LGBT musicals that shaped a generation

As February is LGBT History Month (, we thought it appropriate to pay tribute to some of the most progressive stories from the stage. Over the last 20 years, the vibrant, activist spirit of some musicals became a staple of popular culture, weaving itself into the societal fabric of today. The influence of popular culture on public attitudes has always been formidable, and with the ability to change both hearts and minds, has played a monumental part in the transition to acceptance.

Musical theatre has long been an outlet of expression for the community, providing a safe, creative environment for diversity to flourish. The celebration and recognition of the LGBT community goes beyond waving a flag, and in uncertain times, these shows serve as reminders that we can celebrate all love, all the time.


As the acclaimed rock musical celebrates its 20th anniversary, it’s a story that still resonates with audiences today. A contemporary take on La Boheme, the beloved musical is rich with sexually diverse characters and tells a gritty tale of poverty stricken artists in Manhattan’s West Village. A story about AIDS, love and friendship set against the cultural backdrop of New York bohemia, Rent won a coveted Tony award in 1996, along with the Pulitzer Prize for drama in the same year.

Perhaps one of the greatest LGBT characters in musical theatre, the sweet natured Angel is living with AIDS. While her story is tragic, her character and vibrancy is at the heart of the musical, as she embodies self-acceptance, diversity and living life with love.

The current UK production of Rent is on tour across the country, and will join us in the Donald Gordon Theatre in April. Make sure you catch the latest revival, starring Eurovision and X Factor contestant Lucie Jones!

Kinky Boots

Adapted from the 2005 of the same name, Kinky Boots has made a mark on theatre during its short time. Written by Harvey Fierstein and music by Cyndi Lauper, the striking musical made its way to the West End in 2015 and opened to rave reviews.

Kinky Boots turns the shoe business into show business, telling the tale of Charlie Price, a man struggling to run the family business. With the fate of his father’s shoe business hanging in the balance, he is inspired by a cabaret and drag queen performer, Lola, to produce a line of thigh high red stiletto boots.

A warm tale of subverting stereotypes and embracing acceptance, the musical tells audiences to conquer their fears and overthrow prejudice, with charm and glamour to boot.

The Color Purple

Based on the novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple (musical) follows one woman’s fight to overcome incredible odds in pursuit of life and love against the backdrop of a vastly segregated American Deep South.

The emotive musical has proved as culturally significant as its literary counterpart over the past 12 years – earning an impressive 13 Tony Awards during its two Broadway runs.

From its initial stage debut in 2005, The Color Purple (musical) has captivated the hearts and minds of its audiences by exploring themes of racial tension, sexuality, prejudice and women’s rights.

It offers an unapologetic and heartbreaking glimpse into the life of women in a rural community in the 1930s and their struggle for equality and love. It is also celebrated for exploring women’s sexuality and their acceptance of that, during an era where women were largely not in control of their own destiny.

Stars of this empowering drama have previously included Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson and former Destiny’s child star Michelle Williams.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

The acclaimed show follows the story Hedwig Schmidt, an East German transvestite dealing with the complications and aftermath of gender reassignment surgery, Hedwig and the Angry Inch has become a favourite among theatre audiences.

While this specific story is hardly considered mainstream, it is loved for its authentic portrayal of a modern and honest hero. Tackling themes of beauty, anger and mutilation, Hedwig is known as one of theatre’s most physically demanding roles for actors.

The latest Broadway incarnation of the famed rock musical began its journey in 2014 before closing in 2015, and racked up a whopping eight Tony nominations, winning four in 2014. During its 18-month run, it starred theatrical household names Neil Patrick Harris, Michael C. Hall, Darren Criss and Taye Diggs.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

With over 500 extravagant costumes and 200 spectacular headdresses, this warm and uplifting musical chronicles the journey of three friends who take a transformational journey across the Australian outback on an old battered bus lovingly nicknamed Priscilla.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert tackles gender, sexuality, tolerance, and acceptance all in one fun adventure played out to a soundtrack of pop music classics.

Boasting worldwide critical acclaim, the award-winning show is the ultimate crowd-pleasing party, filled with glitz, colour and laughter.


The Rocky Horror Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show has long been a cult classic for movie and theatre fans alike. The debauchery began 40 years ago, and the story of Dr. Frank N.Furter and newly engaged couple Brad and Janet, has been a firm favourite for bringing LGBT rights into the spotlight.

Before hitting cinema screens, The Rocky Horror Show (as it was originally titled), began on the theatre stage in 1973. As popularity began to grow, the wacky show became a phenomenon, and became known as a safe place for LGBT men and women to come together. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is now a crown jewel of cult classics, and continues to inspire new generations of audiences.

Did your favourite show make our list? Let us know your favourite LGBT story or character over on Twitter @theCentre/@yganolfan or Facebook