Broadway Backwards: a gender-bending good time for a good cause

Fake nails and falsettos filled Peters Theater Nov. 9 at the second annual Broadway Backwards. QUILTBAG, the LGBTQ+ student organization of William Jewell College, put on the evening of Broadway tunes. Spencer Ruwe, senior music performance and ACT-In double major, was in charge of planning and hosting the event. 

The Hilltop Monitor spoke with Ruwe about the premise of Broadway Backwards.

“It is a genderbent and binary breaking musical theater cabaret where students, faculty and staff perform musical theater songs, solos, groups and duets traditionally done by somebody of a different gender orientation than their own,” Ruwe said.

The funds collected from $5 general admission tickets, $10 luxury seating tickets and donation buckets went to support Broadway Cares: Equity Fights Aids, an organization that gives resources and educational materials to support those suffering with HIV.

“Now people with HIV live very happy and full lives and get to still perform on Broadway, so it’s good that we get to give back,” said Ruwe.

In New York City, actors on Broadway put on Broadway Backwards, which is where Ruwe got the idea for the event. The original Broadway Backwards has raised millions of dollars for HIV awareness and education through Broadway Cares: Equity Fights Aids. 

Ruwe and Cara Ellman, a 2018 graduate of Jewell, decided to put on a smaller Jewell-version for the first time last year.

“We were really unsure of how it was going to go but then we raised over $300 and we had I think 75 percent of the seats sold in the theater, it was a better event than we had ever thought it was going to be,” said Ruwe. 

Ruwe recalls that he performed “Candy Store” from the musical “Heathers” last year. 

“One of my favorite ones was Alex May, Larry Dahlsten and Reid Spencer performed ‘The Schuyler Sisters’ from ‘Hamilton,’” said Ruwe.

This year’s show included songs from hit musicals such as “Wicked,” “Waitress,” “West Side Story” and “Aladdin.” Nineteen performers volunteered their talents to make the night a success. 

“A large amount of the people performing are QUILTBAG members who also do theater or choir outside of it,” Ruwe said. “We also have some staff participation and an alumni member who is on faculty now, and then there is a good amount of theater students who are heavily involved in theater productions.” 

Reid Spencer, senior music major, performed “Dead Girl Walking” from “Heathers” alongside Jaimeson Satterfield, sophomore theater and psychology double major. The song, traditionally about a high school girl who breaks into her boyfriend’s bedroom to seduce him, was reimagined with two male voices. In the most comedic moment of the night, Satterfield and Spencer alluded to the seduction by throwing clothing items onto the stage from behind the curtain.

RJ Daniels, sophomore Oxbridge Music major, sang “I’m Changing My Major” from “Fun Home.” Daniels brought smiles to the audience through their giddy, earnest performance of a piece about Allison, a girl so in love with Joan that she wants to “change her major” to Joan.

Sequoia Crissman, sophomore theater major, took on “Hellfire” from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in addition to a duet from “Anything Goes” with Faith Harris, first-year musical theater major. Crissman demonstrated her versatility, first with the bubbly, energetic “Anything Goes,” and then with a dramatic, darker performance to suit the villainous “Hellfire.” 

Whether it be a duet or solo piece, heteronormative in nature or binary-breaking, all numbers performed at the event encouraged audience members to imagine the relationships and gender identities portrayed in Broadway and the media in new ways. 

“I think it’s really cool to get to see students and faculty members express their gender in a different way that we wouldn’t get to see normally, especially since we have some non binary students who are performing songs that traditionally people might not think that they would do well at,” said Ruwe.

Attendees of the event agreed. Ingrid Weaver, first-year Oxbridge Literature and Theory major, enjoyed Broadway Backwards with a group of friends.

“I really enjoyed Broadway Backwards because I got to see a variety of performances that were put on by a super talented group of Jewell students,” said Weaver. “I think it’s also great that all the money for the event went to a good cause.” 

This year’s event raised over $500 for Broadway Cares: Equity Fights AIDS – more than Ruwe’s goal. 

Visibility is a key part of the mission of the event. Ruwe remarked on wanting to emphasize the fluidity of gender. 

“We get kind of caught up in this really strict binary of male and female,” said Ruwe. “As a gender nonconforming male I don’t really dress the same way that a lot of men would dress, I have my nails painted, I’m kind of more feminine in my actions, and I think that it’s a cool opportunity to show people that gender is a spectrum and that it’s very fluid in its construction.”

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