Dan Savage Interview, Part 5: Musical Theater

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QUESTION: Asking the musical theater buff in you, which role are you dying to play on stage? And, which authors and blogs do you read?

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dan savage, drowsy chaperone, and theater ticket

Photo: Mia Partlow/WFIU and Phil Gyford (flickr)

"The actors in 'The Drowsy Chaperone' who never saw him before that moment, see him, and they bring him into the show and they love him back. Broadway never loved those guys back until that moment," says Dan Savage, speaking of the complicated relationship between Broadway and its gay fans.

Musical Theater Aficionado

Annie Corrigan: You love musicals. What is your favorite musical? I have to know.

Dan Savage: That’s so hard to pick. I love A Little Night Music. I’m such a Stephen Sondheim fan. I love Company. I love Follies. I also love Chicago. Not the movie, I like the musical. I think Cabaret the film is one of my all time favorite musicals. Musicals don’t usually work very well on film, but Bob Fosse solved it in a really brilliant way. He set the music in a performance venue with a live audience.

That’s always the problem with movie musicals. You know, you watch Carousel or Oklahoma and there’s the moment at the end of the dance where there’s complete silence where you need the audience. So, Fosse took the musical numbers out of walking down the street and bursting into song, which is in the original stage play, those regular musical tropes, and put them all on stage. Have the songs on stage commenting on the action as opposed to the people who are living life, bursting into song. Really brilliant.

What he did, which was so smart is the musical world, the cabaret world, was this unreality. The songs were not real. There’s one moment where people burst into song, and it’s the beer garden scene where all the Germans sing tomorrow belongs to me, and Germany becomes unreal at that moment. Germany moves onto the stage of the cabaret and becomes corrupted and goes over a line – and it’s so brilliant.

So, Cabaret the movie is one of my favorite musicals. So is South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, which the best movie musical in the last 10 years.

AC: I haven’t seen that one.

DS: It’s amazing, and so smart.

A Dream Stage Role

AC: If you could play one role in all of musical theater history, what would it be?

DS: The man in the chair in The Drowsy Chaperone.

AC: So specific!

DS: Yes. The Drowsy Chaperone is a musical – do you know it?

AC: Eh –

DS: Lesbian.

AC: (Laughing) It’s true.

DS: It opens in a studio apartment with a lonely gay guy sitting with his records and he says, “Oh, hello.” He’s listening to a really obscure musical on vinyl, this forgotten 1920’s musical called The Drowsy Chaperone, and he just talks about the musical. As he describes what’s going on with each song and sets the scenes up, the actors come in, and set things change, and the action happens – all in this apartment, all in his imagination.

I can’t believe I get to talk about this! I never get to talk about this! Sex, sex, sex, monogamy, monogamy. I want to talk about The Drowsy Chaperone and musical theater!

Broadway And Its Fans

What’s so beautiful about it is this musical only exists because this man loves it so much, and that man is me. He’s one of those gay guys who is a little obsessive about musical theater, and Broadway has sort of had this awkward love/hate relationship with gay wierdos who like musicals too much and know them better than the people making them or are in them. They are a really demanding and critical audience, but worshipful at the same time – you know, the musical theater fag. There is tension in that relationship between the actors and the people who make musicals and the vicious fags who love them too much.

What’s so beautiful about The Drowsy Chaperone and why I would love to play that part is – I’m going to give it away, spoiler alert, turn this off if you ever want to see it and not have this ruined for you – there’s a moment at the end where none of the characters in the play within the play have acknowledged or even seen the man in the chair as he describes what’s going on. And yet, all these actors are long dead and this musical is forgotten. The only reason they live is because he remembers and he cares about this show. He loves Broadway. He loves this show.

There’s this moment at the end where he gets very upset about his life and what’s going on. He’s blue. That’s why he’s listening to this musical. He’s trying to cheer himself up and he kind of like crumples a little bit. The actors who never saw him before that moment, see him, and they bring him into the show and they sit him up on this huge airplane at the end and they love him back. That was so beautiful. Broadway never loved those guys back until that moment.

And that’s why I want to play that part, because that’s me. I actually listened to The Drowsy Chaperone last night. That moment is so powerful, particularly for a fag like me, that moment where these characters and this show loves this guy back.

AC: Okay. I’m convinced. I have to go watch it.

DS: It’s a beautiful score, it’s a beautiful show. The songs are amazing.

AC: Who wrote it?

DS: A couple of Canadians wrote it as a show to be performed live at their friend’s wedding (book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison). Now it’s one of the top grossing Broadway shows ever to come out of Canada. I think it’s still running in Toronto. “As We Stumble Along” is such a great song.

What Is Dan Savage Reading

AC: I’ve got to check it out. Our listeners should check it out too. One more question for you and then we’ll get you out of here.

DS: You had no idea I was going to go on for 20 minutes about musicals.

AC: I’m so glad you did! I’m so glad. I saw that as one of your interests and thought – I’ve got to get him to talk about that. You’re someone that people look to for opinions on things. So, who do you go to? Who do you read? Who do you follow?

DS: Oh my god. I read Andrew Sullivan every day. I read Talking Points Memo. I read Joe. My. God. I read Balloon Juice. I really am addicted to blogs now. Blogs are the way things get into my head. I also read newspapers. I read the New York Times. I try to read the Wall Street Journal every day, but some days I feel like I’m going to have an aneurism if I touch the Wall Street Journal, so I give it a pass. I’m just sort of a voracious reader and nothing quite feeds that voraciousness like blogs do now. It’s just so rapid and so constant. I feel like I know more about more things, places, people, different kinds of politics and sexualities now because of blogs.

AC: You blog every day about everything under the sun.

DS: Yeah. Not the last three weeks. I’ve been so swamped with this It Gets Better Project that I have been neglecting the blog. It’s been all I can do to get a Savage Love letter of the day out. But, if you like Savage Love and you read the column and you read the podcast, at the blog every day I post a Q&A that’s just for the blog.

AC: Great. Dan Savage is the writer of the Savage Love column. He does the Savage Love podcast. He’s the creator of the It Gets Better video project on YouTube. And he loves musical theater.

DS: I do. The Drowsy Chaperone. Avenue Q. Go watch those.

AC: Thanks for coming in!

D: Thanks for having me. I really enjoyed it.

More: Listen to Part 1 of Kinsey Confidential’s conversation with Dan Savage.

Kinsey Confidential

is a service of The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. Sexual health experts answer your questions and provide newspaper columns and weekly podcasts.
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