The Prom: Where Realness Was Lost From A Real Story

Having graduated from a conservative Christian high school in the Midwest just a few years ago myself, I’ll admit that I felt good watching The Prom, the musical film on Netflix, where the Hollywood stars flinched at the fact of Applebee’s being the nicest restaurant in town (which, in my case, was also true if counting within 30-minute drive distance).

Available on Netflix in December 2020 and having been adapted from a 2018 Broadway musical of the same name, the story of the Prom starts on Broadway, where four not-young-anymore yet unavailing Broadway stars get together and decide to do something to gild themselves and their career – activism that is. Through Twitter they discover that a girl called Emma in Edgewater, Indiana was banned to attend prom just because her date was a girl, so the Broadway stars set out to rescue the girl and the insensible citizens of Edgewater.

The four Broadway stars in The Prom. From left: Trent Oliver(Rannell), Dee Dee Allen(Streep), Barry Glickman(Corden), Angie Dickinson(Kidman)

It just so happens that, I also know a guy from my high school who was almost kicked out after the school found out that he was gay, and at the same time, he was a talented singer. Therefore I could not restrain myself from substituting him into Emma’s position, and this is when problems arise.

The chapel of my high school in which students were given a 20-minute service everyday(I am not Christian by the way.)

There are some apparent cultural issues with the Prom (By the way, this Indiana resident complaining about the mall set in the movie being too luxurious for Indiana had me laughing out loud). For example, putting the Christian faith as the main motive of the homophobic antagonists (Edgewater citizens) does not put forward a practical activist message, and surely will not move anyone in my high school (if they could actually make it to the end of the movie which I doubt). The ending, where the leading homophobic, the PTA president Mrs.Greene, accepts her daughter, Alyssa, and Emma being together because she loves her daughter, is where even I was caught off guard. P.S. The villain’s daughter falling in love with the protagonist, sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Not only because people usually do not change their religious beliefs suddenly in real life, the surprise I experienced was also evidence of shortcomings in character shaping in this movie.

Alyssa Greene and her “control freak” mother

Since this movie and the original musical was adapted from a true story, I looked it up, just to discover that I am more drawn to the real-life version than the adaption. Although starting way behind, we are seeing less gender stereotypes and more attention on different sexualities in musicals this several years. One problem to do this in, especially, Broadway musicals is that audiences and especially the producers are used to all the glitz and laughter they associate with music theater, and so they believe that The Prom has to be another one of those Broadway musicals. As a fan of movies that discuss serious issues, I understand that the four Broadway stars were there for comedic effect, and I have no problem of with serious story being told in a more manageable manner, but the issue comes when the subplots of the Broadway stars is overshadowing the true main characters of the story, Emma and her girlfriend. The story of Dee Dee learning to act for others’ benefit is a good one, and Streep did it very well, but that plot could become another musical instead of occupying the limited time we have for Emma’s encounters and thoughts.

Constance McMillen, whose story the Prom was based on

Emma is played by Jo Ellen Pellman, who was competent to be the main character though it may not appear so with all the starry casts around her. The character is based on the real-life Emma, Constance McMillen, who was rejected from bringing her girlfriend to prom in 2010. Instead of the Broadway stars, the person who persuaded McMillen to stand up for herself in real life is her mom, also a lesbian. The intrapersonal interactions we see of Emma in the movie is mostly with the Broadway stars, and a small portion being with her girlfriend, Alyssa. A good way to portray a character is to make their experience relatable, and hanging out with Broadway stars is just not one of those.

As said before, I wonder what the story would be like if the adaption focuses on the real story, such as the relationship between McMillan and her parents. More specifically, how McMillan was mostly raised by her dad, learned that her mom was a lesbian at the age of ten, discovered that she was also a lesbian, and was encouraged by her mom to fight against the discrimination she faced. The idea of accepting your parents as they are, accepting yourself as you are, and accepting your children as they are, I believe, will be able to put forward a more intimate story about sexuality and identity than the glittery stale popcorn we end up with, and will be able to make more audience sympathize with Emma whether they are in it for same-sex relationships or not.

The parent-teacher association in both the movie and real life organized a secret second prom which everyone in the school except for Emma knew. The almost first thing she did after finding it out in the movie, was to go meet with her girlfriend Alyssa, who sings her “I am” solo; They hold hand, and Emma broke up with her. No I did not see that one coming either. Maybe the book writers think it was a good idea to break up with their girlfriend right after she is deceived by her friends and her mother just because she made you feel embarrassed. This leads us into another major flaw in the Prom’s character design – Alyssa.

Emma(Pellman) and Alyssa(Debose)

The fault with Alyssa is not at Ariana Debose who played her and I personally think Debose did a really great job as I could feel Alyssa’s emotions from her facial expressions. Rather what went wrong is that, as the bridge between Emma and the “liberals”(also no idea why they had to be this unnecessarily political), and the conservative Midwest, you would think Alyssa has an important role in the movie. But no, she is the substitute of the old-style I-sit-here-and-do-nothing heroine waiting for Emma the hero to act. One trend we often see in queer literature is that the traditional unequal relationship remains, except that instead of boy saves girl now we also have boy saves boy and girl saves girl(couldn’t think of a girl saves boy example from the top of my head). It is not hard to make Alyssa not the daydreaming princess – she should be longing to go to the prom too! Having her by Emma’s side when she is going through all of this will not only make Alyssa Greene a fuller character, but also without leaving me wondering if the two actually likes each other.

The movie The Prom tries to create a positive message and some entertainment for its audience, but it turns out that the positivity pulls us away from the no-joke real-world issues it is aiming at, and the entertainment distracts us from getting to know the main characters enough to empathize with them. It is ironic that the gilding(glitz and stars) of this movie is exactly what the Broadway star in it were trying to do. Although musicals on gender and sexuality issues is a fairly new field, that does not mean there is no movies and plays (or, guess what, real personal stories) to learn from, and as a 2020 movie the Prom could have done better on reflecting the real world the same time as entertaining through its book and character design.

Gender Representation in The Prom, But Give it Some Zazz

I’m going to be honest. I didn’t care for The Prom. It’s a recent film adaption of the Broadway musical on Netflix, with Ryan Murphy of Glee directing. The plot was all over the place and most of the characters were not likeable. But for an attempt at being a progressive film which ended up being a mainstream version of an LGBTQ+ film designed for straight people, it did have complex and nuanced depictions of gender in its effort to challenge the current social narratives. The most surprising part is, they come in the form of two side characters, Mrs. Greene, and Principal Hawkins.

