Review: The View Upstairs (Circle Theatre)

| June 28, 2018

Kevin Webb stars as Wes in The View Upstairs, Circle Theatre Chicago            


The View Upstairs 
Book/Music/Lyrics by Max Vernon 
Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway (map)
thru July 22  |  tix: $30  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Beautifully tragic Chicago premiere


Averis I. Anderson and Kevin Webb star as Patrick and Wes in The View Upstairs, Circle Theatre Chicago

Circle Theatre Chicago presents
The View Upstairs

Review by Lauren Whalen

Stonewall. Matthew Shepard. Pulse. These moments in queer history have received copious news coverage and/or dramatizations of varying accuracy. However, the 1973 attack on New Orleans’ UpStairs Lounge was unknown by many until a New York Times article published in the aftermath of the 2016 Pulse shooting. Four years after the Stonewall Riots, an arsonist doused the stairs leading up to the New Orleans gay bar with gasoline, before ringing the doorbell and setting the place on fire. Though some patrons escaped through a back exit, the arson resulted in 32 deaths – and until Pulse, the Frederick Harris stars as Willy in The View Upstairs, Circle Theatre ChicagoUpStairs Lounge attack was the deadliest assault on a gay club in United States history. The View UpStairs, a musical about the last night of the UpStairs Lounge, premiered off-Broadway in February 2017 after several years of development. Its Chicago premiere, courtesy of Circle Theatre, is lovely and life-affirming, a beautifully tragic reminder of those who lost their lives simply for being themselves.

The View UpStairs begins in present day, when spoiled fashion designer Wes (Kevin Webb) purchases what used to be the UpStairs Lounge, intending to open his own store. He’s immediately transported back to 1973, when the Lounge was in full swing. A poster of nude Burt Reynolds presides over a colorful cast of characters who rely on the UpStairs Lounge as the only place they can truly be free. Wes quickly fits in, despite the patrons’ immediate distrust of his “surveillance device” (aka smartphone) and his insistence that gay marriage will someday be legal. When Wes meets the handsome, mysterious Patrick (Averis Anderson), sparks fly but major complications ensue.

With book, music and lyrics by Max Vernon, The View UpStairs offers a new-to-many peek into queer history, when cops regularly raided bars and made lewd comments to anyone who didn’t look completely straight. Vernon paints a compelling portrait of this diverse, ragtag bunch, infused with the party spirit New Orleans is known for and a dark fear unique to queer folk of the era, who knew they were never completely safe. Watching The View UpStairs, it’s amazing to see how much has changed – and how little. As Wes points out, gay marriage is legal – but who knows for how long? The President is now orange. Thirty years ago, a generation of gay men was virtually wiped out. Queer history is a long journey of one step forward and three steps back, and finding joy and love whenever possible is paramount. Though there were some sound issues on opening night, the dialogue is snappy and the songs are catchy, enhanced by Jon Martinez’s exuberant choreography. Director Derek Van Barham, always a winner, is clearly in his element with this quirky, important piece of theater.

Averis I. Anderson and Kevin Webb star as Patrick and Wes in The View Upstairs at Circle Theatre ChicagoKevin Webb stars as Wes in The View Upstairs at Circle Theatre Chicago Averis I. Anderson stars as Patrick in The View Upstairs, Circle TheatreKevin Webb as Wes, Selene Perez as the realtor in The View Upstairs, Circle Theatre Chicago

The View UpStairs has a supremely talented ensemble, each bringing unique characterization and stunning vocals to the table. Music director Jeff Bouthiette, who also plays piano onstage, shines as a closeted husband and father who must protect his identity and his family. Though Wes is sometimes drawn a bit too broadly, Webb’s angelic voice and fierce eyeliner more than make up for the character’s shortcomings. Anderson’s Patrick is charismatic yet tough, beautifully outlining his sad present and even sadder past. Rubén Meléndez Ortiz and Selene Perez supply the musical’s most compelling moments as a young drag queen and his supportive mother. And Caitlin Jackson’s sass is on full display in her portrayal of gruff lesbian bartender Henri. The View UpStairs is essential for anyone who wants to understand queer history or, really, humanity in general. Circle Theatre is a worthy company for the musical’s Chicago premiere, giving it every ounce of the care it deserves.

Rating: ★★★★

The View Upstairs continues through July 22nd at The Broadway, Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway (map), with performances Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 2:30pm.  Tickets are $30, and are available online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 1 hour 40 minutes without intermission)

Roy Samra and Juwon Tyrel Perry star in The View Upstairs, Circle Theatre Chicago

Photos by Cody Jolly Photography




Kevin Webb (Wes), Averis I. Anderson (Patrick), Jeff Bouthiette (Buddy), Frederick Harris (Willy), Caitlin Jackson (Henri), Rubén Meléndez Ortiz (Freddy), Selene Perez (Inez, Realtor), Eric Lindahl (Dale), Robert Quintanilla (Richard), Matt Frye (Cop)

Ensemble: Matt Frye, Jennifer Ledesma, Ben F. Locke, Cari Meixner, Juwon Tyrel Perry, Roy Samra

Understudies: Roy Samra, Juwon Tyrel Perry, Cari Meixner, Jennifer Ledesma, Ben F. Lock, Kaleb Van Rijswijck (swing)


Justin Harner (Synth/Conductor), Tyler Miles (Alternate Synth), Sam Harris, Robert Arcos (Guitars), Zach Suechting (Bass), Courtney McNally (Drums)

behind the scenes

Derek Van Barham (director), Jon Martinez (choreographer), Jeff Bouthiette (music director), Denise Yvette Serna (assistant director), Tyler Miles (assistant music director), JC Widman (stage manager), Jimmy Jagos (scenic design), Chris Tuttle (costume design), G. “Max” Maxin IV (lighting design, sound design), Bobby Arnold (co-producer, prop design), Nicholas Reinhart (co-producer, additional sound design & mixing), Sasha Smith (fight choreographer), Royen Kent (makeup consultant), Martina Scofano (assistant stage manager), Erin Daly (casting), Cody Jolly Photography (photos)

Kevin Webb stars as Wes in The View Upstairs, Circle Theatre Chicago


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Circle Theatre, Lauren Emily Whalen, Musical, Pride Arts Center

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