Taboo is a musical portrait of London in the early 1980s, a time which found its rebellious expression in flamboyant fashion and decadent nightlife. Taboo focuses on two young men - Leigh Bowery, a brilliant performance artist and designer (played by Boy George) and George O’Dowd (played by Euan Morton), a young man who becomes the surprising star of the scene as "Boy George." Both men’s stories are played out against the fantastic background of Taboo, the real life club that had come to symbolize the mad excess and decadent fun of a time and place that left a lasting influence on music and fashion.
Song titles include "Freak/Ode to Attention Seekers," "Stranger in This World," "Safe in the City," Genocide Peroxide," "I'll Have You All," "Pretty Lies," "Guttersnipe," "Love Is a Question Mark," "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," "Everything Taboo," "Talk Amongst Yourselves," "I See Through You," "Ich Bin Kunst," "Petrified," "Out of Fashion," "Il Adore" and also 4 new songs: "Dress to Kill," "Sexual Confusion," "The Fame Game," and "Come On in From the Outside".
Click on the thumbnails below to view the flyers and Playbill in high resolution !
First Broadway flyer
Second Broadway flyer
What moved you so much about this piece ?
Well the music you know, the play was not really as linearly enticing as it could have been, we didn’t really learn very much about Leigh Bowery, or Sue Tilley was a tiny character and Nicola wasn’t in the show. What happened was I saw it, I heard the music and I was overwhelmed. I went home and researched everything I could about Leigh Bowery and Steve Strange, and then I thought if we could concentrate on 6 or 7 characters instead of the 12 that they featured there we could really structure the play in such a way that it was accessible to everyone. Basically it’s the stuff great musicals are made of, it’s a disenfranchised member of society who finds a family in a place that other people are surprised he does, and in the end learns to accept himself. It’s the basic moral theme of South Pacific
, it’s the basic moral theme of Rent
or of Hairspray
, to accept people as they are and not to judge.
First I was little apprehensive because I had lots of plans of my own, things I wanted to do and then Rosie O’Donnell - whom I did not know - said to me "Why don’t you just come to London with me for the weekend and meet Boy George", (…) so I went and I really enjoyed the show. I loved the music, I was totally enraptured with Euan Morton who played the young Boy George. And I thought I sort of identified that the London of the early eighties and this kind of crazy fashion music performance I had seen was actually rather similar to what I had experienced in the East Village in the mid-eighties. I kind of identified with the young Boy George trying to find himself and where he is as a creative person. I thought I had something to offer and I said "OK, I’ll do it."
It’s really a completely different book (…) I actually went back to Boy George’s autobiography Take It Like A Man
which is a fantastic book and so detailed that you don’t do any more research after that !
I decided to focus on 2 stories, the story of the young Boy George and then that of Leigh Bowery. And there were characters that weren’t in the original musical, [like] Nicola who was Leigh Bowery’s muse and ultimately his wife. Big Sue was Leigh Bowery’s best friend and finally his biographer and I thought the relationship between these 2 women was a really fascinating one.
I was very excited by the idea of being involved in a musical but I thought, as when I met Rosie I thought I’ll never see him again, because you meet so many people with different ideas all the time and very few of those ideas ever come to fruition. So when Chris actually came back again and again and seemed very serious that’s when I started to get excited by it.
What did you want to bring to the piece, what did you want to say with it to an audience ?
Well I wanted it to be emotional, and I wanted it to be more than just a kind of surface camp portrayal of people that dress up. Because people tend to judge you by what you wear and if you look a certain way people deem you shallow or... that you’ve got nothing else to offer the world, which is not true.
I’m a huge fan of [Boy George's] work. I felt I wanted to do something different after The King and I
and I said to my agent "Do you know who I really want to meet ?" and he said "Who?" and I said "Boy George" and he said "oh I’m just handling a tour for Culture club, that’s easy" so I went off to London to meet him. It was very simple, like 3 weeks later. On the plane I’d read a book about Leigh Bowery […] and I said "Do you want to do a musical?" and he said "Yeah I’d love to write a musical." It was very simple. I said "I’ve just read this book, why don’t we try and join the two stories and do something about that whole period." He didn’t want to do his life story per se but he loved the idea of that whole world out of which he was born and Leigh was born and so much was born.
What did you admire the most about Boy George and the time period of the eighties?
I admired so much that they, he, and so many people had the courage to do what I didn’t have the courage to do. When I was 19 and 20 I wanted to be an opera director, hanging around Covent Garden, I was a little conservative and I did what my mummy said and later in life I looked back at those guys and the courage they had and I felt by doing this show it was a way of me discovering a part of myself that had never really come out when I was 20.
I was thrilled when Rosie saw it and said "come here" because it gave me a chance to further develop and enrich, and especially with the eye on a proscenium theatre and not a cabaret style, which meant that I felt I could broaden it, develop it. I really enjoyed Charles’s idea of the 2 women in Leigh’s life, [...] that was all new for Broadway which I think gives it a sort of perspective: it's not just weird people, it’s ALL people, women, men flourished and grew out of that period.
It is a bit of a whirlwind. I did the show in London for 16 months, I joined in the workshop when it was in its conception and then did the show in London. There was talk about it coming to Broadway, Rosie O’Donnell had come to see the show, said she really enjoyed it and she was interested in bringing it to Broadway and of course everyone sat back and went "oh yeah we’ll never see her again". And all of a sudden they handed me a visa and a passport and went "Right, you’re going to America now" ! I’ve never been here before, this is my first time in America, it’s my first musical as well. When you see it come from the small theatre that it was in in London, it was only a 300-seat theatre with a small budget and suddenly with this huge budget and this big theatre in the middle of Broadway, it’s kind of a bit of a dream come true. I’m very nervous as well, there are a lot of things riding on this but hopefully if it’s received as it has been recently then we should do very well, and it’s been great fun to be part of, even if it doesn’t go well it’s a great thing to be a part of.
What is it like playing a pop icon and working one on one with him?
George has made it actually quite easy. I’ve known George for about 2 and a half years now and when we first sat down to discuss me playing this role he never once said "I wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t say that, I wouldn’t be like that". He allowed me to have the freedom to interpret the character for myself. He was kind of around helping me build the relationships I would have had with say Philip Sallon, or Marilyn, or Big Sue and he’s been so supportive and has given me so much freedom to find this for myself that it’s actually been really easy.
The hardest thing now, because we’ve changed the script a bit here, is I work on stage with Leigh Bowery the character a lot more than I did in London and of course that’s played by George and that’s quite difficult, working on dressed as Boy George and there’s Boy George dressed as Leigh Bowery and that’s sometimes a little "Oh my God". But actually he’s been brilliant, he’s made it very easy.
You can watch these interviews on www.broadwaybeat.com
(Official Japanese website)
Selection of articles
The Face (1987)
8-page article with a lot of pictures devoted to the REAL Taboo club and to the lives of some of the REAL people who used to go there like Trojan, Leigh Bowery. Learn how Trojan tried to cut his ear off and how nothing could shock them at Taboo. A must-read.
by Paul Webb (18 June 2002)
, an essay by Boy George on Taboo
, Boy George on Taboo
Photo of Euan and Boy George published courtesy of Ben Strothmann.