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The Beginning of Leonard Bernstein's Ascent (November 14, 1943)

 

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On Nov. 14, 1943 25-year-old Leonard Bernstein became the first American to conduct the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.  At the time Bernstein was the assistant conductor and was called upon at the last minute (without the benefit of rehearsal) to fill in for the conductor who had been taken ill with the flu.  The concert was at Carnegie Hall and broadcast to a national radio audience.  13 months later Bernstein showed off another talent when On the Town opened on Broadway, a show for which he composed the music. 

 

Like other gay men of his generation (e.g., Stephen Sondheim, Edward Albee, Malcolm Forbes, Philip Johnson) Bernstein led a discreet personal life that was largely kept from the public eye.  To learn more about Bernstein, both professionally and privately, the blog Gay For Today does a good job of covering all the bases.  And, of course, Amazon has a huge inventory of all things Bernstein.


Michelangelo's "David" is Unveiled in Florence (September 8, 1504)

Rear_view_davidDavids_eyeMichelangelo was in his mid-20s when he worked on the statue David, which took him two years to complete.  The piece of marble he worked with had been left sitting outside, exposed to the elements for some 25 years after it had been hauled from a quarry 60 miles away.  The original commission for the creation of the statue was handed out before Michelangelo was born, but the first sculptor died and the second moved to another village.  This glorious piece of sculpting was unveiled to the Florentine public on Sept. 8, 1504 (Michelangelo was 33 at the time).  Five hundred years later adoring tourists still clamor to gaze upon and pose before it.

 

 

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I had the good fortune of seeing David in person during a trip to Italy in the spring of 1993 (that's me, below, in the glasses).  This was two years after it had been vandalized.  At seventeen feet tall he was much larger than I expected.  This made him easy to spot, looming in the distance when we entered Florence's Galleria dell'Accademia.  Visitors could get surprisingly close to him, and the smoothness of the marble tempted me to reach out and run my hands over his tight, perfectly formed buttocks.  What a magnificent sight to behold!

 

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Mario_lopez_niptuckLopez_niptuckSpeaking of beautiful butts, fast forward 500 years and we had Mario Lopez's sexy buns to ogle during a tantalizing shower scene from a 2006 episode of the TV show Nip/Tuck.  (It starts at about the one-minute mark.) 

 

 

 

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World-Renowned La Scala Opera House Opens (August 3, 1778)

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The most entrenched gay stereotypes may be the "opera buff", "show tune queen" and "disco bunny".  And while I've previously written posts about Broadway shows and dance music I haven't written anything on the world of opera - until now.  So I'll start at the top by paying tribute to the world-renowned La Scala in Milan, which opened its doors on August 3, 1778.  

 

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Teatro alla Scala is considered the world's most famous opera house, followed by the Metropolitan Opera House in New York  (opened in 1966); Australia's Sydney Opera House (1973); London's Royal Opera House in Covent Garden (1858); and the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow (1825).  Other famous houses are in Paris, Vienna, San Francisco, Buenos Aires and Vienna.  There's also the Santa Fe Opera Theater which is known for its open-air design (and where I saw Rigoletto in August 2008).    

 

Of course, all of the legends have performed at La Scala, including Enrico Caruso, who made his La Scala debut in 1900; Maria Callas (far left) in 1951; Joan Sutherland in 1961; Pavarotti in 1965; and Beverly Sills (center) in 1969.  In 2007 sexy Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez (near left), whose La Scala debut was in 1996, was called back for the first encore there in 74 years.  Famous operas that had their premieres at La Scala include Bellini's Norma (1831); Verdi's Falstaff (1893) and Puccini's Madama Butterfly (1904).

 

 

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Writing about La Scala brings to mind the sensual, and sensational, 2010 movie I Am Love, starring gay favorite Tilda Swinton.  Set in Milan, it has a sweeping, operatic-like score that's very fitting, especially for the film's dramatic, over-the-top ending.  It's worth renting.

