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'Gender Bent Broadway' Frees Musical Theater From Tired, Old Attitudes

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Chloë Angst sings "Willkommen" as The Emcee from "Cabaret" at a fundraiser for City Lights Theater Company earlier this year. (Courtesy of Taylor Sanders)

Just in time for LGBTQ+ Pride Month, City Lights Theater Company in San Jose presents Gender Bent Broadway. That is to say, actors singing songs from roles they’ve always wanted to play, but couldn’t because of boring gender norms.

If you’re a fan of musical theater, and what 7 year old isn’t, it’s easy to love Robert Preston singing “Ya Got Trouble” from the 1957 Broadway musical The Music Man.

Chloë Angst of Fremont fell in love with the song when she was 7.

“I loved it so much and I thought, ‘I want to play that part one day,'” Angst said, taking a moment’s respite from rehearsals ahead of the concert Sunday night.

But when she became a professional actor, right here in the San Francisco Bay Area, Angst was shocked to discover most casting directors seem inclined to hire biological males for roles written for men.


“There’s usually a question on the audition form that says, ‘Which roles are you interested in taking?’ I will write down a male role, and 99% of the time, I do not get called back for that role and it is cast as a male.”

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What could possibly account for this conventionality in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2019? Angst suggests timid regional theater companies fear offending older season subscribers. That, despite the fact Baby Boomers, right here in the Bay Area, helped usher in the sexual revolution and gay rights revolution in the 1960s and 70s.

Certainly, cabaret theater in the U.S. and abroad has celebrated gender fluidity for decades. In a revue, it doesn’t require any leap of imagination to divorce a song from the character that song was written for.

Broadway plays like Hedwig and M. Butterfly show there’s an appetite for stories detached from hetereonormative traditions. But that consciousness doesn’t necessarily find its way to modern productions of older plays and musicals.

Perhaps gender bending casting choices seem less risky when it’s a celebrity casting choice, as in the English actor Glenda Jackson playing King Lear on Broadway.

Whatever the case, with Gender Bent Broadway, Angst gives herself and five other singing actors the chance to switch up the casting in a cabaret format. Also, the concert functions as a fundraiser for Angst’s new theater company, B.A.D. Theatre Company. B.A.D. there standing for Bay Area Diversity.

In other words, expect more of the same. Finally!

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