Some have compared Sheldon Larry’s original musical Leave It on the Floor (2011) to Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole, as audiences delve into the wild subculture of LA’s Ball Culture. Yet somehow, it feels all the more appropriate to quote Dorothy: “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” Having been thrown out of the house by his homophobic single mother, Brad (Ephraim Sykes) winds up on the streets before falling in with the self-styled ‘House of Eminence’.
The house is a ragbag collection of gay, bi and transgender characters that compete in a series of monthly events where they must strut their stuff to beat their rival houses. When Brad attracts two of his fellow house mates, ruler of the roost Queef Latina (Barbie-Q) is royally unimpressed. Documentary film Paris is Burning (1990) first captured underground ball culture, which has it origins as far back as the 1930s. Larry, along with writer Glen Gaylord, take a much lighter, fun-filled approach to exposing this subculture, in what is an enjoyable, but flawed musical.
The plot is thin on the ground and lacks a level of emotional depth, resulting in the audience never truly caring about the characters. There are some good performances, most notably the House of Eminence’s mother Queef Latina and Phillip Evelyn’s glitz-bitch Princess Eminence. Stealing the show however is the impressive choreography by Frank Gatson Jr., the man responsible for Beyonce’s cult dance hit Single Ladies. The songs vary in quality, with lyrics provided by Gaylord, some missing the mark and others, including Justin’s Gonna Call, capturing the tone of the piece well.
More interesting is the idea of an original gay musical. Over the years, musicals, from the aforementioned The Wizard of Oz (1939) through to Chicago (2002), have been adopted by gay culture. What Leave It on the Floor does best is provide a film for a niche market that celebrates that subculture. Equally important is the predominantly black cast used, revealing a very different image to the typical black American male portrayed by the media.
As problematic as Leave It on the Floor remains, there is a great deal of fun to be had courtesy of Larry and the gang. The feel-good message audiences are ultimately left with is that these sisters are undeniably ‘doing it for themselves’.