Review of Some of My Best Friends Are… at the Missouri History Museum

    The crowd at the Missouri History Museum was large and exuberant on October 20 for the splendid 33rd anniversary production of Some of My Best Friends Are… In 1989, the show was the first musical produced in Missouri that brought lesbian and gay male identities into a shared space.

    The driving force behind the original presentation was That Uppity Theatre Company’s Joan Lipkin. Two ideas came together in the creation on the work:

    • Recognizing the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a series of spontaneous protests by members of the gay community against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.
    • Challenging the Missouri Sexual Misconduct Law, which criminalized sexual activity between people of the same sex.

    Lipkin’s conception was a piece with songs and sketches that would be inclusive and welcoming to all. Her principal collaborators were composer Tom Clear, who wrote the songs, and musical director Larry Pressgrove, who arranged them.

    The reunion was not a full recreation of the 1989 show. Because some of the original cast members were unavailable, the original framing device had to be omitted. It was a series of sketches about Frank and Sheila, a closeted heterosexual couple trying to navigate a predominantly homosexual world.

    Lipkin was master of ceremony for the reunion, providing useful context and commentary in conversation with Pressgrove. The returning cast members for the semi-staged production were Kate Durbin, Bill Ebbesmeyer, Terry Meddows, Steve Milloy, Mary Schnitzler, and Christy Simmons. They were all excellent. Also back from the original staging was production manager and lighting designer, Becca Minton-Holmes.

    The first number opened with a striking effect using a video clip from the original production, which was taped by Double Helix Corporation. The clip began with a very young-looking Ebbesmeyer starting to perform “Hoosier Boy,” a paean to the singer’s infatuation with a young man who “works at the Amoco at Connecticut and Grand” and “also busses tables at the Steak ’n Shake on Gravois.” After the first stanza, Ebbesmeyer came onstage and continued the song to Pressgrove’s accompaniment on piano.

    The second number, “No Billing,” was a self-referential acknowledgement of the difficulties a pioneering gay and lesbian revue had to surmount. Businesses did not want buy ads, media outlets did not want to publish stories, and actors did not want to audition.

    Despite these obstacles, Some of My Best Friends Are… was a hit. It was voted “Best Play of the Year” in the Riverfront Times, and every performance was a sellout in the theater on the lower level of the St. Marcus Church. Originally called The Other Fox, the St. Marcus Theatre became a key venue for alternative theater during the 1990s.

    “In the Name of Science” was a parody of academic condescension toward the gay community. Simmons played Dr. Mildred Mead, an anthropologist doing field work in a gay bar.

    In “Role Playing,” sung by Simmons and Schnitzler, the key line was “I’m tired of people choosing roles for me, I’ve decided what I’m gonna be.”

    The question, “Is it true, what I hear about black men?” was the impetus for the number, “Is it True?” In it, Milloy lashed out at all stereotyping.

    In “Old Flannel Shirt,” Durbin’s character reminisced about a garment she associates with everything she is leaving behind after getting grown-up clothes for a grown-up job.

    “The Boys in Blue” was a sketch in which two policemen, Bobby (Ebbesmeyer) and Rick (Milloy), discussed a crackdown on gay men scheduled for the next day in Forest Park. Only at the end of the scene did it become clear that one of the men is in the closet.

    In “Circle Game,” Durbin, Schnitzler, and Simmons sang about how women’s relationships are different from men’s because, “after we break up, we’re still friends.”

    The most poignant sketch was about two young children at a playground. Durbin’s Bethy explained to Meddows’ Tommy that she doesn’t have a daddy. She has a mommy and a Linda, who is Bethy’s other mommy.

    “The Meeting” was genial parody about how hard it is for a group to reach consensus, even when everyone is committed to the same cause. This time, the cause was “the Women’s Take Back the Night Coalition Mobilization,” but the insights of this sketch were universal.

    The show’s most memorable song title was “Kitten with a Whip.” Simmons’ performance was equally memorable.

    The final number was “There’s a Judge in my Bedroom,” a protest against the Missouri Sexual Misconduct Law. As always, Clear’s words and music were delightful.

    A segment at the end of the show allowed members of the audience to say what the 1989 production meant to them. The heartfelt testimonials and spirited audience response to them left no doubt that the 33rd anniversary of Some of My Best Friends Are… was an occasion worth celebrating.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Anne Taussig
    Back row from left: Larry Pressgrove, Christy Simmons, Kate Durbin, Mary Schnitzler, Steve Milloy, Bill Ebbesmeyer, and Terry Meddows.
    Front right: Joan Lipkin.