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Trevor, Diana Ross, and the Persistence of Gay Bullying

The director of the world-premiere musical talks about the lack of progress against homophobia, Chicago theater vs. New York theater, and more

Trevor   Photo: Saverio Truglia

Up next in our series of interviews with notable, in-the-know locals: Marc Bruni, director of the world-premiere musical Trevor at the Writers Theatre. The show’s pre-Broadway run started previews this week.

The show follows a gay teenager who’s bullied for his sexuality. What made you want to direct it?

I’d seen the 1994 film on which it’s based. I was drawn to Trevor as a character. He’s reminiscent of anybody who’s had a passion for something the rest of the world doesn’t—in his case, Diana Ross. He resonates with our cast, even though the show is set in 1981, a time you’d think we’d have moved past. But in fact, the climate of bullying and marginalization has only become more apparent in the last year.

How would you describe the musical’s sound?

It’s an amalgam of musical styles. Two-thirds of the show is original music, and the rest is Diana Ross. We use about six Diana Ross songs at various places in the show, whenever Trevor looks to his idol.

The plot deals a lot with self-harm. How did you let those themes play out onstage?

Peggy Rajski, who directed the film, said she was setting out to make a piece of entertainment—but one that was respectful of those themes. Hopefully we’re doing the same thing. We want Trevor to depict a joyous boy who’s forced to a very low place by the circumstances around him.

You’ve worked in both Chicago and New York. How do you compare the two theater scenes?

I love working in Chicago. It’s a very theater-driven town. The audiences are intelligent and thoughtful. I can think of no better place than Chicago to test out this show—to see how seasoned theatergoers react to it. Plus, Writers Theatre has a new facility, and it’s an extremely inspiring environment to work in.

Your Trevor recently performed at a benefit for the Trevor Project, a nonprofit that staffs hotlines for LGBTQ teenagers. Can you speak about your affiliation with the group?

When Peggy released the film in the ’90s, she wanted to include a hotline for people who need help. But when she called the existing teen suicide hotlines, she couldn’t get anybody on the phone. So she launched the Trevor Project, and it’s really blossomed. There’s a shared message between the nonprofit and this musical, in terms of providing resources for kids who feel like they have nowhere to turn. As the musical gets done more often, it will elevate the issue.

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