 

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The Swift Downfall of Oscar Wilde (May 25, 1895)

Oscar_wilde In the winter of 1895 Irish playwright Oscar Wilde had perhaps his greatest artistic triumph when his comedy The Importance of Being Earnest opened in London to great acclaim.  But just three months later, on May 25, 1895, the married father of two was found guilty of "gross indecency" with another man and sentenced to two years of hard labor in prison.  Sadly, he largely brought this misfortune upon himself.  He had sued his male lover's father for libel (after referring to Wilde as a "sodomite" on a calling card), but midway through the trial thought it best to withdrawal the charges.  However, by then too many incriminating things had been said by Wilde and he was brought up on morals charges - and convicted. 

 

 

It's unfortunate that Wilde's hubris blinded him to the fact that Victorian England was far from ready to overlook his licentious behavior, regardless of his fame.  After his two-year sentence was completed he moved to France where he died a few years later at the age of 46, largely penniless and with few friends. 

 

In 2018 British actor Rupert Everett directed, wrote and starred in the movie The Happy Prince, which told the story of the last few years of Wilde's life after he was released from prison.  The film was a labor of love as the handsome Everett took on the diminished, paunchy appearance of Wilde in his last years.  (Ironically, Everett is thirteen years older than Wilde was at the time of his death.)

 

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First Tony Awards Handed Out (April 6, 1947)

T_artifacts_0530_pic15724 Eighteen years after the film industry handed out its first Oscars the Broadway theater community held its first Tony Awards (short for the "Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Theatre").  The ceremony was held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on the evening of April 6, 1947, which was Easter Sunday.  (The Tonys took place every April until 1964 when it moved to late May for one year and then to June every year thereafter.) 

 

For this first gathering there were two Best Actor and Best Actress awards given for Plays - but none for musicals (however, an award for Featured Actor was given).  Besides winning Tonys the four winning actors were also Oscar winners: 

 

  • Jose_ferrer_cyranodebergerac Jose Ferrer won for his role in Cyrano de Bergerac.  Three years later the play was made into a movie and he won an Oscar for the role. 
  • Fredric March won the other Best Actor Tony for Years Ago.  He'd win another Tony 10 years later for Long Day's Journey Into Night.    
  • Helen Hayes won the Tony for Happy Birthday.  She'd collect another Tony and two Oscars, a Golden Globe, an Emmy and a Grammy during her career.
  • Ingrid_bergman_joanoflorraine Known mostly as a movie actress (she won three Oscars), Ingrid Bergman won the Tony for her role in Joan of Lorraine.  The play was the basis for the 1948 movie Joan of Arc, which Bergman also starred in.  Nominated for an Oscar, she lost to Jane Wyman who won for Johnny Belinda.

 

David Wayne won Best Featured Actor in a Musical for playing the role of the leprechaun Og in Finian's Rainbow.  Elia Kazan won Best Director for All My Sons.  Interestingly, in this first year there was no award for Best Play or Best Musical.

 

115_Tony_Awards_1st_Ceremony-1947_04-06 Beginning in 1956 the show was broadcast on TV in the New York market; it wasn't picked up by a TV network until 1967 when ABC aired it.  The audience for the Tonys is only about one-fifth the size of the audience that watches the Academy Awards


Remembering My First Broadway Show (March 16, 1979)

 

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Every card-carrying homosexual remembers his first Broadway show.  Mine was On the 20th Century, which I saw on March 16, 1979, a few days before it closed (the show was winner of the Tony for Best Musical in 1978.)  I saw the show with my older brother, and our orchestra seats were $17.50 apiece.  Since I'm not a native New Yorker, it wasn't until I was 21 that I saw my first show.  However, once I moved to New York, I went to the theater on a regular basis.  And while I don't consider myself a "theater queen", I manage to see about four or five shows every year (and I have the Playbills and ticket stubs as proof).  My peak year was 2002 when I saw thirteen.  And of the 150+ shows I've seen, On the Town was the only one I walked out of.

