will feel “Sky High” over these “Feelings.” OK, we’ll stop now.

It was Jack who asked us to co-produce Space Station 76, a film starring a 1970s version of sexy Matt Bomer and mustachioed Patrick Wilson playing Captain Glenn, a closeted mess of a guy who longs for a hot Matthew Morrison via a rainbow-colored holographic recording. Jack cowrote and directed the flick, a 1970s version of a “future that never happened.” That space station blasted off last year, and now we’re babes on Broadway.

What these two projects have done is give us a reason to look back to the 1970s and reflect on where we were in our lives back then. Let’s see. We were both entering college; Jim in Michigan, Bob in California. We were about to head out into the big bad world to make our way, and we were both starting to figure out we were a bit different, i.e. gay. What a time to figure out you were gay. This was post-Stonewall, pre-HIV and AIDS, and the era of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” And we both lived to talk about it.

We were afraid of being drafted and sent to Vietnam, although we could have declared our homosexuality and been rejected. Or we could have fled to Canada, which means that handsome Justin Trudeau would be our leader now. That wouldn’t be too bad.

The sexual freedom of the 1970s allowed us gays to express ourselves more freely, albeit still discreetly, and allowed us to feel as if we had a little bit of personal power. We were able to demand more equality and respect, rights that 40 years later we still are working on.

The '70s were a time when gays stepped out and women rose up. It was the decade that saw the first gay rights parade, and the time when homosexuality was removed from the list of psychiatric disorders by the American Psychiatric Association. Countries such as Austria and Finland decriminalized being gay. Efforts to repeal sodomy laws in the United States began. Homosexuality was decriminalized in California and Hawaii.

Harvey Milk became one of the first openly gay government officials, elected in 1977 to a seat on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. Tragically, he was killed the following year.

Three’s Company premiered. Jack Tripper, played by cute John Ritter, was the straight character who pretended to be gay but wasn’t. Fast-forward to now and we occasionally run into Chrissy Snow, a.k.a. Suzanne Somers, when we’re in Palm Springs.

At night we still had to walk down the back alleys of Laguna Beach to make it into the Boom Boom Room or the Little Shrimp bar without having eggs thrown at us from speeding cars on Pacific Coast Highway. We were basically closeted in our everyday lives, but we were able to let loose on the weekends in Studio One in Los Angeles. Once inside these dens of disco, we could be ourselves without fear.

Who can’t look back to the good things of the weird, wacky ’70s and smile? We had fun, a lot of fun. But the decade wasn’t just about disco hits, bell-bottom pants, and fun. It was the decade that gave us the validation and courage we would need to organize and stand up when the real disaster hit our community in the next decade. We were blissfully unaware of the head-on collision with the AIDS crisis coming our way that would decimate the gay community in the 1980s.

Yes, those '70s were good years in many ways. We became a more visible and organized community and started taking steps out of the shadows and back alleys. We made it out of the decade relishing a stronger sense of identity and personal freedom.

It was the greater freedom and high energy of the 1970s that helped us move the needle and win the rights and achieve the power we have now. For us personally, it was the decade that began the process of coming out and kindled the early embers of our activism.

Jim Burba and Bob Hayes
JIM BURBA and BOB HAYES have been partners in life and business for more than 25 years. Their book Smart Partners will be published by SelectBooks (New York) in 2016. Cofounders of Burba Hotel Network and Burba Hayes LLC, this couple has formed a power partnership that produces conferences for the hotel investment community, feature films, and a Broadway musical. Since 2000 their conferences have attracted nearly 90,000 international delegates in 22 countries. Follow them on Twitter @BurbaHayes or at www.burbahayes.com.

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