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Scissorhands on Stage Is the Queer Story '90s LGBTQ Kids Longed For 

Scissorhands on Stage Is the Queer Story '90s LGBTQ Kids Longed For 


A musical version of Edward Scissorhands set to pop and rock hits features a nonbinary Edward and a beautiful queer love story. 

For many young queer moviegoers of the early '90s, Edward Scissorhands, the story of a sweet, androgynous creation of a scientist who died before Edward was completed pinged as relatable in some way. Clad in leather, covered in self-inflicted scars, and embodied by the young Johnny Depp, Edward was a clear descendant of the Frankenstein myth, a story of the other.

When Tim Burton's fantastical Edward Scissorhands was released in 1990, it was clearly rooted in Mary Shelley's 1818 novel. Now the funny, heartwarming Scissorhands: A Musical Inspired by the Film has completely embraced the film's queer allegory. The character was reconceived as nonbinary, and a woman, Jordan Kai Burnett, was cast to play them. As a result of the update, the story's central love story between Edward and Kim (Natalie Masini) is now overtly queer.

Written by Kate Pazakis and Bradley Bredeweg and directed by Bredeweg, one of the out executive producers of the benchmark LGBTQ-themed The Fosters and its spin-off Good Trouble, Scissorhands, as performed at Los Angeles's immersive venue Rockwell Table and Stage, retells Edward's whimsical but ultimately tragic story with humor and heart. The dialogue is enhanced with pop and rock songs like Aerosmith's "Dream On," Florence and the Machine's "Shake It Out," and Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper's very recent A Star Is Born megahit "Shallow" to illuminate the story of the sweet being whose inventor (played by Dionne Gipson) died before she could replace Edward's sharp steel phalanges with hands of flesh.

As the story goes, Edward is brought out of their lonely existence by a neighbor, Peg (Good Trouble's Emma Hunton), who happens upon Edward and takes them home. Soon Edward, with their superior skills at dog grooming, topiary art, and hair styling, becomes the toast of the neighborhood. That is, until Peg's daughter Kim's toxically masculine boyfriend, Jim (Kier Kirkegaard), is overcome with jealousy and turns the townspeople against Edward.

"Even as a young teenager watching the film I felt this instant connection to it. I always felt like I was on the outside -- that I was 'other,'" Bredeweg tells The Advocate about his interest in the making the musical. "I knew I had these feelings inside of me that felt 'different,' that felt -- not the same as everyone else."

"The movie had a very special place in my heart. Even though the film isn't a queer film, it felt like one to me. So when I had the opportunity to pay tribute to Edward Scissorhands, I knew that I wanted to tell a story in which we put forth a nonbinary character in the lead role," Bredeweg says.


Jordan Kai Burnett and Natalie Masini

While Burnett was too young to experience the Burton film in the theater when it was released, she recalls seeing the cover art for it in the video stores as a child, and she says it stuck with her.

"I remember the first time I saw Edward Scissorhands and being likely too little to understand it completely but that I was looking at a human with, as a kid might think, knives for hands and not being scared," Burnett tells The Advocate. "That might be a complicated way of saying, 'It was the first time that something that looked scary didn't scare me.' But it felt like more than that."

An actress whose stage credits include American Idiot and another '90s film adapted for the stage, Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion, Burnett was eager to pay homage to Edward -- but also to make the character her own under Bredeweg's guidance.

"As an actor, there is always something exciting about reimagining a character. Bending the audience on its side and asking them to just get on board," she says. "Even when Depp played Scissorhands there was something innately ambiguous about the performance. So when Bradley asked me, it sounded like a dream --bring an iconic character to life with new rules, new light, and new sound."

For those who know, Edward's story (like Frankenstein's) doesn't end well. Yet, like the film, Scissorhands is loaded with downright hilarious moments and musical numbers bolstered by cast members who play the neighborhood women led by Hunton, already a name among Broadway fans for her portrayal of Natalie in Next to Normal on Broadway and on tour. Carly Casey as the horny housewife Joyce, Morgan Smith as the evangelical Esmeralda, and Ryan O'Connor playing Helen in drag round out the lively ensemble performing choreographed numbers to songs like ABBA's "Money, Money, Money."

The story of Edward Scissorhands was always a queer allegory that investigated the capacity for harm fearful people can inflict on those who are other. And although the film is nearly 30 years old, its themes of surveillance and menacing those who are different are sadly prescient.

"We have come so far since 1990 -- thank God," Bredeweg says. "We have more rights than ever before, and many major metropolitan cities and states support our communities in wonderful ways. Yet we have an administration (and a portion of our society) that has openly supported hatred and bigotry and pitchforking those that don't fit the mold."

"Now was the perfect time to pay tribute to the film, while also exploring what it means to be LGBTQ in suburban America at this very moment in time," he adds.

"I almost wish it wasn't timeless. I wish we could look back on the film as if it were a time capsule in which we now live in a society where we no longer discriminate against those that appear to be foreign or different -- but unfortunately, that is not the case."

Despite its frighteningly current sociological and political themes, Burnett and Masini serenading each other with a soulful rendition of "Shallow" in Scissorhands sends the audience into cheers and audible "aws." By the time the final bar of that ballad, which comes about two-thirds of the way through the show, is over, the audience, hooting and hollering in delight, has found a new queer couple to ship.

"The movie is a timeless love story. It is about two people who fall in love, despite the fact that the world views them as different," Burnett says. "Especially right now, we need to be telling the love stories, singing the classic love songs, and reminding the world that there is still a lot of love left in it."

Burnett says it means the world to her to be a part of the show that stripped away the allegory and made Scissorhands an openly queer story.

"I think it is unbelievably cool that anyone who has ever felt underrepresented will have the opportunity to see themselves in a story they have known and loved for years," she says.

Scissorhands is enjoying a relatively short run at Rockwell Table and Stage -- it is a holiday-themed film, after all -- but its reimagining of a film that was released when there was scant representation for LGBTQ people will continue to resonate.

"My hope is that if we continue to tell these kinds of stories that open up a dialogue about celebrating each and every one of us," Bredeweg says. "Then, perhaps one day we will find ourselves living in a world in which we are all accepted for who we are, where we came from, and who we love."

Scissorhands runs at Rockwell Table and Stage through January 27.

Watch the show's trailer below:

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Tracy E. Gilchrist