Tuesday, 7 April 2009

245: Gay Actors 8: Rock Follies

Rock Follies
Written by Howard Schuman
Episode 1: “The Show Business”, 24 February 1976

A serio-comedic musical series about three women who form a rock group in the mid-70s. It was a great critical and popular success of its day, as it attempted to also address current issues. The first series only features a couple of gay characters and observations in the first episode. The second series was stuffed to the gills with gay content (eliciting quite a few appreciative articles in “Gay News”), but I’ll deal with that series at a later date. The first episode brings them together, when they are hired individually to appear in a touring production of a revival of an old Depression-era musical “Broadway Annie”.

Appearing only in this episode is William Bishop (played by Jeffrey Gardiner), the director/choreographer of “Broadway Annie”. He is an older gent, with a bit of a perm. Possessed of a slightly refined tone and reliant upon a rather frayed charm, though not quite fey, he is slightly precious, nostalgic, and determined that everything should always be whimsically pleasant. He smiles permanently, and his hands are either clasped in rapture or else held expressively from the wrists. As he proves himself more and more incapable of holding the production together he drifts into camp theatrical anecdotes, and his only instructions are the repeated injunctions to “Think Peter Pan” or for everything to be “Light, delicate, gay”. What you get is the demonstration that theatricality and camp are only a trivial escape by the irrelevant from a more demanding world.

Other cast members of “Broadway Annie” are nonspeaking. But there is one male cast member who is always knitting (shades of Lukewarm in “Porridge”) and wont to pull a bit of a face when the other three female leads get into a bit of an argument.

The show is of course a disaster (how, otherwise, will the rest of the drama go on), but there is a last scene with the producer Sheldon Markie (John Blythe) after he fires Williams and instructs the cast as to how the show ill be made into a success. He is of course unremittingly crass (“Rock follies” isn’t averse to some stereotypes”. He advises the female performers to flaunt their wares for the husbands in the audience. He wants to put in “queer gags for the wives” (which isn’t a reason I’ve come across before), and wants the leading man to “mince about” and “play it in a high-pitched lispy voice” (in the course of which advice Blythe intentionally or not does a jolly good impersonation of the Cowardly Lion).

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