There’s something about a show tune that, when it lands just right, feels like transcendence. Think of the declarative 11 o’clock numbers designed to raise the roof; the fast-paced patter songs littered with wordplay; the “I want” songs that do better than most of us ever could at naming our desires. Frequent Sondheim director Lonny Price described it as songs that take you “north of the floor”; songs that lift you up, that feel like flying.
Based on your response to that paragraph, you’ll already know if a musical theatre nightclub sounds like a dream or your nightmare. But those who get it, get it. And if you love a show tune, the new pop-up party Club Broadway – at which DJ and queer party promoter Dan Murphy plays only show tunes, all night – is for you.
The night – which coming to Melbourne on 11 June, before a Sydney showing in July – is certainly for me. I’ve been writing about musicals for more than a decade. I’ve paid my respects at both Marie’s Crisis and Ellen’s Stardust Diner, two New York City show tune singalong venues. I know which of my friends prefers to take the Marius role when Les Mis act-one closer One Day More comes up on shuffle.
These sorts of parties have been hugely popular in the US and UK, but here in Australia, we need them more than they do. Many musicals don’t ever make it down under, or run once and never return; they end up existing solely as memories or as cast recordings.
Maybe that’s why those of us who love them seem a little bit intense when we get together.
Enter: Club Broadway, which was held for only the second time on Friday night at the Imperial Erskineville in Sydney’s inner west. When my friends and I descended into the basement, we were greeted by Welcome to Baltimore, the peppy opening number from Hairspray. It was still early, and the crowd – mostly white, dotted with tight circles of friends – was warming up. They gulped liquid courage and their singing slowly built to a roar during back-to-back Hamilton tracks. And then we began to perform for each other.
Have you ever serenaded your friends? This crowd – and me and my crowd – did exactly that. Some were clearly old routines from parties and amateur productions; you could see the well-oiled divvying up of parts and long-practised gestures. The vibe was charmingly sincere and eager to please, as if a living room gathering got an upgrade: all of the lights switching to dramatic green while you’re singing Defying Gravity, and none of the anxiety about annoying the neighbours as you Both Reached for the Gun.
It’s like karaoke with your whole body – or, as they sing in another Hairspray number, your heart keeping time to the speed of sound. There’s something sublime about being with your people, and I couldn’t have loved my friends more in that moment if I tried.
But Club Broadway does also indulge the other side of the Broadway fan: the kind that wants to take their audience captive. While pop-up performances are a nightlife standard, it felt fraught at a party based on performance music that wasn’t in performance mode. It split the crowd into viewer and viewed, splintering the energy that had been bouncing between us.
And as partygoers were encouraged to take the stage themselves, the basement felt less comfortable. It also drew more attention to the curation; I’m not sure we should be encouraging a largely white audience to disrespectfully, loudly, flub the Zulu lyrics that open The Lion King’s Circle of Life.
Club Broadway will be heading to Melbourne in June before it returns to Sydney in July, and it will continue to evolve. Can it encourage its audiences to let go without seeking the limelight? Can we feel safe enough to translate into a communal act the vulnerability of singing feelings into words?
No wonder everything felt better when I just turned back towards my loved ones and sang and danced with them. We knew we were safe in each other’s hands, no matter how goofy or sincere. There, we could let go and sing out Louise and just feel the magic.
Club Broadway’s next event will be held on 11 June at Sircuit Bar in Fitzroy, Melbourne, before another Sydney event on 15 July and more TBA