The Prom is a satire on Broadway itself. It tells the story of four Broadway actors in need of a career boost, who attempt to help a girl named Emma who wants to attend the school prom with her girlfriend. Mrs. Greene, the PTA president, cancels prom to prevent Emma from attending, which is where Dee Dee, Barry, Angie, and Trent step in to try to help Emma for publicity. The four of them along with Tom Hawkins, the school principal, help Emma get the prom that she deserves.

Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins may seem like typical characters with nothing interesting at first glance. Their outfits are plain and their personalities ordinary next to the eccentricities of the Broadway actors. But their gendered behaviors and actions provide a complicated and nuanced depiction of gender that challenges societal ideals. So, for once, the Broadway stars won’t be the stars of this analysis, no matter how much they try to shove themselves into the narrative (except for maybe just two guest appearances from Dee Dee.)

Let’s start with one of the most obvious representations of gender, physical appearance. Mrs. Greene, president of the PTA, is always wearing business clothes, in varying shades of pinks and purples. The film emphasizes her position of power despite being a woman in her appearance, with her pink blazers helping her stand out amongst the crowd and reminding you of her femininity. Her makeup is always perfect, paired with earrings and a classic hairstyle. These are all typical portrayals of femininity.

Principal Hawkins’ character follows suit (literally), by dressing in a masculine style, wearing almost exclusively suits and sporting a beard. Both characters are stereotypically masculine and feminine in their appearance, which doesn’t challenge the current expectations of gender expression. However, it is their behaviors and actions which contrast with their standard looks that make you realize why the producers made this choice.

Mrs. Greene being the strong-willed president of the PTA needs to be authoritative. She stands up for her beliefs and is charismatic enough to rally the rest of the parents behind her. The way she acts contrasts with her feminine appearance, as she takes on characteristics that are more often associated with men. However, this is in part by her being in an authority position. Women must be more assertive to be taken seriously, even if it leads to them being deemed bossy or controlling when the same is not said for men in positions of power. The choice to have her wear stereotypically feminine colors undermines and contrasts the more masculine undertones that come with her being an authority figure. Women in higher up positions in the workplace usually dress more masculine, in blazers and pants and dark colors, rather than anything too feminine since masculinity is associated with power and leadership. Mrs. Greene embodies the ideals of being a strong and assertive woman in power, while also reclaiming her femininity in her position.

On the other hand, Principal Hawkins, also an authority figure, acts less like the usual men that we would see in these roles. In his first encounter with Dee Dee, she says that he doesn’t fit her usual demographic of gay men, to which he replies that straight people like Broadway too. Our first impression of Principal Hawkins is that he not only likes Broadway, but is an avid fan and isn’t afraid to admit it. In Dee Dee’s experience, she has seen that men liking Broadway is seen as effeminate and is associated with gay men. Later, when Principal Hawkins and Dee Dee are on a dinner date, he opens up to her and says that Broadway provides an escape from his everyday life through a soulful solo number. Despite outward appearances, Principal Hawkins shows a level of depth and vulnerability that is not often seen from men in film in general, let alone for a side character.

This opposing gendered behavior between Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins does raise the question of favoring men over women. We have Mrs. Greene as a strong woman who made it to being the president of the PTA, and who is not afraid to stand up for herself and her beliefs. We have Principal Hawkins showing that there’s nothing wrong with men being vulnerable and showing emotion. But are we not made to favor Principal Hawkins over Mrs. Greene, despite them both breaking stereotypes? The obvious answer is that Mrs. Greene is the antagonist whose homophobic beliefs leave little left to be admired about her, while Principal Hawkins is the voice of reason and is just trying to help Emma get to prom. It’s just the role of their characters in the plot, so what’s the big deal?

If audiences see Mrs. Greene as the enemy, then are we not also seeing a woman in power as the enemy? Principal Hawkins’ character is praised for his vulnerability and breaking the mold by getting a romance story and a happy ending, while Mrs. Greene is almost constantly shown in a negative light. We learn from her daughter Alyssa that her husband left her, and ever since she’s been pushing Alyssa to be the perfect student in hopes that he will come back. Besides this one small glimpse into her personal life and her redemption at the end of the film when she accepts Alyssa’s identity as a lesbian, we are made to despise her throughout the entire film. In fact, her homophobic beliefs make it uncomfortable to like her as a character (assuming you don’t share her beliefs), so how are you to like anything else about her? She is a homophobic mother who initially couldn’t accept her daughter coming out and is no stranger to personal attacks when it comes to upholding the conservative beliefs of her town. She is also a woman who made it to a position of authority, and a single mother whose husband left her for reasons we are not privy to. Yet both parts of her are antagonized in the film whether intentionally or subconsciously.

On a lighter note, everyone’s favorite part of musicals: romance. But this time, a subplot between Principal Hawkins and Dee Dee, which presents a complete 180 on the traditional musical romance. From the get-go, Dee Dee gets Principal Hawkins to take her out to dinner, subtly making the first move. Later, Principal Hawkins finds out that Dee Dee and the others originally came to help Emma for publicity, and he leaves her. To win back his favor, Dee Dee goes all out in a performance of his favorite song performed by her on Broadway.

Their roles have been reversed. Instead of the boy losing the girl and then fighting to get her back, Dee Dee has taken on the role of the boy in love and challenges that old trope. Their love story also avoids the objectification that often comes with traditional Broadway romances. Principal Hawkins, although perhaps given more depth to serve as a more compatible love interest for Dee Dee, still serves other purposes in the plot that make him a stand-alone character as well. In fact, he is the one who solved the original conflict in the film. He worked with the state attorneys and helped win the legal battle against the PTA cancelling prom. His purpose in the plot is greater than to just be a love interest. Their romance goes against the traditional narrative and flips it on its head by having Dee Dee and Principal Hawkins switch roles.

Through all of this, remember that Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins are side characters. They are hardly a part of any of the musical numbers or spectacle. Even in Principal Hawkins’ solo number he is singing about being entranced by the fantasy world and escape of Broadway. They are spectators just like us. It reveals the nature of the “real world” outside of the Broadway world and makes their stories more directly applicable. The setting of this musical reflects our own society, so any challenges to the default narrative suggest ways of change in our society. This raises a lot of questions that we are left to ponder.

