Last night at the press night of The View Upstairs at the Soho Theatre, I was reminded just how transformative theatre can be. This is the UK premiere of Max Vernon’s fabulous musical about the Upstairs Lounge tragedy, which up until 2016 (and the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando) was the deadliest known attack on the LGBTQ+ community in US history. FYI – I know I avoid anything that might be a considered a spoiler, but you’d literally need to avoid looking at any information about this musical to not know it is about this real life tragedy. So in terms of possible spoilers, that one is up there with the Titanic sank.
I went expecting to find it quite traumatic but instead found a musical full of life, love, warmth, as well as the inevitable loss. Max Vernon is definitely at the top of my “people to watch” list (not in a weird stalker way, honest). He is a skilled storyteller, lyricist and composer. As I type up this review, I have the Broadway cast recording of the soundtrack playing. Snapped up a CD on my way out (they are selling them at the venue for £10) and suspect it is going to be a big part of my soundtrack for the summer.
The UK cast of The View Upstairs are a pure a joy to watch. Those who were lucky enough to see Tyrone Huntley as Judas at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar, will be well aware of his talent, and he is nothing less than brilliant as the fish out of water Wes. I single him out here mainly because there is so much well deserved buzz around him now. However, the whole cast are brilliant and shine throughout.
John Partridge’s Buddy is movingly conflicted, while Cedric Neal’s Willie is joyfully exuberant. Andy Mientus brings a touching vulnerability to the loveable Patrick. Carly Mercedes Dyer is fierce and fiesty as Henri. The relationship between Inez and Freddy, brought to life by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and Garry Lee, is so touching yet filled with humour. Whereas the darker elements of the show live in Declan Bennett’s tormented Dale, who could so easily have been reduced to a caricature, but instead lives and breathes in all his rage and isolation. Derek Hagen’s cop effectively brings a dose of 1970s style real world homophobia into the safe space of The Upstairs. Last, but not least, there is a quiet kindness and optimism to Joseph Prouse’s Richard, so believable as the group’s spiritual voice and bridge-builder.
In addition to having a phenomenal cast, the whole production has been brought to life with so much love by director Jonathan O’Boyle. The set is stunning and the musicians (hidden somewhere out of sight) expertly bring this wonderful soundtrack to life.
The more I think about it (and I’ll be thinking about this show for quite some time), the more I’m convinced that the power of this show (above and beyond the fact it refers to real events) lies in the humour. It disarms you. You fall in love with these characters. You know what is coming but you hope against hope the story will end differently. By the end I was sobbing. Proper ugly crying. The View Upstairs is such a fitting and beautiful tribute to the people who died on 24th June 1973 in New Orleans.
Those I know who have been lucky enough to already see The View Upstairs are all planning to go see it again, bringing new friends with them to each repeat view. So while having a relatively long run by Soho Theatre standards (it runs until 24th August) I’d strongly encourage you to snap up tickets ASAP. This show is capable of selling-out on word of mouth and repeat viewing alone! And while I’d be shocked if there wasn’t a transfer in this show’s future, the Soho Theatre feels like the perfect place to enjoy it.
As far as I’m concerned The View Upstairs is one of the hottest tickets of this, or any, summer. To find out more or book tickets, you can link through to the Soho Theatre website here: https://sohotheatre.com/shows/the-view-upstairs/