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Great Moments in Gay New York City Theater History

Along with a few not-so-great moments


New York City's theater world has always had a strong gay element, both on and off stage. Though the list of Broadway's (and Off-Broadway's) gay accomplishments and scandals is long, here are a few key highlights from the past 100+ years.

1896 The play A Florida Enchantment opens at Hoyt's Theatre (24th St., at Broadway), and for the first time on an American stage features two women kissing; at intermission ushers offer ice water to patrons who feel faint.

1923 Police arrest the theater owner, the producer, and twelve cast members of the lesbian-themed Broadway show The God of Vengeance at the Apollo Theatre (223 W. 42nd St., between Seventh and Eighth Aves.) for "presenting an obscene, indecent, immoral and impure theatrical production," despite the fact it had already appeared without incident in nine European countries.

1926 Riding on the success of her racy first Broadway play Sex, Mae West visits popular gay cabaret showplace Paul & Joe's (62 W. 9th St., between Fifth and Sixth Aves.) to research her upcoming play The Drag, and reportedly auditions fifty men she meets there. Horrified authorities rush to shut down Sex and arrest West before The Drag can make it to Broadway.

1927 To silence a barrage of plays "depicting or dealing with the subject of sex degeneracy or sex perversion" on the New York stage, the Wales Padlock Law is enacted; one of its first victims is the lesbian love drama The Captive, which had been showing at the Empire Theatre (1430 Broadway at 40th St.).

1968 The Boys in the Band opens at Theatre Four (424 W. 55th St., between Ninth and Tenth Aves.), where it will run for 1,000 shows before eventually spawning a major 1970 movie, the first to focus on queer culture.

1969 Katherine Hepburn stars as Coco Chanel in the musical Coco, which opens at the Mark Hellinger Theatre (237 W. 51st St., between Broadway and Eighth Ave.) and purportedly features the first openly gay character in a Broadway musical, the despicable designer Sebastian Baye (played by Rene Auberjonois, whose performance won him a Tony).

1970 Based on the screenplay for All About Eve, the Lauren Bacall vehicle Applause opens at the Palace Theatre (1564 Broadway, between 46th and 47th Sts.) and features the character of hairdresser Duane (Lee Roy Reams), by all accounts the first likeable openly gay presence in a Broadway musical.

1975 Reimagining a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers '30s musical with a same-sex twist, Boy Meets Boy opens at the 13th Street Repertory Company (50 W. 13th St., between Fifth and Sixth Aves.), becoming the first musical written by gays for gays to attract mainstream attention.

1982 The first of 1,222 Broadway performances of Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy (which will go on to take the 1983 Tony Award for Best Play) begins at the Little Theatre (240 W. 44th St., between Seventh and Eighth Aves.).

1984 Charles Busch's Vampire Lesbians of Sodom is first performed at the Limbo Lounge (647 E. 9th St., between Aves. B and C), and will go on to be one of the longest-running plays in Off-Broadway history.

1993 Tony Kushner's Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes has its Broadway debut at the Walter Kerr Theatre (219 W. 48th St., between Broadway and Eighth Ave.); its two halves, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, win back to back Best Play Tonys in 1993 and 1994.

2011 The day after the state of New York legalized same-sex marriage, Broadway hosted its first gay wedding. Three same-sex couples got married at the Tony Award-winning revival of Hair. Audience members rushed the stage to congratulate the newlyweds as "The Age of Aquarius" played.

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