We have seen how Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins show a nuanced representation of gender and don’t fit neatly into the stereotypes often seen in the media. But their representation isn’t perfect and still reflects the dominant narratives in our society. What about patriarchy? Mrs. Greene has less agency than Principal Hawkins as a woman and a single mother. For Principal Hawkins, he has a choice over how he acts and chooses to embrace the more emotional and vulnerable aspects of his personality. Mrs. Greene feels that acting more masculine is her only option to keep putting up a front in order to get her husband back. We aren’t even told her first name like Principal Hawkins. She is still tied to her husband’s identity through her last name and does what she does for him.

The Prom has complex representations of gender roles, but it still shows how those representations function within the dominant frameworks of our society. Gender roles can be challenged, and successfully so. This film normalizes the breaking of gender stereotypes by using Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins to ground the film in realism. But we must keep in mind the intersectionality of one’s identity, and how it can be harder for some people to challenge narratives than others because of the amount of agency they have. Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins are cisgender, straight, and have conventional gender expressions; they only break stereotypes through their actions. In reality, people have such complex identities and face prejudice from multiple systems at play. Nevertheless, perhaps changing the narrative is one aspect of this musical that doesn’t have to stay within the make-believe world of theater.

Dear Broadway: If You Hate Women, Just Say That

For most of my childhood I was an avid ice cream hater. Zero, and I mean zero, ice cream appealed to me. I met the discussion of an ice cream party with sighs, the presentation of ice cream cakes with a groan, and the sight of ice cream shops with confusion. (It is interesting that despite my being a relatively basic human being, it is typically the case that I do not like certain things that are widely discussed. It is a serious personality flaw, and I am currently in the process of recovery.) Simply stated, I considered ice cream overrated, frozen milk. I share this with you because I have always been an ardent supporter of honesty. By divulging this information, I offer the opportunity for you, as the reader, to stop reading this on account of my having poor taste. Through this act of transparency, you may consider this analysis and all further analyses inherently void. And that is okay. In fact, I welcome it.

It is with this same spirit that I retroactively charge Broadway (and, quite frankly, all forms of popular media into the present day) to simply admit that they hate women. It is important to note, however, that this hatred is undeniably confusing. On one level, women in Broadway musicals must be “different” in order to be both the protagonist and heterosexual object of desire. They must not be “easy,” “stupid,” or “simple.” They may be more of a tomboy or more willing to be “one of the guys.” Put colloquially, many of these girls would publicly claim that “they are not like other girls.” On another level, women in Broadway musicals must be exactly like other girls. They should be willing to answer the call to their marital duties when men come a-knockin’, they must not be interested in talking over men (or being too smart for their own good), and, most importantly, they need to look pretty doing all of these things. In assessing these inherently dichotomous expectations, I for one am thoroughly perplexed.

If musicals were not a form of media intended to be personalized, perhaps I would be more willing to accept this concept and move on with my life. Unfortunately for all women, this is not the case. Popular conceptions about the composition of a woman’s personality (atop popular conceptions about a woman’s appearance) infiltrate the very being of a woman from the second we are able to spell “boy.” In my own life, I am expected not to be like other girls, but yet fall squarely into the norms of femininity set before me by men. So which is it? What am I supposed to do? It seems as though whichever path I choose is wrong. Being myself? Wrong. Being one of the guys? Wrong. Being one of the girls? Wrong.

What is left? Who is left? Should I just quit now?

These are all questions I would be thinking if I were not given what I have entitled:

Broadway’s Guide to Extraordinarily Ordinary Womanhood: The Case Study of Katherine and Laurey.

Through characters such as Laurey of Oklahoma! and Katherine of Newsies, Broadway has spelled out a very specific order of operations for every woman’s success. First, something must differentiate a woman from the generally inferior female cohort. Second, this woman must play hard to get— but only long enough to retain a man’s interest. Third, a woman must inevitably fall straight into the arms of a man. Thus emerges a critical formula in Broadway math:

Differentiator + Playing Hard to Get + Immediate Marriage Readiness = SUCCESS!

Differentiator:

Oklahoma! and Newsies‘s writers, directors, and cast took great pains to ensure that Laurey and Katherine were not like other girls. In fact, in differentiating Laurey, playwrights Rogers and Hammerstein provided a direct foil in Ado Annie. While the character Ado Annie was so infantilized that she could not muster up the wits to say no to any “feller who talked to her purty,” Laurey could not say yes. Laurey did not melt at the sight of a man; she did not need their validation. Laurey was not “stupid” like other girls. She didn’t cry over past lovers, she didn’t rave over her gooseberry pie— I mean the girl even wore overalls for crying out loud! In Newsies, without direct a foil to represent the remainder of women, Katherine’s differentiator is having a J.O.B. as a serious journalist. She’s dancing (quite literally) with the boys! Doubtful that this is an effective differentiator? Take it from the leading man himself: Jack Kelly admires smart girls for being beautiful, independent, smart… and probably some other stuff too!

Playing Hard to Get:

For their next step, both Laurey and Katherine needed to play hard to get. However, it is important for the success of the next step that these women did not become hard to want in the process. For example, Laurey could make it abundantly clear to Curly that she did not want him. But while singing a number in perfect harmony would Laurie break eye contact with Curly for longer than a second? Absolutely not. Interestingly, in order to retain her lovability, the typically confident and self-assured Laurey adopts fidgety mannerisms in her conversations with Curly. Strong women, she demonstrates, must not be too strong. In Newsies, Katherine employs witty quips to demonstrate her disinterest in Jack Kelly. She insinuates that he must have a criminal record, informs him that she is not interested in conversation, implies that she finds him stupid, and plainly instructs him to disappear. Yet, after witnessing evidence that Jack was (quite creepily) staring at her long enough to sketch a detailed portrait of her face, she melts. In fact, within a mere three interactions Katherine’s blocking places her closer and closer to Jack— a man who only three scenes earlier she had effectively deemed repulsive.

Immediate Marriage Readiness:

Finally, but most importantly, the successful woman’s story must end with her proclamation (whether explicit or insinuated) to spend the rest of her life with the very man she repeatedly rebuffed just a few acts prior. After all, you can’t spell “woman” without ending it with “man!” Laurey and Curly wed at the end of the musical as Oklahoma! achieves its statehood and Jud Fry is killed. Katherine and Jack insinuate their commitment to a long-term relationship through Jack’s decision to stay in New York as a cartoonist and a newsie. In this crucial step an important truth is revealed: all of a woman’s agency is a farce. In maintaining an unsustainable and intrinsically contradictory personality, the stories of these women elucidated the fact that none of their actions truly matter until they are validated by men. Without this the final step, which involves the direct contribution of men, none of the prior steps amount to any sort of victory. You can be as different as the stripes on a zebra and be as mean as bullfrog, but if a man does not want you and if you are not ready to marry that man, all of that work was for naught! After all, even dumb ol’ Ado Annie planned to get married at the end of Oklahoma!

