The pink triangle | Theater | Weekly style

Opera theater

Over the past fifty years, the pink triangle has become closely identified with LGBTQ+ pride, but some may be unfamiliar with its dark past; it was originally a badge of shame created by the Nazis to mark concentration camp prisoners who were incarcerated because they were homosexual.

While Hitler viewed gay men as a threat to his plans to “purify” Germany, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested for breaking anti-gay laws during the Nazi regime. About half were imprisoned; an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 were sent to concentration camps, where, according to one researcher, “they were subjected to the harshest conditions and treated as the lowest of the lowest in the camp hierarchy”.

Later reclaimed as a positive symbol of self-identity, the pink triangle has been embraced by both the LGBTQ+ community and the LGBTQ+ rights movement.

In “Singer: A Survival Musical,” a new show debuting this weekend at the Richmond Triangle Players, audiences are transported back to the genesis of the pink triangle. Created by local actor Alan Palmer, “Singer” tells the story of Werner, a gay man raised in London who comes to Berlin for college in the 1920s, a time when the city was a mecca for gay culture. As the Nazis take over, Werner tries to avoid imprisonment by adopting the appearance of his landlady after her death. During the show, Werner begins performing in nightclubs in character.

For “Singer,” Palmer did five years of research, including at the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial and Museum outside Berlin and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

“I was fascinated by the Holocaust,” says Palmer, who also stars in the solo show. “I ended up researching the gay people who had been taken away, and there aren’t many stories about it. … With the Jewish population, they passed on stories of their heritage from generation to generation, whereas the gay people of the time, the families didn’t really talk about [them].”

Palmer has previously performed on the Triangle stage, including creating his cabaret “The Fabulous Divas of Hollywood” where he performed 18 different divas from the silver screen. He has a long stage and screen career that includes 1,500 performances of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, appearing in “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber” at Radio City Music Hall with Michael Crawford and playing Corcus, a Alien Ranger, on the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”.

“It was really just a moment of work that I did,” Palmer says of his three months of filming as Power Ranger; he still attends comic book conventions and other events as a guest. “It was fun meeting fans.”

To create the musical, Palmer collaborated with friend and colleague David Legg, who performed events at Carnegie Hall and appeared in musicals. Palmer wrote the lyrics to “Chanteuse” and Legg composed the jazz-influenced score. In the Richmond show, Palmer will be backed by a quartet consisting of saxophone, bass, piano and percussion.

Leading the show is Dorothy Danner, an accomplished director of more than 200 operas, operettas and musicals, including with Glimmerglass, Julliard, the Boston Pops and the Virginia Opera. As a performer, she appeared several times on Broadway, as well as in the film version of “The Producers”.

“Boy, she jumped in [the show] feet first. It was such a fun collaboration to work with her,” says Palmer of Danner, adding that she lived with him during this final stage of preparation for the show. “We just eat, sleep and breathe this production. She constantly brings things to the table.

The production also received help from Danner’s film and TV actress sister Blythe (Gwyneth Paltrow’s mother), who lent the show a then-appropriate German trunk.

In the lobby of Triangle will be a “pop-up” museum of exhibits that will provide additional information about the period, including photos of men who were imprisoned for being gay, memorials, a replica of a concentration camp shirt and exhibits about gay life in Berlin at the time.

Palmer says he had planned to take the musical to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago, but the pandemic canceled those plans. Although Palmer previously performed a 15-minute staged reading of “Singer” in San Francisco, Richmond will be the show’s first full performance. Palmer plans to bring the show to London later this year.

“I really hope people will come out and give new work a chance,” says Palmer. “[‘Chanteuse’] is a very solid and truthful piece that really gives heart to this period.

The Richmond Triangle Players’ “Singer: A Survival Musical” runs Jan. 13-23 at the Robert B. Moss Theater, 1200 Altamont Ave. For more information, call (804) 346-8113 or visit rtriangle.org.