The View UpStairs is heating up the Soho Theatre this summer with a modern musical inspired by the 1973 arson attack on the vibrant gay bar the UpStairs in New Orleans. It’s a story about hope, friendship and the LGBTQ+ community over the last fifty years.
Tyrone Huntley has ticked off a multitude of musicals with shows such as Book of Mormon, Dreamgirls, Memphis, Sister Act and most recently his Olivier-award nominated performance in Jesus Christ Superstar. He even made his directorial debut this year with Ain’t Misbehaving at the Southwark Playhouse. However, when he heard the story of The View Upstairs and saw the stellar performers they’d cast, he jumped at the chance to join the show in its European premiere.
“I did a reading of it last summer and that’s the first time I’d heard of the musical and of the attack itself,” Tyrone said. “It’s an important part of LGBTQ+ history. In 1973 when it happened, even though people died, bodies weren’t claimed because of the shame of people visiting this gay bar. It is a part of history that was kept hidden and it’s only recently that it is being remembered. Max Vernon who wrote the piece has done such a great job at memorialising this story.”
Opening it at the Soho Theatre this summer during Pride month feels like the perfect fit. In the heart of London’s gay community, it is a theatre renowned for bringing new exciting pieces of theatre to London. “It is the perfect time to do the show and the perfect theatre to present it,” Tyrone said.
The show time travels between a 70s gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans and the life of a millennial social influencer and fashion designer in 2019. Tyrone plays the central role of Wes, who buys he UpStairs Lounge having no idea what happened to it before he brought it. He then finds himself back in 1973 in the Upstairs Lounge where he is introduced to all these inspiring people that hang out there.
“This show is incredible because it takes a bird’s eye view of the LGBTQ+ experience over the last 50 years. It charts the improvements that have happened and the rights they have fought for, but also highlights how far there still is to go,” Tyrone explained. “You see it through the eyes of a gay man in 2019 and you see it through the eyes of the community that were ostracised in the 70s.
“It not only celebrates the history and what hopefully will be a brighter future, but it also suggests that not enough is being done. Even though the community has fought tirelessly, there is still a lot further to go.”
It’s a real mixture of characters and relationships in the show such as a mother and son, a drag queen and a sex worker who has to go through horrific abuse in order to just be alive. “I think for the audience; it is a way to see into the reality of the lives of these people that are just trying to survive,” Tyrone explained.
Filled with a collection of beautiful love songs and power rock ballads, the musical has a real 70s influence to it. The music carries the rollercoaster of the show, heightening the emotion and infusing it with truly joyous moments too.
“I want people to leave feeling uplifted because I want them to feel like we are on the cusp of real change,” Tyrone said. “I want audiences to go away having learnt about the LGBTQ+ community because whilst gay marriage is legal now, and gay and trans people have more rights than they’ve ever had, there are still parts of this world where people are being killed for being gay.
“I want people to leave feeling empowered and to go away wanting to change the world.”
The View UpStairs opens at the Soho Theatre in London from Thu 18 Jul – Sat 24 Aug, tickets can be found on their website.
Photo credit: Darren Bell