In developing this formula, I wondered what our world would look like if Broadway simply published this framework. Perhaps life would be simpler for girls. Under a policy of transparency, it would be abundantly clear that the life designed for women by social forces such as Broadway is patently unbearable. In no uncertain terms, many women could declare their resignation from this game of dependency and choose to formulate their own rules on their own terms. Women, upon first seeing popular musicals such as Oklahoma! and Newsies, could decide that though they could enjoy the work for its entertainment value, they would not internalize its messaging that villanizes “other girls.” They (including me) could be free to recognize that “other girls” are not half bad. Our mothers are “other girls.” Our sisters are “other girls.” Our grandmothers are “other girls.” Our Aunt Eller’s are “other girls.” And somehow, by some miracle, we manage to love them anyway.

(Also, I do in fact like ice cream now. Feel free to allow yourself to consider my analysis valid. Or don’t. That’s your business.)

“How Do You Like Them Eggrolls, Mr. Goldman?”: Female Sexuality as a Means to Power in a Male-Dominated World

Ethel Merman. Bernadette Peters. Patti LuPone. And, of course, Bette Midler. Such musical theater giants have all taken on the iconic role of Mama Rose, and productions of the 1959 musical Gypsy, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim,are often noted specifically for their leading ladies. In fact, with so much emphasis on Mama Rose and her daughters, there are few male protagonists present in the musical, and their actions do little to impact the plot, with Mama Rose often ignoring their input. Despite the heavy emphasis on women’s roles in this musical, Rose and Louise are often placed at the whims of male producers and audience members with fairly small roles in the musical as a whole. Consequently, I believe this musical, through the perspectives of Rose and Louise, does an excellent job of showing how, when men control the means to success, women often must cater to the desires of men in order to gain mainstream recognition, particularly in the entertainment industry.

In the 1993 television production of Gypsy that we watched for class, Bette Midler played Mama Rose, and much of how she portrayed the character involved her immediately asserting her dominance over men. From the opening scene of the musical, she marches into an audition that her daughters June and Louise were at. Despite the man running the audition’s adamant refusal to allow mothers into the auditions, clearly trying to avoid this very situation, Rose refuses to leave and tells Louise to “sing out.” In this scene, she repeatedly ignores the orders of a man in a position of power over her. Simultaneously, in her lines that she is interrupting with, she is also encouraging her daughters to be outspoken like her as she tries to improve Louise’s stage presence. However, these actions of ignoring a more powerful man also have immediate consequences for her and her daughters’ success, considering that they do not get cast in the variety show, presumably at least partly because of Rose’s interference in the audition. In the very first scene of the musical, Rose has already shown that she is willing to break gender stereotypes by fighting against powerful men, but the musical has also shown that there will be consequences to her success as a result of these actions.

Notably, the only time we see Rose herself, not Louise, find success in promoting her daughters’ careers is portrayed through the song “Have an Eggroll, Mr. Goldstone”, in which Rose is extremely ingratiating to a casting agent, to a comical extent, in fact. Rose and Herbie’s success at getting June’s act onto the Orpheum Circuit is marked with a song about Rose trying extremely hard to be a good hostess, offering Mr. Goldstone anything she can think of. Though throughout the rest of the musical, Rose fails to book her daughters’ acts, on the one occasion she does succeed in reaching her goal, her success is portrayed through a number in which she essentially sucks up to a powerful man and ultimately assumes the role of a traditional female hostess, albeit in a comical fashion. Contrasting this, when June is offered a contract on the condition that Rose leave her, Rose tries to argue with the producer, Mr. Grantzinger and forces June to not sign the contract. Once again, Rose cannot become successful because she refuses to let powerful men control her, turning down a potentially lucrative offer because it puts power over her and June in the hands of a man that already has power within the entertainment industry.

Perhaps most importantly to the plot, Rose refuses to listen to men even when they are close to her and when she seems to love them. This is demonstrated through her relationship with Herbie, a relationship that lasts several years but finally ends when she signs Louise on to become a burlesque dancer without consulting Louise and in the process postpones her long-awaited marriage to Herbie. Although the immediate cause for Herbie deciding to leave could be taken as Rose’s decision to force her daughter into becoming a burlesque dancer, it also seems as though Rose’s demeanor has long been upsetting to Herbie because of her domineering nature, and this was simply the last straw. Also important is that, in making this decision, Rose has clearly placed her and her daughter’s success in their careers over her relationship with Herbie since she is postponing the marriage. Rose’s domineering of Herbie has occurred throughout the entire musical, with their first meeting being Rose pressuring Herbie into becoming her and her daughters’ agent through the song “Small World”. Though Herbie eventually agrees with her, and the song becomes a duet, it begins with Herbie being uninterested in her offer since he had recently stopped being an agent. In fact, Rose has such a domineering position over Herbie that their main love duet in the musical is titled “You’ll Never Get Away from Me” and is sung directly after Herbie threatens to leave her because she cares too much about the act. Though the song is portrayed in a mainly light-hearted manner, it is a clear early indication in the musical that Herbie thinks Rose cares too much about her and her daughters’ careers and that she has the power in the relationship, as is demonstrated by the title of the song itself.

Throughout the musical, we see Rose continually ignore Herbie or intimidate him. One of the most obvious examples of this is when, in the song “Everything’s Coming up Roses”, Herbie seems almost scared of Rose as Louise clings to him. The actor who plays him, Peter Riegert, seems to have made a clear decision to portray Herbie as stunned, concerned, and intimidated during this scene through the use of his body language since he stands to the side and looks on, unable to affect Rose’s scheming. Meanwhile, Bette Midler plays Rose as physically domineering, gesturing very widely with her arms and physically taking up space on the set. The expression on Riegert’s face seems to convey that Herbie feels powerless to stop Rose’s decision to make Louise a star. However, Rose’s power and refusal to fit into the gendered norms of a heterosexual relationship do eventually drive Herbie away several scenes after this, which has a negative impact on her own personal life. She is unable to stay in a relationship, and the musical implies that this is her fault for being too domineering in a way that is unexpected for a woman, especially in dealing with a male romantic partner. Not only is Rose’s professional life negatively impacted by her willingness to stand up to men who would traditionally have power over her, but her personal life is also hurt by her domination.

