“Rent:Live,” or Where Have All the Drag Queens Gone?

Last week’s live performance of the early ‘90s musical “Rent” on Fox TV made some changes to the original stage script by the late Jonathan Larson. Foremost among these, the character “Angel,” who Larson had written as a drag queen, was changed to a transwoman, which New York magazine’s Vulture site confirms.

In the original, Angel’s lover, Collins, referred to Angel as “he” in several pivotal scenes, including after Angel’s death, although in the original characters did use “she” when referring to Angel in drag.

As Vulture reports:

Again in an effort to fully establish Angel as a female-identifying character, Collins interrupted the bickering of “Goodbye Love” last night to express his sorrow: “I can’t believe she’s gone; I can’t believe you’re going,” he says, turning to Roger. In the original, he says of Angel, “I can’t believe he’s gone.”

There’s nothing wrong with having a transwoman as a character, but that’s not who Angel was. Collins, Angel’s lover, identifies himself a gay man who likes guys even if they like to cross dress.

A few years ago, a Fox TV version of “The Rocky Horror Show” cast a transwoman, Laverne Cox, as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, another character who was famously a drag queen transvestite and not, in fact, a transwoman. Which raises the issue of whether it is now too politically incorrect to allow presentations of gay men who are drag queens, even if that’s who they were originally meant to be.

As Andrew Sullivan wrote recently, “Contemporary transgender ideology is not a complement to gay rights; in some ways it is in active opposition to them.”

7 Comments for ““Rent:Live,” or Where Have All the Drag Queens Gone?”

  1. posted by Jorge on

    (Well first, I’m not a big fan of Rent at all, though not because of Angel. More like every character besides Angel.)

    It was another time. The sources of insecurity and despair that bounced off of La Boheme’s Musetta were not the same as those the old Angel stood in contrast against. Today a new hero is needed to deny the meaning of fear. It is not wrong to share with this generation the lesson that… self-assuredness can be taught anywhere.

    But the examples you pick may have to be relevant to them. It is not much different than the creative direction Hamilton took to become so successful.

    • posted by Jorge on

      (Oh, and let me tell you, that gender confusion in the original script threw me for a loop. Part of the charm.)

  2. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    I refuse to get caught up in the conservative hysteria about transgender issues, but 30 years ago drag was a lot of fun, part of the scene.

    I have a handful of friends who did drag, a couple of them really well, and I it was entrancing, a kind of magic. I only did drag once (a friend who was an accomplished drag artist talked me into doing Minnie Pearl for a fundraiser, and coached me from beginning to end). I discovered that drag is both an art form and a lot harder than it looks.

    I was also just unadulterated fun. So if drag is really going away, I think that it is a shame. But like so many things that gay conservatives are alarmed about these days, I suspect that the death of drag is much ado about nothing, just another manifestation of the conservative version of Grumpy Cat cross bred with Chicken Little.

    My guess is that as long as there are gay men, there will be drag. I hope so, anyway. I would hate to see gays turn into a bunch of drones, to see the joy of cross-dressing disappear. The gay clone days of the 1970’s was bad enough.

    • posted by Jorge on

      I decided to browse for scenes of To Wong Foo, which I have to say has aged exceptionally well. Wesley Snipes’s definition of a drag queen as a gay man with “way too much fashion sense for one gender”… is kinda what tells me there won’t be too many dedicated drag queens in the future. Not in the century of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”, or the “Metrosexual”. There is a vast space in between mainstream and exotic that more people will freely fill in. This is a good thing.

    • posted by Mike King & David "TJ" Bauler on

      Shocking! Call FOX NEWS.

  3. posted by Kosh III on

    “There you go again” St Reagan

    Tennessee bills would allow adoption agencies to deny LGBT couples on religious grounds


    Spoonsored by a GOP Senator who has been married and divorced 4 times, had an affair with his cousin and gave her opiods(he’s a MD)

    “Woe unto you….hypocrites” Matthew 23:1

  4. posted by Kosh III on

    “There he goes again”

    Tennessee bills would allow adoption agencies to deny LGBT couples on religious grounds


    The bill is by a MD and GOP Senator who has been married and divorced FOUR times, had an affair with an employee who was also his cousin and was accused of giving her opiods.

    “Woe unto you…hypocrites” Matthew 23:1

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