If you plan to see any show this summer, make sure it is The View Upstairs.
The View Upstairs is a musical that’s full of very talented actors and singers; it’s a show that is based on a very tragic event, and it’s a show that is very uplifting and inspiring.
Max Vernon, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, has based this story on the Upstairs Lounge bar in New Orleans which was set fire in a catastrophic arson attack in 1973 where 32 men lost their lives in the raging inferno. It’s a true story that not many people know about, probably because at that time gays dying was just not big news. But from the tragedy we get this great show – it’s a very simple story that has a big heart and an even bigger voice.
Wes (Tyrne Huntley) wants to buy an old attic that’s a wreck, and once he signs the contract we go back in time, where he meets the people (ghosts?) there who are in the ‘Life’ (a name they call themselves). He doesn’t quite know it yet but he’s in 1973, and those people there have no idea about that device he has in his hand that he calls a cellphone. He is instantly smitten with Patrick (a very good Andy Mientus) and tells Patrick abut the most important evens over the last 45 years. The bar manager is sassy and wonderful Henri (Carly Mercedes Dyer – who has an amazing voice) while Willie (Cedric Neal) has wisdom beyond his years. Other barflies include Buddy (John Partridge – who has a wife and 2 kids), the troubled Dale (Declan Bennett), and Freddy (Garry Lee) who likes to dress up in drag, which his mom (Victoria Hamilton Barritt) is been with.
The View Upstairs takes us on a journey to get to know each character (Willie was supposed to be a dancer, while Patrick and Dale are male prostitutes), through music and song. Tension builds when the local police don’t like it that Freddy is seen in the street in drag. But it’s not only in the storytelling but also the songs that make this show stand out – songs that soar like anthems that pay tribute to the men who died in the real fire. Mientus is in fine vice when he sings ‘What I did say’ while the whole cast brings down the house at the end in the theme song ‘The View Upstairs.’ And once the show is finished, you feel that you’ve just attended a gospel choir performance; you’ll feel uplifted, full of joy, a tinge of sadness, but also a feeling that you’ve experienced something very unique.
Review by Tim Baros