Louise’s eventual rise to stardom through burlesque creates a sharp contrast to Rose’s unwillingness to bend to men’s demands. Louise becomes more powerful than Rose ever does, but she is only able to do so because she bases her career around pleasing men. We see that, when she performs for the first time, she is terrified of catering to the men in the audience, which Cynthia Gibb portrays through her acting choice by walking very tentatively and, at one point, turning back to her mother in fright, who in turn encourages her to keep going. However, eventually, through the montage shown in the reprise of “Let Me Entertain You”, the audience both in the show and the real audience watching the movie looks on as Louise, now going by Gypsy Rose Lee, grow in confidence, much of which is shown through her body language, which Gibb now makes much smoother and more decisive, and through her spoken dialogue between verses of the song. Her willingness and level of comfort with her career catering to men’s sexual desire is shown through the jokes she makes as part of her act. At one point, her jokes even reference the fact that her entire audience is men since she addresses the audience as, “monsieurs and monsieurs”, implying there are no women there. She has clearly realized that, by appealing directly to men, she has become financially successful and is seen as a celebrity, and as a result, she has decided that it is worth overcoming any sense of shame or embarrassment she was feeling at the beginning of the montage.

Rose’s and Louise’s contrasting views on catering to men’s sexual desires in exchange for success finally come into direct conflict when Rose comes to Louise’s dressing room after one of Louise’s performances and begins an argument with her, clearly upset that Louise has become successful without her. One of the first things Rose does to start this argument is call Louise a stripper, clearly contrasting Louise’s own view that her career has given her power in some ways, giving her financial and social success as she becomes famous. Instead, Rose still sees her as a stripper, which Louise, in “Let Me Entertain You”, had said did not apply to her because she was well paid. By calling her a stripper, Rose is combatting Louise’s position by saying that her job, however much success and acclaim it has won her, is still using her own body to cater to men’s sexual desires. While Louise views the career as positive since it has allowed her to gain wealth and fame, Rose sees it as degrading because it is, by nature, catering to powerful men. In this scene, we see these two characters’ viewpoints on interacting with men in power directly clash. In doing so, Laurents’ book demonstrates how women had to be submissive to men in the early twentieth century in order to become successful. Rose has refused to do so, and as a result, she never gained commercial success. Louise has made the opposite decision, and she has been rewarded with wealth and fame. In “Rose’s Turn”, we see that Rose acknowledges this fundamental truth of gender politics by unbuttoning the top of her dress while saying, “How do you like them eggrolls, Mr. Goldstone?”, calling back to the one prior time in the musical that Rose capitulated to a powerful man’s demands. Now, by pantomiming Louise’s strip routine while calling back to that previous scene, Rose connects all acts of fulfilling men’s wishes in the musical, while singing a song wishing for fame, clearly demonstrating the theme of women being submissive to men as the only way in which to achieve mainstream success.

Through Rose and Louise’s differing attitudes towards powerful men, the musical Gypsy illustrates the position the entertainment industry, and society in general, placed women in during the early twentieth century. One of the main reasons Rose cannot find success in her professional life, and to some extent her personal life as well, is because she never allows a man in a position of power to control her. If a position seems too beneficial to the man she is dealing with, Rose will refuse to participate, even if that means a potential loss of finances, as her refusal to allow June to sign Mr. Grantzinger’s contract demonstrates. Contrastingly, Louise takes a job that some, including Rose, would call denigrating but becomes massively successful because of it. Because men control much of the cultural capital in patriarchy, for a woman like Rose or Louise to succeed in a public career, they must perform and behave in a way that fits into these men’s expectations and desires. Unfortunately, while women are beginning to control more cultural capital over time, this is still somewhat true today, as actresses and female singers are often expected to be beautiful as well as talented. Though Gypsy is set nearly a century in the past, it teaches an important lesson about limitations that can still be placed on women who wish to be in the spotlight today.

Through Rose-Tinted Glasses: Looking at a Descent Into Villainy

Main characters exist so that we know who to root for. But the minute you press play on Emile Ardolino’s 1993 film production of Gypsy, Arthur Laurents takes every expectation you’ve ever had about a strong female lead and turns it on its head. What we know about sacrificial mothers gets dragged through the murky story of Mama Rose and her two daughters until we aren’t sure which way is up or who we were supposed to root for all along. 

In Laurents’ case, this means taking the standard character of the strong, controlling mother and pushing her to madness. Because of her gender, we expect Rose to be loving, kind, and selfless but instead we discover she is obsessive, rude, and abrasive, and we don’t quite know what to do with her. 

The first time I saw the production, I found it so difficult to let go of this idea that Rose had to be the hero somehow. She is a mother, she cares for her children, and her children even love her back sometimes. I waited through every harsh word, selfish decision, and delusional sabotage, searching for that clue that would tell me when her redemption arc was about to begin, but never found it.

It took me until the closing scenes to finally sit there and say, “ok, fine, maybe she is the villain.” This confusion, where Laurents actually forces his audience to consider the characters and their choices, is what makes Gypsy so powerful. We expect one thing based on the stock characters we have encountered a thousand times before, and when they don’t follow the path we expect, we have to decide how to deal with the aftermath. 

At the first introduction, we see Rose as a caricature of a stage mom, a helicopter parent, a woman who fights hard for her children. Sure she’s comically overbearing and a bit intimidating and nobody knows what to do with her, but that’s just because she’s a powerful woman. Hey, we like powerful women! Feminism! After all, it’s about time we grew past characters like Laurey of Oklahoma! who have hardly a personality trait to call their own, and on to women like Katherine of Newsies who seem to fill the strong female roles America has been calling for. Girls who talk back and tap to keep up with the male ensemble. Girls who act more like boys, but still primarily support the male character arc.

But Rose is another beast entirely. She is larger than life. She is everything and more. And she is terrifying. 

“Some People” is our first hint that Rose may not be the loving mother we want her to be. The song is not a soprano lullaby, nor even a defiant belt. Bette Midler’s delivery is gritty, passionate, and clearly limited by the silver screen. Her voice nearly drowns out the beautiful orchestrations, contrastingly abrasive to the ear in all its power. The song is meant to be belted to the second mezzanine, where it slams you back in your seat and demands to be listened to. Midler steamrolls through the set as she sings, delivering sharp gestures and lyrics like oaths. Everything she does radiates power. 

At the Act I finale, when the curtain goes down after “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” you find yourself sitting there in shock and horror wondering not how these characters will fix this situation, but what atrocity this fearsome woman will commit next. The song setup is typical of the “belted act 1 finales of female self-assertion” genre that audiences have come to know and love.1 However, we are not left empowered or invigorated like we would be for “Defying Gravity,” but instead shaken by the display of madness so blatantly subverting what we know about female leads in musicals. 

