by Ryan Leeds
On the surface, Howard Crabtree’s 1993 gay musical revue Whoop-Dee-Doo!, is pure frivolity that is sure to elicit chuckles, if not out loud laughs. Dig a bit deeper, however, and Crabtree’s witty lyrics are sure to resonate with anyone who has struggled with self-discovery and acceptance.
Masterworks Broadway recently released the original cast recording of the show (released in 1995), which is full of fun and catchy melodies. A peppy number reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters titled “Stuck on You” involves men dressed as flies who are affixed to flypaper:
“I’m stuck on you, like mud on a fender,
I’m stuck on you, like guacamole on the blade of a blender.”
Another track, “A Soldier’s Musical,” takes a look at a militia of masculine meat and potatoes who shun the newest member of their group, a banana:
“The new recruit is a fruit.
All you have to do is look and see.
You can’t expect him to shoot and fight a war as well as you or me.”
In the bluesy “I Was Born This Way,” Crabtree offer a hilarious, yet intellectual outlook on the reason for homosexuality, offering the suggestion that:
“Some people are fatter, some people are taller,
and now it seems some people’s hypothalamuses are smaller,
that’s why I like the Joffrey Ballet.”
“Tough to Be a Fairy” begins with a hard-knock lament from a group who feels as though they are becoming obsolete in modern fairy tales:
“These days it’s tough to be a fairy.
It’s a hairy situation sad to say.
Our population’s shrinking as our tribulations grow,
Sometimes we think extinction’s brink is closer than we know.”
It ends hopefully:
“Just remember when your spirits start to head down hill.
Hell, if we don’t believe in fairies, then who will!”
What really drove the show were the costumes. In his 1993 review of the show, Variety‘s Greg Evans wrote, “Charles Busch and Everett Quinton might squint from the glare. Crabtree dresses himself and the cast as insects, fairies, food, Nancy Reagan, and in the show’s capper, a summer picnic, and there’s not a dud in the bunch.” Still, the recording does a terrific job of igniting the listener’s imagination to what was obviously a delightfully garish spectacle.
From a historical perspective, the show was a breath of fresh air from more serious gay dramas that emerged in the 80s and 90s, much of which dealt with the AIDS epidemic and the fight to be taken seriously. Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy and Terrance McNally’s Love! Valour! Compassion!, all explored the darker, more challenging and literal life and death cycles of gay life.
When Whoop-Dee-Doo! opened, Tony Kushner’s sweeping drama, Angels in America was tackling the poltics of gay life further uptown. While Crabtree’s sketch show wasn’t nearly as polemical as the previously mentioned shows, it’s fun-filled facade should not be underestimated.
Nearly 25 years ago, gay men and women were fighting for recognition and equal rights. Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of same sex marriage, proving that we are winning the fight (although we should not rest in the false comfort that the struggle is over). Crabtree’s brand of camp humor begs us to ask the question whether self-deprecation is the answer to overcoming the opposition? Does Whoop-Dee-Doo! offer a protective shield which suggests that we can laugh at ourselves, or does it only perpetuate and reinforce stereotypes that heterosexual society already believes? Either way, Masterworks has provided an amusing and thought provoking conversation piece by capturing this historic gem in digital format.
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.