Villaintines Day Queer Cabaret subverts the musical narrative

Performers re-conceived some famously nefarious roles from Disney films and Broadway musicals through a queer prism.(Courtesy: Ash Ahrenhoerster)

Valentine’s Day is often associated with sappy Hallmark cards, but this year Spotlight MT — the 5C student-run musical theater club — took a different approach with a subversive “Villaintines Day Queer Cabaret” at Dom’s Lounge on Feb. 10 and 11. The event began with fruity mocktails. Then, in 13 acts, a cast of 16 performers re-conceived some famously nefarious roles from Disney films and Broadway musicals through a queer prism. 

Students portrayed characters ranging from Sharpay, the conniving popular girl of Disney’s “High School Musical,” to Javert, an officer of the law forever in pursuit of Jean Valjean in Broadway’s “Les Misérables.” With minimal set and tech requirements, the hour-long production relied on quick costume changes to differentiate numbers, with attire ranging from lab coats and business ties to pink and red accessories in keeping with the show’s heart-shaped theme.

This extravaganza was the brainchild of Ash Ahrenhoerster PO ’25 and Amelia Lewis SC ’25, who came up with the concept last semester. 

“I think it was the villain idea that came first,” Lewis said. “And then I was like wait, what if it was gay?” 

Explaining the connection, Ahrenhoerster said, “There’s a long history of villains being queer-coded that has historical roots in 1930s film production codes, specifically the Hays Code.” 

The Hays code was a set of voluntary industry standards that lasted until the 1960s and forbade sexually explicit language, situations or violence in Hollywood movies. 

“It had very strict rules about what was not allowed to be shown in film and had to do a lot with perversions, which just meant homosexuality and non-typical gender presentation,” Ahrenhoerster said. “It’s a very recognizable pattern in the media, and we wanted to be able to reclaim that and make it something that is a celebration rather than hateful.”

Lewis and Ahrenhoerster worked to create a cabaret that would champion underdog characters, putting them at the heart of the “Villaintine Day Queer Cabaret” emotional narrative. In the cabaret’s version of “Beauty and the Beast,” the happily-ever-after occurs not for the ingénue but for Gaston, Belle’s relentless pursuer, and his devoted henchman LeFou. 

In the lyrics of the rousing number “Gaston,” they find evidence of a mutual same-sex lust, with sly references to sexual orientation. 

As Gaston gripes about his faltering romance with Belle, LeFou serenades him with a list of his many manly and attractive qualities: “No one’s neck as incredibly thick as Gaston” or “you can ask any Tom, Dick or Stanley, and they’ll tell you whose team they prefer to be on.” Through clever staging, Ahrenhoerster and Lewis highlighted the romantic tension between the pair, at one point having LeFou blushingly squeeze Gaston’s bicep. 

“I think it was the villain idea that came first. And then I was like wait, what if it was gay?”

Embracing underrepresented narratives is what drew students to participate in the production. 

“I’ve always had an obsession with the villain story,” said Alexandria Nyx, PZ ’26 who appeared as Anna from “Frozen” and in a number from “Chicago.” “You know we always hear about our heroes, but telling a story from the perspective of a villain isn’t something that’s done often and isn’t always done well.”

Addie Rogers SC ’24, who performed as Sharpay, loved the show’s concept. 

“I always hated the good characters because they’re boring, and I feel like that kind of goes along with being queer too. I feel like it’s an added level of interesting on a person when they’re queer,” Rogers said.

Ahrenhoerster and Lewis are both on the board of Spotlight MT, along with Aviva Miller SC ’24, Spotlight’s artistic director, who described “Villaintines Day Queer Cabaret” as fulfilling one of the organization’s purposes. 

“Spotlight is really interested in breaking down barriers and unfair norms present in musical theater,” Miller said. “We thought it would be a really cool way for people to just feel free to be who they want to be on stage.”

At the first performance, the show appeared to resonate with audience members. Brenda Aguilar PZ ’26 said that before attending the show, the concept of combining queer and villain stories was confusing to her. 

“At first I was like villain? What do you mean? But I also think it was, in a sense, empowering. It was hard core, a little risqué, a little sexy,” Aguilar said.

For Hannah Chimpampwe PZ ’26, the most fun number was Sharpay’s “Bop to the Top.” 

“It really brought out a sense of nostalgia for me, and I really love how they coordinated a lot of the little details like the blonde and brunette, the pink,” Chimpampwe said.

For those in “Villaintines Day Queer Cabaret,” being on stage was only one aspect of the show’s appeal. Just as important was getting to be part of an affirming community of actors, directors and techies. 

“It’s just been a really cool way to connect with this queer group of people who like doing musical theater,” Rogers said. “It was definitely a very comfortable and safe rehearsal space always, and I think that the directors did a really good job building that comfortability.” 

Spotlight MT’s next production will be “Spring Awakening” from March 23-26 in the Seaver Theatre Large Studio. Students interested in getting involved in Spotlight can contact

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