This is no Laurey we have in front of us. 

Every expectation that we had for how this female should act is left in the dust as Rose blazes forward like a white hot bullet. Laurents has taken the stereotype of stubborn middle-aged women and pushed it to its breaking point, yet you still find yourself sitting there wondering what redemption will look like. We are blinded when we see that she’s a woman, she’s a mother, and deep down she probably only wants what’s best for her kids. This is what makes it so difficult to recognize and reconcile Mama Rose’s descent into villainy, even while we watch all the clues unfold before our eyes. Theres a reason WatchMojo ranks it as the hardest female role to play on Broadway. 

1 Wolf, Stacy Ellen. Changed for Good: a Feminist History of the Broadway Musical, Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 1–18. 

Gypsy asks: Are you REALLY unbiased?

By Ejew Kim

For the first time I was glad that I missed a class to binge on K-Drama, and that I got so angry at that one overprotective villain mom that I refused to leave my room for 3 days straight. Or else I wouldn’t have been able to understand Rose Hovick in the 1993 televised film Gypsy as a mother nor her daughter Louise as a girl who loves her mother, and be left hating on one of the most popular productions of all time.

To give a quick introduction of Gypsy before I slowly get into the why: Originally based on Arthur Laurents’ book Gypsy: A Musical Fable, Gypsy (1993) by composer Jule Styne and lyricist Stephen Songheim features Bette Midler as Rose and Cynthia Gibb as Rose’s daughter Louise. The musical illustrates the journey of Rose, full of dreams to be a star actress and trying to make her daughters one, through the Great Depression and the collapse of vaudeville, in which eventually one daughter leaves and her remaining daughter Louise becomes a stripper. In Gypsy, Rose and Louis represent femininity as encompassing power and complexity that can only be identified when escaping gender bias.

However, my first watch of Gypsy in BroadwayHD, plus the first week thinking about it, it was a horribly sexist film. Rose’s stubborn pushing of her daughters seemingly showed that women getting out of their way to try to achieve dreams are a pain while Louis’ “glow-up” seemed to scream that femininity equals being pretty for men. I had plenty of reasons why:

Rose. I bet everyone admits at some point in the movie that she’s a cringe. And from my first watch, she is a cringe that gets worse. The acceleration point is when Rose performs “Everything’s Turning Up Roses”: The way how her eyes were enlarged so much as she built up her determination and excitement to make Louise her star, and especially how she opened her eyes in a way that the audience could see so much whites of her eyes, portrayed her so full of energy and fierce determination that it was almost scary. Her body is so tensed up throughout the whole song, and her singing as well. She scratches her voice for an aggressive effect (ex. “coming up ROses”) and she gives a lot of strong accent to the beginning of almost every line, especially whenever she looks in a new direction and turns her body aggressively (for example, “NOw you’re, IN it”). The aggressive energy adds to her characterization of determined, focused, full of energy—all in a crazy way. And this is especially scary because this comes right after she gets depressed learning about June leaving—it’s disturbing that Rose cannot stop pushing her dreams even after seeing what it does to not only her daughters but herself as well…I feel an urge to distance her. Her stubbornness continues: Even after she finally admits that she pushed her children for her own dreams, she still does not let go of them; instead she sings her last number “Rose’s turn,’ which ends up with her getting angry—“When is it my turn?”—and repeated lines of “For me” plus a series of bows. She is so self-endorsed, still wanting to fulfill her desires that have been hurting so many people—Louise who just wanted a normal family life, Herbies whose promise for marriage was joked at, June who lost her chance going to acting school, etc. What we want to see at this point is annoying Rose to stop pushing people around, marry Herbie, and become a housewife like normal women of that time, like how everyone around her—her father, Herbie, and Louise—wants her to be. The film projects the idea of women trying to assert power to pursue their dreams, as something that causes issues—a definitely problematic depiction of gender roles for today.

Louise, from the very start, is that character the audience sympathizes with: Compared to her blonde (“thus pretty”), better performing sister, Louise has darker hair, smaller and lower voice, and a stiffer body—she has less of the typical “feminine” qualities and therefore is characterized as inferior. Even when she becomes mom’s new main actress after June leaves, she wears pants, a blazer, a black captain hat…even her blonde wig reminds me of 18th century old white men. She could have totally passed as masculine. The sad part for sympathy is that Louise herself believes in her “lack of femininity” and inferiority: Whenever she talks about June (not herself) being the star, she says it with such strength and positivity in her facial expression and voice (and with zero bitterness/sadness) that she seems very confident about this claim—the confidence missing most of the time, especially when performing. 

But when Louis puts on her dress for her spontaneously-booked stripper performance and looks at the mirror, she experiences a change in self-image. As she slowly freezes in front of the mirror with shock, the strings in the music vibrate rapidly at a high note, creating sudden tension—like the sudden ding of the bell when shocking information has been presented. And yes, it is confirmed in the following Louise’s dialogue that the shocking information here is “Mama, I’m pretty..!” Then a sweet melody of a softer and more positive tune plays right after, at the right timing as Louise touches the side curves of her body. And then she puts on a firm, determined face and walks out to the backstage behind the curtains, looking head straight, gaze forward, and open shoulders—she’s confident alright. And though that very first performance went pretty rough with her nervous stiffness, she soon starts moving with more courage. The later performances as the now famous Gypsy Rose Lee shows a clear boost in confidence—voice projection, a relaxed smile, wide strides, on beat, and moving in a way that she seems to make every movement very precise and intentional. And this change-up, along with her fancier outfits and makeup, definitely make her shine more. This overall improvement seems to suggest that Louise was able to become successful because she started being more feminine and pretty-looking. 

This is especially more fun to watch in the audience’s perspective, because Rose, such a stubborn and annoying character, is taken down by her daughter when she pleads to leave her alone—the very nightmare Rose was avoiding. Honestly, this breakdown was a relief—a relief that seems to be there to aid the sexist idea of ‘successful femininity = pretty’ to come through, and support the objectification of women that follows as a consequence.

