My mother came to visit New York this weekend and I took her to see Jersey Boys, which she had wanted to see for a while. Jersey Boys is your typical jukebox musical whose success is firmly established in the familiarity of the songs used, in this case, Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. The story around the jukebox musicals never matter, what matters is that you, as a fan of he Four Seasons get to experience the music live on Broadway with a bunch of other enthusiastic fans.
Probably why they’re written for the cheap seats. I’m surprised there weren’t more fart jokes. It’s that type of art–low brow but still enjoyable. Halfway through the show a recognizable character-type sauntered out, a stock Liberace, prancing sissy record producer who lisps dramatically but also cruelly challenges Frankie Valli’s band to be better before he puts them on a record. He’s the product of lazy heterosexual writing as documented in Vito Russo’s The Celluloid Closet. It’s important that the sissy is sissy enough to elicit knowing laughter from the audience, but not sissy enough that we accidentally witness his sexual urges, because if a prancing queen grows a third dimension then straight sexuality might just crash and burn.
Every good little homo student knows this, studies it, identifies it in popular culture and cringes at it. I would too, especially with my mom right next to me, but I didn’t this time. I smiled at this character, laughed even. To the show’s credit, he wasn’t violently dehumanized, he had a lot of snappy lines, made a lot of pertinent points about the survival of the band too.
Still, it wasn’t that this was a good character, it was really a matter of who i was and what time it was. Post-gay pride, post-gay marriage ruling, post-a week of gays of all types and colors getting “uppity” and political. My mom pointed at her playbill and asked me “what is this?” I thought she was referring to the rainbow flag laid on top of the usually yellow header on the front of the bill but she was simply referring to the word Playbill. The Playbill itself was a Pride issue, full of interviews with Broadway and Non-Broadway gays. She tucked it into her bag for safekeeping.
Did it matter how my mother had come to this point? Flown to New York to meet my fiance, Anthony. To spend time with me? What really mattered was that she had talked to my fiance, shared stories about me being a kid, laughed together. Mom told my little sister she read my article in Slate and that she agreed with me about the limits of our love, but that she felt she loved me unconditionally, and maybe this trip was her way of showing that.
The sissy character from Jersey Boys re-emerged in the later act of the musical, but what I found even funnier this time was the construction around him. How the actors on stage would speak their parts, and as their spotlights dimmed, they’d bend forward into the shadows and scurry off stage pushing pieces of furniture with them so that other actors could push pieces of set on stage, land on their mark, and speak their lines as aggrieved-wife or pissed-off-Frankie-Valli. It was almost as if this musical was a concoction of the Gays, a means to an end, to get the straights to come to experience the extreme fagginess of a musical, but to do so by easing them into it, by playing up a sissy type. I laughed because I truly pitied heterosexuals who could buy into this so easily. It was funny because I never felt that pity before.
I was sure of who I was. Were they?
I didn’t trick my mom, I told her, bluntly, that I was getting married this year, and she showed up and met my fiance and she did her best. I think we had both done our best, and in doing our best we achieved something more important than Revolution, we achieved Peace. Peace can’t be something that lasts forever, not how I feel it now. It feels like something we’ve worked on, and then achieve it, it plateaus, then ends, and all we have is that moment that we associate with song. In my case, these silly and stupid Four Seasons songs now hold a new nostalgia.
It was raining outside the Jersey Boys theater and we had one umbrella. I opened it and my mom took my arm and said “no te preocupes, solo necessito tu mano mientras pasa esta lluvia” (Don’t worry, I only need your arm while this rain falls). She said it as if I would be embarrassed to have my mother on my arm. She didn’t understand that this never bothered me, and that–in fact–I never wanted to hold my mother’s arm more than I did at that very moment.