“From Here” is a romantic comedy wrapped around a violent tragedy

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Jerry Mullings, Michelle Coben, and Justin Jimenez are on stage dancing.
Jerry Mullings, Michelle Coben, and Justin Jimenez in Renaissance Theatre Company's 2024 production of FROM HERE at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

The Renaissance Theatre Company of Orlando is currently gracing the stage off-Broadway’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre with a production of their new musical. From Here is the brainchild of playwright/composer/director Donald Rupe, a co-founder of Renaissance. It is a gay-centric romantic comedy, loud and raunchy and very funny, and an infectiously joyous show. Yet it also is a remembrance of the Pulse Nightclub massacre of 2016.

From Here’s central character is Daniel, a 30-something gay man living in Orlando in 2016. Daniel seems to be a stand-in for playwright Rupe. He makes self-referential comments about processing trauma by writing a musical. At one point he even wonders how his boyfriend Michael could be breaking up with him because “it’s only the third scene of my musical!” 

The action of the play, such as it is, revolves around Daniel coming to grips with his past, his inability to make emotional commitments, and his issues with his mother. Daniel thus takes center stage during practically the entire show — and either solos or is part of the chorus in all but three of the show’s 19 numbers (including reprises).

Focusing on Daniel also locks the show into the perspectives of gay life as lived by a younger queer community which existed in a bubble of safety and tolerance with their chosen families and comfortable rituals — and their seeming lack of knowledge about LGBTQ struggles that came before. When that bubble is shattered by the horrendous attack on Pulse Nightclub, it opens everyone’s eyes to a more sobering view of the world and their places in it.

This is not to say that From Here is without merit. It has many moments of truly funny dialogue, some good songs, and a talented cast. However, it might be a more rounded show if it gave more time to the stories of some of the supporting characters: his best friend, cabaret artist Jordan; ex-lover Michael and possible new love Ricky; and no-nonsense diva Adam.

Only Daniel’s mother, Becca, has a story arc of her own (and two powerful solo numbers). Also, while Blake Aburn has the acting chops to portray Daniel’s range of emotions — expressed and not — he does not seem to have the vocal chops necessary to carry most of the show’s musical weight. Giving more center-stage solo songs to the supporting cast — Michelle Coben as Jordan, Jullien Aponte as Michael, Omar Cardona as Ricky, and the outstanding Becca Southworth as Becca — and letting Justin Jimenez’ sassy Adam lead some of the full-chorus numbers would strengthen From Here musically. Doing a little bit more exploring into Jordan, Michael, Ricky, Becca, and Adam’s stories would strengthen the show dramatically as well.

The cast is dancing on stage and holding Solo cups in the air.
The company in Renaissance Theatre Company’s 2024 production of FROM HERE at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

It is obvious, in their performances, that the members of the cast and creative team — some of whom have been with this show since its first performances in Orlando — consider From Here to be a labor of love. Their love for this show, its topic, and their hometown of Orlando is tangible and undeniable.

I was hoping, when I first read about From Here, that it would be decent. While I found it good but improvable, I did not expect to find it so surprisingly moving. It is a remembrance of gay Orlando’s past, an ongoing tribute to the 49 victims of the mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in 2016, and proof of the indomitability of the human spirit and the healing power of forgiveness and family. It is the Renaissance Theatre Company’s gift to all of us in this Pride season, and I suggest you see it before its all-too-brief run ends.

From Here is presented by the Renaissance Theatre Company in the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street in New York through Aug. 11, 2024. For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to signaturetheatre.org or fromhere.com, or call 212-244-7529.