And that was going to be my whole essay…except I watched the musical again after thinking about that overprotective K-drama mom (long story short, she was mean to her daughter’s boyfriend/potential husband who she thought wasn’t good enough because he lived without parents), and realizing how all she wanted, despite just wrong assumptions, could have been her daughter’s well-being. And then I thought about how it could be the same for Rose—her annoying actions being good intentions paired with unwise assumptions, and how maybe the film is not actually trying to say women should stay at home, pretty, and then I started thinking about Louise again…and here starts the flipside:

Think about Rose’ background. She was abandoned and hurt by her mother at a young age—she probably doesn’t want to repeat that traumatizing event, by doing the exact opposite for her own children: Never leaving their sides. When Gypsy pleads in the waiting room, “Mom, you gotta let go of me!” Rose’s face and voice suddenly softens as she responds with a heavy breath, “Let go?”—Rose never became this low in energy in the film, which shows that she’s truly hurt by the idea of leaving her daughter. Is it possible that Rose is just trying to do her best for her child? Consider the perspective of a mother: She believes that being a star is the best thing in the whole world—her eyes shine bright whenever she even mentions the word “act.” When Herbie suggests June and Louise go to school, Rose refuses by responding: “And be like other girls, cook and clean and sit and die.” This was the reality in the past—especially during the Depression: Not only was the idea of women working not accepted, but with not enough work for men, there was certainly not enough work for women. Being a star instead and being free and rich definitely can seem better for not only Rose in particular, but other women as well. Rose also seems to swallow up her own sadness and vulnerability for her children: For example, when Herbie finally leaves her, she seems truly sad—despite having to urgently prepare her daughter for her first-time stripper performance, she sits down, singing a softer version of “Small World.” She almost cries and pauses her singing after saying “Lucky, I’m a woman”—this seemed to demonstrate how Rose was devastated to no longer being a woman loved by a man (whom she enjoyed being seen..she would always dance with him!); but then still hands over the gloves to her daughter, though with a downed tone and drooping shoulder—despite her lack of energy, she still pushes on her job of making her child a star. She may be annoying, but she cannot help it to ensure the best future for her children. She had good intentions, but the environment shaped her with the wrong behaviors and methods for her to accomplish those intentions.

For Louise—or Gypsy—you can see that what mattered to her was not her becoming pretty and acquiring accepted femininity. I mean, it does matter because she repeatedly looks into the mirror, going “look at me mama, I’m gorgeous and I love it.” But what really lingers is Gypsy’s love and reception of love with her mother. Consider the series of Gypsy’s stripping performances. Interestingly, the film shows her performances after her switch up for quite a long time, while probably that last full performance in the red dress was enough to show how good of a performer she became…then why show several? One thing that really stands out is the fact that “Let me entertain you” is still and repeatedly used for Louis’ strip show number. The number(s) is (are) exciting because it really shows how much Louis changed, but it’s also like she’s mocking her mother, who’s not even her boss anymore, that she can do better off with her…almost. The length seems to give us time to think about the new Gypsy Rose Lee and her unbelievable turnout: Why is she suddenly so good? Why is she repeating “Let Me Entertain You? Perhaps it’s an indicator that she cannot escape her mother—she still loves her and references her—perhaps she’s finally getting her mother’s attention that she has always wanted. And at this point it’s not how attractive and confident Louis seems after her career change up, but how her childhood/internal experiences left her a hole that she needed to fill in…a pretty complex woman character, huh?

I think it took me quite a long time—despite my deliberate be-analytical-for-class view—to find out how the woman lead characters have more to them than submitting to gender roles because of my gender bias: I assumed, because this was a decently old Broadway show, that it would present negative gender roles; also, Rose seemed simply annoying even when showing a wide range emotions and conflicts because I, guiltily, assumed her to be a typical woman with problems controlling her emotions. Only when I started seeing Rose as a person, a mother, I was able to see Rose and Louis’ complexity. The film therefore, by showing how Rose and Louis represent femininity as complexity that can only be identified when escaping gender bias, encourages us to ignore our “educated” mindsets and consciously reflect our own gender biases once again.

Men: Can’t Live with ’em

By William Henke and Margaret Mershon

For our final assignment we wrote you a short essay about the 2016 Broadway production of Falsettos. To add some vivacity to the discussion, Will and I decided to do some theatre of our own and perform it as though it was a live and VERY natural conversation. Please enjoy it in the video above or in the transcript below.

Will: Hey guys! A lot of people ask me, “Will, what do you and two-time Tony-winning actor Christian Borle have in common?” Well, besides our chiseled arms, our uncanny ability to grow facial hair, and our silky tenor voices, we are both straight dudes that have played questioning or gay characters. Also, Maggie’s here. Everyone say hi or boo her; I usually roll with the latter greeting.

I honestly can’t tell the difference

Sources: Kristina Wilson; God probably

Maggie: Hello! I am here too, thank you for having me. Anyways, over the course of his career, Christian Borle has shown a knack for playing a wide range of straight, white guys from his origination of the ultimate nice guy Emmett in Legally Blonde to the less cordial William Shakespeare in Something Rotten! But, his Broadway typecast as a straight love interest or, at the very least, a sexual antagonist was challenged in early 2016, and no I’m not talking about the re-imagination of the Joker as Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In early 2016, it was announced that Borle would be playing Marvin in the Broadway revival of William Finn’s 1992 Falsettos. Marvin, of course, is a recently out of the closet gay man trying to emotionally accept his identity while maintaining the already weak bond between his family, and through this convoluted game of tug-of-war, Marvin is forced to constantly change his identity and personality depending on the people and situation around him. 

W: My junior year of high school, the theatre department (along with hundreds of others around the country) decided to produce Almost, Maine. I was cast as Chad, the broest bro a bro could ever ask for, who falls in love with his best friend Randy, the second broest bro a bro could ever ask for. 

M: You seem like a Chad.


W: Thank you. The struggle of portraying a shallow frat boy and suddenly switching to his softer, emotional side was difficult but manageable because at the time, I was a shallow 17-year-old boy that pretended to have a softer emotional side by listening to Frank Ocean occasionally. Regardless, I was a straight boy playing a questioning character, despite the other auditionees that actually shared Chad’s internal struggle, and this was in a highly conservative part of Middle Tennessee. I would bet Broadway has a much greater selection of gay actors than my tiny, rural high school, so why Christian Borle for Marvin? Yes, he is a supremely talented actor and has a fantastic voice, but every Broadway actor shares those qualities.

Will giving the performance of a lifetime

Source: Mr. Henke

M: Maybe it’s because it doesn’t matter, not that a person’s identity doesn’t matter, but maybe the point Falsettos is making is that all men, straight or gay, young or old, and able to play baseball or not, are all the same. They are all, to some extent, controlling, dumb, and selfish creatures that impose themselves in every situation and relationship, and love has a funny way of bringing out the worst of these qualities or taming them depending on how true this love is. 

