A homophobic arson attack killed 32 people in New Orleans
The View Upstairs is a musical inspired by the true story of the 1973 arson attack against the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans.
I caught up with director Jonathan O’Boyle for a behind-the-scenes look at the production.
Can you remember when you first heard about the arson attack on the Upstairs Lounge?
It was when the horrific mass shooting happened at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016. The shooting became the biggest single attack on the LGBTQ community in American history, overtaking the arson attack at the UpStairs Lounge over forty years earlier. I was working in New York at the time, and remember the conversation being opened up about how the UpStairs Lounge had almost been removed from the mainstream media narrative of the gay liberation movement of the sixties and seventies.
I then delved deeper into the history of the bar once I started working on the show. I talked closely with Max Vernon – the author of The View UpStairs – about what inspired him to write the show. He said it had been the attack in Orlando and the lack of knowledge around the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans.
It sounds challenging – to make a musical out of such a sad tragedy. Should we be expecting a lot of upbeat tunes and sharp choreography?
We are respectful to the story, the period and the characters in the show. There is choreography, and Max has written a cracking modern pop score, but everything we do is always rooted in the 1970s and the characters that frequent the bar.
Fabian Aloise – who choreographed the show – and I wanted the show to feel as authentic and real as possible. Everything we do comes from the seventies – the music and the actors playing the characters.
What was your casting process?
I worked closely with our brilliant casting director, Will Burton, to assemble an absolutely stellar company.
The characters in the show are so vivid and realised. We wanted to get the best out of each role. Will spent weeks searching for the right balance of actor, and what we ended up with was my absolute dream cast. When they all
accepted the project, I couldn’t believe we had managed to secure all that extraordinary talent.
Do you feel that theatre such as this is an effective way to educate younger generations about important milestones in queer history?
Absolutely. The fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community continues. It hasn’t ended. I’d argue that while we have come such a long way since the Stonewall riots of the late-1960s, we can’t become complacent. Homophobic
attacks are on the increase year-on-year here in the UK. I hope that The View UpStairs will be a great way to inspire a younger generation to continue fighting.
How do you hope that people feel when watching The View UpStairs?
I always believe that theatre should entertain first and foremost. The View UpStairs is no exception. I want the audience to fall in love with these characters who are heroes of the LGBTQ community. I want them to fall in love with Max Vernon’s fantastic score, and I want them to feel uplifted and inspired to keep fighting for change and equality.