Credit: Cody Jolly Photography

It was less than a year ago that Wayne Self’s UpStairs: The Musical was produced at the Pride Arts Center, so it
would be reasonable for audiences to confuse it with Circle Theatre’s
current production of Max Vernon’s unrelated 2017 musicalThe View UpStairs. It’s sort of an Armageddon/ Deep Impact situation. But considering how far the two shows
deviate from a similar starting point, a more apt analogy might be Gremlins and Gremlins 2.

Both musicals dramatize elements of the 1973 UpStairs Lounge firebombing in
New Orleans, which killed 32 people and was, until the 2016 Pulse nightclub
massacre, the deadliest assault on a gay bar in U.S. history. The twist in The View UpStairs, directed by Derek Van Barham, is a time
traveler from 2017 who needs to learn a lesson. In short, on the last night
of their lives, a group of perfectly lovely gay people minding their own
business must teach the World’s Worst Gay White Man (“I’m a basic bitch . .
. just give me a pumpkin spice latte and get it over with!”) the value of
community and life beyond accumulating social media followers.

All this might be the makings of a broad, self-aware comedy at the
Annoyance, but they’re employed here in earnest to curious results. In a
100-minute show, it’s hard to see much beyond the central character and
framing device, but there are some touching stories and moments on the
periphery, like a mother (Selene Perez) lovingly applying makeup to the
face of her drag queen son (Rubén Meléndez Ortiz) to cover his bruises. A
brief a cappella prayer showcases the capable ensemble’s vocal chops, even
if Vernon’s blandly pop-rock score by and large does not.   v