The View Upstairs is an incredible and provocative musical by Max Vernon that tells the story of the night of 24 June 1973. On the last night of New Orleans Pride an arsonist, who has never been caught, set fire to a bar, the Upstairs Lounge in the French Quarter of the city resulting in the deaths of 32 people.
The play is at times moody and sultry and then again effervescent and at the heart of this seminal work is a tour de force performance by Tyrone Huntley as Wes. In one of the most incredible ensemble casts I have seen this season also standing out are John Partridge as Buddy, Cedric Neal as Willie, Andy Mientus as Patrick, Victoria Hamilton- Barritt in a riveting performances as Inez and Garry Lee as Freddy.
The play is set in 21st Century New Orleans with Wes looking to become a ‘brand’ a social media superstar, so he buys the burnt out ruins of the Upstairs Lounge with plans to gut it and turn it into his flag ship store. Then the ghosts appear telling him the story of the fatal night. There are moments of complete ecstasy in this spectacular musical with the characters that Vernon has created demonstrating a range of emotions from subdued to boiling point. The high quality songs serve the story well with a rock ’n’ roll ballad feel and some extremely beautifully lyrics. A stand out part of the play is when Declan Bennett as Dale sings ‘Better Than Silence’.
Vernon is making a statement with this musical about commerce over community and the power of money, but at its heart is a wonderful tribute to the real people that died on that terrible night. It’s based on a well informed and researched look at gay society in the American deep south of the times. This is a trail blazer of a show with an outstanding cast who received a well deserved ovation at the end. Top Draw entertainment skilfully directed by Jonathan O Boyle.