Review: "From Here" is the Memorial Orlando Needs for Now

From Here

Book, music, lyrics, and direction by Donald Rupe

Arrangements and orchestrations by Jason M. Bailey

Presented by Equality Florida

Streaming at From Here June 12-June 28, 2020

RJ Silva, Justin Jimenez, and Peter Heid (foreground L-R). Photo by Ashleigh Ann Gardner.
The pandemic has taken over every aspect of our lives, including our memories. I had not thought about the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in a while. The new musical From Here reminds us of the second deadliest mass shooting in the US and the deadliest attack against LGBTQ people. It is questionable whether the shooter targeted Pulse because it was a gay club, but the attack felt even more pointed since it happened during Pride month. The memory that stands out the most to me is walking to Stonewall the next day and seeing a crowd of hundreds standing, crying, hugging, laying flowers, and lighting candles. What also stands out is NYPD officers surrounding the crowd with assault rifles similar to the one used at Pulse. The cultural memory of an event is a complicated bundle of images, events, and physical structures. Orlando has planned a massive complex that will serve as the national memorial and museum at the site of the shooting, and it is planned to open in 2022. Until then, From Here might be the most effective memorial that we have to those lost.
Planned memorial and museum to those lost during the Pulse nightclub shooting. Source: Orlando Sentinel

You watch a show differently when you already know the ending. This is the case with From Here, a musical that uses the Pulse nightclub shooting as a backdrop to tell the story of the lives, loves, and losses of several people living in Orlando at the time. The show focuses mainly on Daniel (Blake Aburn), a 30-something gay man living in Orlando and struggling in his relationships with his mother (Sarah Lee Dobbs) and his current boyfriend, Michael (Peter Heid). Daniel’s story is based on show writer and director Donald Rupe’s own life. The show opens as Daniel is trying to find his place in the world. He is estranged from his mother but calls her every day to leave a message. She never calls back. Daniel loves to go out, and in the show’s first half, we see him and his group of friends enjoying drinking, singing, and joking about queer life. Daniel, despite thinking he and his boyfriend will soon be engaged, gets dumped in the first ten minutes. But he quickly ignites a new relationship with Ricky (Erick Perafan) that will become something significant by the end.

All of the action of the play occurs in front of the backdrop of a street map of downtown Orlando with a large, red heart at the center marking the site of the Pulse nightclub. Despite the mostly humorous first half of the show, the backdrop is a constant reminder of what’s to come and gives a haunting sense to any laughter that occurs. Despite its too heavy reliance on the trope of the magical queer (especially in the song “Gay is Better”), the first half is a good time with catchy numbers performed by incredible talents. Aburn has a command of the stage while Dobbs and Dorothy Christopher, who plays his best friend Michelle, can belt their numbers with the best of them.

The disaster moment that you know is coming happens halfway through the show. Before this, the major tension is the rift between Daniel and his mother. Daniel asks whether someone can replace the love that a mother gives. The answer is pretty obvious. Yes, of course they can. And the group of queers who surround, love, and support Daniel have replaced and improved upon his mother’s mercurial love. After Daniel receives a call that there has been a shooting at Pulse, the show shifts gears. What happens in the second half is itself a memorial to those lost and to what Pulse stood for. Not just a nightclub, Pulse was a hub of community outreach for the queer community and “a hub for HIV prevention, breast cancer awareness and immigrant rights.”

You can see the show until June 28th on its website (streaming the production is free, and patrons are encouraged to contribute to the #HonorThemWithAction campaign). Of course, it had to be cut short due to the pandemic, but plans remain for it to come to NYC for a memorial showing when things get better—if they ever do. Let’s hope so. From Here is worth the watch and right now, might be the best memorial to the lives of those lost in Orlando. 

-Joseph Donica

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