Review: ‘The View UpStairs’ at Lynn Redgrave Theater

By Jonathan Spira on 22 May 2017
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On June 24, 1973, fire gutted the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans, killing 32. It was the final day of the fourth Pride Weekend following the 1969 Stonewall Uprising.

Because the UpStairs Lounge was a gay bar in the French Quarter and it was the 1970s, the pogrom – which until the 2016 massacre at Pulse in Orlando remained the largest slaughter of gay people in history – wasn’t investigated. No arrests were made although the one person under suspicion did commit suicide one year later.

“The View UpStairs” takes place in that very bar 44 years later. Wes (Jeremy Pope), a young fashion designer from New York, purchases the building that housed the bar as a means of escape. Smartphone in hand, he somehow finds himself in the bar shortly before the inferno. Indeed the audience does as well thanks to the Jason Sherwood’s immersive set with its period gay bar décor with a white piano, colored lights, a disco ball, kitsch, and photos of Dolly Parton and a nude Burt Reynolds on the wall, that I half-expected drinks to be served.


Wes is clearly a millennial fish out of water, not sure how to interact with people whom he can’t text. Indeed, one memorable scene involved Wes’ struggle with real-life interaction with Patrick (Taylor Frey), the boyishly handsome hustler.

“I haven’t even seen any photos of you!” he says to Patrick without the aid of iMessage or Grindr.

“You’re looking right at me,” Patrick retorts.

In addition to Patrick, there’s Henri (Frenchie Davis, whose voice towers above the rest), the bartender; Buddy (played movingly by understudy Benjamin Howes); Richard (usually played by Benjamin Howes but played brilliantly by April Ortiz at the performance I attended), who was the pastor of the fledging Metropolitan Community Church in New Orleans; and Willie (Nathan Lee Graham and his eyebrows), who was clearly the class cut-up in school, probably channeling his inner camp as much then as now.

Naturally, there’s a resident Puerto Rican drag queen, Freddy (Michael Longoria) accompanied by his mother and stylist, Inez (Nancy Ticotin, who also has a cameo as a nervous realtor trying to get Wes to sign the papers for the bar). Dale (Ben Mayne) is a sympathetic hustler just trying to make five bucks in the men’s room to keep a roof over his head.

Aside from the setting, Max Vernon’s music and lyrics were the most enjoyable. Vernon, a 2015 Jonathan Larson Grant recipient, has a unique knack for songs that are powerful and gripping and his songs transformed what was an otherwise unremarkable book into something that had a clear impact on the audience.

Sadly, I learnt about the show shortly before its closing on May 21 but its poignancy will live on in a cast album that is slated to be released this summer (which can be pre-ordered via the show’s website below) and as a homage to the souls that were lost in the UpStairs Lounge and in Pulse.


The View UpStairs
Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project
45 Bleecker Street
New York, N.Y. 10012
Runtime 1 hr. and 45 min.

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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