W: Through the ebbs and flows of Marvin, Falsettos explores masculinity in terms of the expectations that Marvin places on himself and his role to the people around him as a father, friend, and lover. The juxtaposition between Marvin and the other two adult male characters Whizzer and Mendel (sorry, Jason) provides us with a better understanding of the complexity and context of Marvin’s character.                

M: So what does it really mean to be a man? I don’t know, Mulan doesn’t know, even this team’s expert doesn’t know, so how is Marvin supposed to know? The first time we see Marvin it is with his family, and he’s leaving them for the very well-toned, Whizzer, which side note, is a crime of a name. NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO HAVE THE NAME WHIZZER. Moving on. Marvin has been brought up on traditional family values, that he should love his wife and his kid and support them, but now he’s making a choice for himself and leaving them all alone. Marvin transfers this expectation to support his family by turning to Whizzer. Little does he know, Whizzer is more than capable of taking care of himself. This leads to Marvin and Whizzer getting into screaming matches and having a very tumultuous relationship as Marvin treats Whizzer like the wife and child he no longer comes home to. Whizzer doesn’t make him dinner when he comes home and he doesn’t want to learn how to play chess from him. Marvin even begins to walk like a hyper-masculine man. Like that. What is that! It’s not pleasant and it just shows how insecure he is in his masculinity.

W: Alright Maggie calm down. She’s still mad at Christian Borle for what he did to Sutton Foster.

M: The Bastard!

W: As the show progresses, we continue to see Marvin and Whizzers masculinity ebb and flow. When Marvin breaks up with Whizzer, he becomes friends with the lesbians next door, two people who cannot tempt his need to act masculinely. But wait! Right when Marvin thought he was in the clear, Whizzer comes to Marvin’s son’s baseball game and shows him how to swing a bat, something that Marvin is helpless at, and Marvin swoons all over again. After seeing such a display of masculinity, strong fatherly skills, and support, Marvin realizes he wants to be taken care of like that and starts flirting it up.

Even Jason is shocked he hit that ball!

Source: Joan Marcus

M: Classic Christian Borle.

W: Maggie!

M: Sorry.

W: But as the relationship progresses again, Marvin starts to feel insecure in who he is as a man when Marvin kicks his ass at racquetball. He tries to compromise and discusses this insecurity in his song “What More Can I Say?” which is the point in the musical where I begin openly weeping until bows. He softly sings “stay calm / untie [his] tongue / and try to stay / both kind and young.” His goal is to remain as kind and sweet and not feel as threatened by Whizzer and his tendency to make him feel like less of a man, attempting to see it as more of a give and take because of the pure love he feels for Whizzer. That isn’t to say Marvin doesn’t have any more slip-ups. When they’re playing racquetball and Whizzer is beating him once again, Marvin flourishes his poor sportsmanship, saying “please forgive me for winning one game.” It’s at this moment that Whizzer’s body starts to feel the symptoms of the disease ravaging his body, and when he insists that the game be done, Marvin stays on him, insisting that he not let him win. Marvin continues to be so threatened by Whizzer’s masculinity that he is blind to the pain that his partner is feeling.

M: If redefining his masculinity as a response to his redefinition of his sexuality wasn’t enough, the one guy that was supposed to be on Marvin’s side, his therapist Mendel, swoops right in to snatch up Trina once he’s out of the picture.

W: I would kill him

M: Me too. During “Marvin at the Psychiatrist,” we see Mendel discuss Marvin’s difficulty with his wife Trina withholding love, which Mendel proclaims to be untrue. Mendel turns the blame around, saying “perhaps she held back love from you,” and then continues to unload a series of questions about Trina’s personal life. Two songs later, the same song where Marvin is miffed that Whizzer won’t make dinner, sitting with Mendel he says “this had better come to a stop, Mendel/ don’t touch me/ don’t condescend.” Marvin has lost touch with the one man that was supposed to always have his back and on top of all that Marvin feels like Mendel is treating him like a child. To be treated like a child by the man who is now fathering your child? That can’t feel good.

W: Yeah I would doubt it. Later, after receiving the wedding invitations to Trina and Mendel’s wedding…

M: Yay.

W: Exactly, yay. Anyway, Marvin screams at Trina that she “chose [Mendel] to make [Marvin] look bad”

M: Talk about insecure.

W: Yeah it’s a mess, and it only gets worse.

M: Great.

W: Yeah so the wedding invitation song continues, and Marvin mutters to himself, “I am so dumb.” Immediately after that, as if in an echo chamber, everyone in the show, Jason, Trina, Mendel, and Whizzer, all begin shouting “Dumb!” at him. It’s like a manifestation of all of the thoughts Marvin THINKS they all feel about him are being shouted at him in reality.

M: Sounds like a dream.

W: Well, I bet he wishes this next part was just a dream. Acting out of rage and insecurity, as the prophecy fulfills itself and as the title of the song suggests, “Marvin Hits Trina.” In order to take control of his life, prove he is still the man of the house, not Mendel, and show he is as masculine as he needs to be, he strikes someone he loves. After this move, Marvin removes himself from the entire plot and, after taking some time off for himself, making different friends, and living “without a lover,” Marvin makes tenuous peace with Mendel, though he continues to make snide comments about him, especially when he comments on how he is raising his kid. When Mendel tells Trina and Marvin they don’t need a bar mitzvah for Jason, Marvin turns to Trina and remarks, “Isn’t he an asshole?” “Isn’t he too much?” and my personal favorite, “Jesus, what an asshole!–It still gives me hives.”

M: Yeah that’s pretty good.

W: Thanks.

M: All of this is to say, Marvin’s core identity doesn’t change. One thing remains constant through lovers, through divorce, and through a weird fatherly bond with his therapist. Marvin is a man. What does change is his understanding and relationship with masculinity. At the beginning of the show, being a man is about “bringing home the bacon” and raising his son to conform to society’s expectations of men, and if being the patriarch and moneymaker is not enough, he’ll shout and strike to impose his masculinity. But, Marvin modifies these tactics when he realizes that is not the man his family needs him to be. He supports Mendel’s commitment to raising and loving his son, he makes amends with Trina and Jason, and most importantly, he realizes Whizzer doesn’t need a man to take care of him. He needs a lover to love him unconditionally and a friend to keep him company in this confusing, lonely world. Oftentimes, society determines what it means to be a man for us when being a man may be just being there for the people you love when they need you most.

Feel free to jump in the air…you just learned something about Falsettos!

Source: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

W: just like I’ll always be there for you. Oh-all right. Bye guys!