Reviews

Review: From Here Is a Musical About the Pulse Massacre — Sort Of

Donald Rupe’s questionable new show makes its off-Broadway debut.

Blake Aburn stars in Renaissance Theatre Company’s production of From Here, written and directed by Donald Rupe, at the Pershing Square Signature Center.
(© Matthew Murphy)

On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen murdered 49 people at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando. At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, although that grim distinction was overtaken the following year in Las Vegas. For gun control advocates, it was yet another example of how dangerous weapons of war have disturbed our domestic tranquility. For LGBT people, it was proof that, despite a series of impressive civil rights victories, we’re still not completely safe in the United States. And for Donald Rupe, it was an opportunity to write a musical.

Rupe is the composer, lyricist, book writer, and director of From Here, the new musical set around (but not necessarily about) the Pulse massacre, now running off-Broadway at the Pershing Square Signature Center under the banner of Orlando’s Renaissance Theatre Company. Unfortunately, it’s about as cringe as one might expect.

Daniel (a giggly Blake Aburn) is our protagonist and narrator. A 34-year-old bear cub, he’s certain that his serial dating days are behind him, despite the aggressive interest of a new guy named Ricky (Omar Jose Cardona). Daniel has been with Michael (Jullien Aponte) for seven years and suspects he’s about to put a ring on it.

At least, that’s what he tells his mother (Becca Southworth) during one of his daily voicemails. She hasn’t picked up the phone since he came out of the closet (how did she not know?) and Daniel has had to rely on his chosen family — specifically his bestie Jordan (Michelle Coben). Their lives are an endless stream of birthday parties and game nights. But a vicious mass murder at Pulse, their favorite gay bar, changes their whole world.

Stop reading now if you wish to avoid spoilers.  

The company of Renaissance Theatre Company’s production of From Here, written and directed by Donald Rupe, at the Pershing Square Signature Center.
(© Matthew Murphy)

Or so they tell us. None of the characters in From Here actually die in the Pulse shooting. In fact, none of them are even there that night. “We knew people who lost their lives,” Daniel sheepishly admits, “Guys who had been to parties at my house.” But never to game night like the army of minor characters filling out the chorus of Daniel’s extended friend group. They all gather at his apartment late in the musical to exchange memories and clichés. Inevitably, all roads lead back to Daniel’s personal struggles and disappointments. It feels like listening to a barstool fabulist insert themselves into a national tragedy — but through song.

Those songs range from pleasantly forgettable (Coben does a fine job with the cabaret number “Gay is Better”) to unbearably schmaltzy (“There for You” in the aforementioned group scene). Because Rupe introduces so many characters, he often uses the songs to fill in their backstories, rather than driving the narrative forward. Cardona vocally soars is “Todo,” about his mother’s death in Puerto Rico, but it’s hard to see this number as much more than a weepy pitstop on a road trip to nowhere.

The production is uneven, with adequate lighting by Philip Lupo, realistic costumes by J. Marie Bailey, poorly balanced sound by Matt Craig (I missed a lot of the lyrics on any song with percussion), and a set by Lupo that doesn’t really arrive until the end, when theatrical suggestion is replaced by a standard living room. It appears Rupe wanted to save the budget for the big emotional scene, which nevertheless left me cold.

Plenty of people will disagree. I heard sniffles in the audience, although I suspect that is the result of the tried-and-true tactic of picking at an emotional scab and letting the audience’s painful memories do the work for you — a shameful practice that proliferates even on Broadway. I’m not sure there should even be a musical about the Pulse shooting and, after seeing From Here, I’m not certain one actually exists.

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From Here

Final performance: August 11, 2024