The View UpStairs

by Tony Reverditto

Rage Monthly

Saturday October 21, 2017

The West Coast Premiere of the new Off-Broadway musical by Max Vernon, "The View UpStairs," is based on the true story about a lively gay bar in the French Quarter called the UpStairs Lounge that was the target of a horrific arson attack on June 24, 1973.

Located on the second floor of a three-story building, the fire left 32 people dead and up until the 2016 Orlando nightclub tragedy, it had the dubious distinction of being the deadliest massacre inflicted on the LGBTQ community to date.

The tragedy was largely forgotten until Max Vernon, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics, decided to immortalize the event through a lively cast of fictional patrons of the UpStairs Lounge: Piano man Buddy (Jake Anthony), drag queen Freddy (Rehyan Rivera), bar proprietress Henri (Benai Boyd), Wes (Matthew Hancock), Dale (Joey Ruggiero) and Patrick (Darren Bluestone), amongst others.

Under the direction of Celebration's award-winning, Co-Artistic Director Michael A. Shepperd, the audience is transported back in time, this cast of characters illustrate through music and flashbacks, the story of how gay bars of that era were a sanctuary and a place to find not only safety, but a sense of family.

Inspired by this all-but-ignored attack, "The View UpStairs" revisits this forgotten community and all of its gritty, glam rock glory. In a nutshell, it takes place in the present featuring a young fashion designer who buys the abandoned space with his own vision in mind. He is quickly catapulted into an exhilarating journey of seduction and self-exploration spanning two generations of queer history.

The Rage Monthly caught up with Shepperd shortly after the premiere for a conversation about the show and his work there.

Congratulations on eleven years with the Celebration Theatre. Is there a particular production or memorable experience that you consider the most outstanding during your time there?

There are so many wonderful experiences; from "The Color Purple" to "The Boy From Oz" to "Altar Boyz..." But I have to say, my most memorable experience is when we were producing "Coffee Will Make You Black." A young black lesbian came up to me at a Sunday intermission and said she was sitting next to a white middle-aged straight couple and three black church ladies wearing hats who were sitting in front of her, with a group of gay white men behind her. She told me it was the most diverse audience she had ever been in, and it made her feel proud to be having a shared experience with so many different types of folks. That's what Celebration is all about: A place to be who you are, no matter what.

Which do you enjoy more, being behind the scenes or on stage?

I love being onstage, it's part of my DNA. One thing I will say, though, is that being an actor has certainly helped me as a director, especially when I've had to talk to actors about what I need from them onstage. I'm still learning about directing and finding my voice, but the journey has been amazing.

What was your original allure to The View UpStairs script?

I loved the fact "The View UpStairs" is a new musical. A musical that was not only incredentertaining, but was able to disperse a message about queer history without seeming preachy...And the music is out of this world.

You've teamed up with Musical Director Jake Anthony and Choreographer Cate Caplin -- what about the three of you makes you such a dream team?

We all came into this wanting to tell the most honest story we could, and that's the best type of collaboration: Amazing folks coming together to have fun and tell the truth.

The musical pays homage to LGBT culture, past, present and future. What do you consider the ultimate message of the piece?

Love, is love is love. That no matter what can, will, and has happened to us, we will continue to persevere. If not in person, then in spirit!

Celebration Theatre's "The View UpStairs" runs through Sunday, October 29 at The Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Avenue in Los Angeles. For tickets and more information, call 323.957.1884

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