 

My most favorite shows: Evita; Anything Goes; Damn Yankees (a great shower scene); The Music Man; and 42nd St.  Off-Broadway productions I've really enjoyed include Oil City Symphony; Take Me Out (an even hotter shower scene than Damn Yankees); Eurycides; Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson; Oil City Symphony; and Musical of Musicals: The Musical (which I saw three times). 

 

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Some memories that stick with me:

  • During a July 1995 performance of Hamlet a rainstorm during the second half was so torrential that water steadily dripped onto the stage. 
  • The haunting scene in the very short-lived Coram Boy (which closed after just 30 performances in May 2007) where dead babies were exhumed from little graves scattered around the stage under trap doors. 
  • Sideshow's awkward scenes in which the Siamese twin sisters discussed how to coordinate sex with their fiances.
  • The night I saw How to Succeed in Business (the '95 revival with Matthew Broderick) was Sign Language Night and I became distracted by the signer who I could see from the corner of my eye.
  • I was seated in the front row at a performance of Xanadu and at one point in the show Cheyenne Jackson's character (pictured, below) came down from the stage and did a little dance in front of me.    

 

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  • Not until I sat down and opened my Playbill did I discover that Amadeus wasn't a musical! 
  • The heartbreakingly beautiful last story of Metamorphoses in which the elderly couple became two intertwined trees.
  • The audience's excited anticipation before the curtain went up at a preview performance of The Producers a week before it opened.

  

Most of us have experienced the heartache of discovering the little white slip in their Playbill announcing a featured actor isn't appearing in that day's performance.  My disappointments have included: no Jennifer Holliday in Dreamgirls; no Sutton Foster in The Drowsy Chaperone; no Kristin Chenoweth in Wicked (at least Idina Menzel performed) and no Douglas Hodge in La Cage.

 

I'm not a big fan, but I've seen Nathan Lane in six shows: The Lisbon Traviata; Guys & Dolls; Love, Valour, Compassion!; A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; The Producers; and Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus . Patti LuPone has starred in five: Evita; Anything Goes; Pal Joey; Gypsy; and War Paint.  And although I've seen nine Steven Sondheim musicals, I never saw Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods or A Little Night Music.

 

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Finally, "huzzah!" to gay-themed shows I've greatly enjoyed: Angels in America: Millennium Approaches; Love, Valour, Compassion!; Take Me Out; Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake (in 1995 and 2020); Whoop-De-Doo!; End of the World Party; March of the Falsettos; Naked Boys Singing; Torch Song Trilogy; and The Temperamentals. 

 

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Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe Dies of AIDS (March 9, 1989)

Robert-Mapplethorpe-Self-Portrait-1975 Robert_Mapplethorpe_Lacma-11 AIDS claimed Robert Mapplethorpe  in March 1989 when he was just 42 years old.  He became famous for his striking black and white photographs, many explicitly homoerotic with an S&M edge.  Whenever I hear or read Mapplethorpe's name three things come to mind: Patti Smith, the photograph "Man in Polyester Suit" and Cincinnati, Ohio. 

 

 

  • Rock singer Patti Smith & Mapplethorpe were romantically involved as young adults and lived together in NYC from the late 1960s to mid-70s (when he realized he was gay).  

 

  • "Man in Polyester Suit" is one of Mapplethorpe's most famous photographs.  It shows a black man wearing a suit with his rather large, uncut penis hanging out of the fly of his pants.  It's the image I remember most after viewing a Mapplethorpe exhibit at the Whitney Museum in 1988.  And since it was life-sized it really grabbed your attention. 

 

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  • In 1990 Cincinnati's Contemporary Arts Center and its director went on trial on charges of obscenity for organizing a Mapplethorpe exhibit that included some of his explicit homoerotic images (e.g. Mapplethorpe shoving the handle of a whip up his ass).  They were found not guilty.   Although thei lawsuit was about just a few photos in the exhibit, in actuality Mapplethorpe's body of work covered much more than gay S&M.

 

Black_white_gray_imagesCACU4VQN Although many books about Mapplethorpe have been published, the documentary Black White + Gray reveals the life he had with his partner Sam Wagstaff, whose financial support and social connections were instrumental in boosting Mapplethorpe's career.