The View Upstairs: Soho Theatre, London
Reviewed 25th July 2019
Inspired by the true story of the 1973 arson attack which was the largest single attack against the LGBTQ+ community until the Pulse Nightclub shootings in Florida in 2016, The View Upstairs is a musical about ‘friendship, community, how far we’ve come and how far we still have yet to go.’ Following Wes, a millennial fashion designer who has just brought an abandoned building which, unknown to him, used to be the Upstairs Lounge – a vibrant ’70’s gay bar. Max Vernon’s The View Upstairs is filled with love songs and powerful rock ballads and features a talented all-star cast including well-known West End performers Tyrone Huntley, Declan Bennet, Cedric Neal, John Partridge and making his first West End performance is Andy Mientus, well known on Broadway for shows such as Spring Awakening and in the hit NBC TV show Smash.
This European premiere of the show, which first hit Broadway stages in 2017, is simply stunning. Moving, emotional and yet fun at the same time. Its unique blend of history and modern day dilemmas works brilliantly. From the vibrant opening to the gut-wrenching finale the audience is taken on a journey – a journey which everyone should take.
The cast are phenomenal throughout the 95 minute show. Tyrone Huntley excels as Wes, the fame driven young entrepreneur. His rocky, husky vocals are utilised brilliantly in this production and the characters continual quest to be ‘a somebody’ not only refers to the LGBTQ+ element of the show but to the pressures and constraints that so many people feel from social media. It is Declan Bennett’s haunting characterisation as Dale, however, that stands out. Whilst his circumstances may differ from so many people it is his feelings of invisibility that countless people will be able to relate to. The anger and torment that he displays, along with the rock style of singing during ‘Better Than Silence‘ makes the song almost unbearable to watch. Again, Andy Mientus’ character Patrick has an awful back story, one that hopefully is less common now as we become more embracing of LGBTQ+, and his heartfelt, emotional characterisation during ‘Waltz (Endless Night)’ is stunning to watch. A mention must also go to Carly Mercedes Dyer whose vocals are scorching hot throughout, even during the heatwave temperatures. The entire cast are perfect in role! It is truly an ensemble piece and each performer is vital to the production.
Writer Max Vernon has managed to create something very special here. It pays homage to the victims of the atrocious 1973 arson attack, which was shrouded in secrecy for so long, whilst raising new issues including politics, social media and the continual persecution of some people for their freedom to express themselves. It doesn’t feel like a historical piece but instead is a fusion between the present and the past and serves to honour those who fought so that we could have the freedoms we now have. It is not over for the LGBTQ+ community. There are still battles to be won. But shows like this emphasise the importance to look back and see the journey those who came before us started and the feats they achieved.
With an outstanding cast, varied score and absolutely riveting story The View Upstairs is a must-see show of the summer; if not the year! Do not miss the chance to see this masterpiece for yourself.
The View Upstairs runs until the 24th August at the Soho Theatre in London. For tickets and information click here.
This review was originally written for and published by LondonTheatre1
Photo Credit: Darren Bell