‘Friends of Dorothy’ was joyous.
Presented by newly formed community theatre group, Ghostlight Theatre Co., as part of the Anywhere Festival, ‘Friends of Dorothy’ is a proud musical journey through the history of the LGBTQIA+ community from the 1950’s to the present.
The title of the show is inspired by an infamous question whispered to identify fellow members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a time when discretion was paramount – “Are you a friend of Dorothy?”.
One of the main theories of how this phrase came to be is that it was due to the classic film ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in which the innocent Dorothy goes on a perilous journey with her newfound friends to visit the Wizard who has the power to grant their wishes, and along the way they discover their true selves. In an era when homosexuality was not acknowledged and being identified as gay or queer could be incredibly dangerous, this resonated with the LGBTQIA community, and they felt that the character of Dorothy was someone who reflected their own struggles and obstacles. This show has a cheeky nod to that iconic character intertwining the past with the present.
First time director and Ghostlight Theatre founder, Yasmin Elahi knew that devising a new work would be an ambitious challenge but felt that it was important to provide a platform to explore the history, as well as allow the cast to share some of their own stories. As Elahi states in the program “The show is not all lollipops and rainbows, but I stand behind the choices we made to explore both the light and the dark times in LGBTQIA+ history”. Mention must be made of the comprehensive information contained in the show program about events that happened in each decade relevant to the LGBTQIA+ journey.
The choice of musical numbers in any cabaret or musical is always important, but more so in a work aiming to reflect the beliefs and ideals of the decade being explored, and the choices made for this journey are an interesting but appropriate mix. Most numbers were done with a bit of a twist, and included some songs which audiences will not necessarily be familiar with
With a cast of 10, this musical journey begins in the 1950’s with an iconic Cole Porter number which contains lyrics ahead of its time – ‘Anything Goes’. A song that was once shocking but is now accepted, was performed with gusto by the ensemble. This set the tone of the evening and the audience knew they were in for a night of great Broadway melodies performed from the heart. The interesting number in the first set was the inclusion of what is perhaps a lesser remembered number from Carousel ‘You’re a Queer One Julie Jordan’ – originally performed back in 1956 by Shirley Jones and Barbara Ruik – and nicely rendered here by Kelly McQueen and Chantelle Currie.
The show moved through the 1960’s and 1970’s with songs that were from the eras where the Rainbow Flag was first raised, the first gay and lesbian Mardi Gras was staged, and homosexual contact was beginning to be decriminalized, and in a momentous night in 1969 transgender and non-conforming gender persons resisted arrest in a police raid at the Stonewall Inn. The events at Stonewall are considered to be what ignited the modern LGBTYQIA+ rights movement. So, the inclusion of songs such as ’Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat’ and ‘We Go Together’ were a great choice. In this segment, Natasha King acquitted herself well with a medley of two numbers originally sung by the great Barbara Streisand.
Rounding up Act 1 was the 1980’s and with this being a decade where Aids decimated the LGBTQIA+ community, the inclusion of a beautiful rendition by Gary Farmer-Trickett of ‘You Gotta Die Sometime’ from Falsettos (a musical that explores the themes of love, loss, relationships, religion, and the Aids epidemic) fit well.
Act 2 begins with the 1990’s, when it was a difficult climate for those wanting to find a place in a world that wasn’t quite ready to hear them, the Aids epidemic was still going strong, and it was a roller-coaster when it came to gay rights. The number ‘If Only You Would Listen’ by McQueen, Georg Gleeson, and Cassidy Prosser was performed with heartfelt emotion, and the strong, passionate and energetic rendition of ‘I’d Rather Be Me’ by Jessica Beilby rounded out the decade.
The audience were then transported into the 2000’s, a decade of successes and setbacks, and of faith vs choice which was hilariously highlighted by the Ensemble in ‘Turn It Off’, subtly explored in ‘You Matter to Me’ by Currie and Courtney Murrin and, and heartbreakingly realized in a standout performance of “Michael in the Bathroom” by Farmer-Trickett.
The 2010’s is the decade that closes this journey with an eclectic mix of songs. Pavitra Tandon’s rendition of ‘Land of Lola’, supported wonderfully by the ensemble cast, was sexy and sassy and one could see they were thoroughly enjoying the moment. ‘Gay Disney Prince’ by Trickett and Tandon was fun, fluffy and flirty and ‘Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)’ by the Ensemble finished off the evening’s entertainment on just the right note.
Although primarily a cabaret, the evening was not all song and dance. The issues of mental health and suicide where broached in a very respectful segment which included some personal stories and a moment of silence for those who had ended their journey. This was followed by a hauntingly beautiful rendition of Over the Rainbow by Gleeson and accompanist Jess Hall.
Musical Direction by Tallis Tutunoa and Choreography by Emily Delchau was strong, enabling the ensemble to be cohesive in the performances and soloists to express their individuality. Costumes were appropriate and added the required glitz and glam where needed.
The staging was simple, but effective using a black curtain at the back of the stage on which cards imprinted with the decade were hung. These were turned around as the show progressed. There were, on the night, some unavoidable technical issues which were dealt with as best as the team could, but which meant that sound was not always on point in a venue that doesn’t have the best acoustics. Furthermore, the show would have benefited from better stage lighting.
While the sexuality and full gender identity of the performers, creatives and developers behind the show are not expliclty stated, it is important to note that a show of such magnitude – a glimpse into queer history – deserves the full support and collaboration of the local queer community. One sincerely hopes that this was taken into consideration when putting “Friends of Dorothy” together.
Overall, this is a well-directed, thoughtful musical cabaret that combines an enjoyable musical journey with a strong important message and is performed with joy, passion, and pride by the cast.
‘Friends of Dorothy’ performed until Sunday, 5 June 2022 at Bray Hall, Cooke Street, Petrie . For more information on the production visit the Anywhere Festival website.