Arts & Entertainment

The View Upstairs

Henri Brett, Stephen Madsen. Photo: John Nicolaidis

In 1973 a fire in the Upstairs Lounge, a covert gay bar in New Orleans, killed 32 people and left a hideous scar on the entire community. Stories and images of the incident are truly harrowing. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you’d write a musical about, yet lyricist/composer Max Vernon has done just that. The View Upstairs focuses on the human story – the segregation and hostility from outside; the joy, love and resilience inside; the ultimate tragedy.

The Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting has given the Upstairs Lounge fire a new relevance, according to Stephen Madsen who plays Patrick in the upcoming Hayes Theatre production.

“It is a really amazing, topical story to be telling, – the fact that these kinds of tragedies aren’t a new thing…there’s an entire history of this taking place.”

Madsen admits he hadn’t previously known about the New Orleans gay night club fire and was as shocked about that as he was about the horrific details.

“I was really happy that Max Vernon had written the piece to draw attention to what’s a really shocking, pretty ignored part of American history.”

The plot unfolds as a series of personal anecdotes told to the present day owner who acquires the burnt out site of the night club and is transported back in time. Some characters are based on real people – those whose biographies are known; others have been invented as many victims could not be identified.

The theatre will be set up to resemble the actual club – the audience will feel like patrons.

Musically it reflects the mood and personality of the Upstair Lounge, with songs being used to introduce each character. Madsen’s character, Patrick, is a pick up artist who survived conversion therapy but suffers from low self esteem.

“He thinks he’s terribly wrong so a place like the club is the only place where he can be himself,” explains Madsen. “It really is a show that speaks to a lot of minorities – and really to everyone.”

The plot takes us right up to the fire, which is depicted tastefully, and each character’s fate is told.

It’s not a typical musical, but it is moving, entertaining and triumphant.

Until Mar 4.  Hayes Theatre, 19 Greenknowe Ave, Elizabeth Bay. $60-65+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.hayestheatre.com.au

By Rita Bratovich

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