Gavin Creel's New Musical Is A Riveting Look At Art, Sex And Queer Identity

In "Walk on Through: Confessions of a Museum Novice," the Tony-winning actor and singer gets refreshingly candid on matters of the heart and mind.
Gavin Creel stars in "Walk on Through: Confessions of a Museum Novice," now playing in New York.
Gavin Creel stars in "Walk on Through: Confessions of a Museum Novice," now playing in New York.
Joan Marcus

After 22 years as one of Broadway’s most prolific leading men, Gavin Creel is ready to turn the spotlight inward.

The Tony-winning actor and singer currently stars in “Walk on Through: Confessions of a Museum Novice,” which opened Dec. 4 at New York’s MCC Theater. Commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and directed by Linda Goodrich, the musical consists of 17 pop-rock songs, all of which Creel wrote after spending time at the Met ― which he’d avoided visiting since moving to New York in 1998 ― four years ago.

Over the course of 100 minutes, Creel takes in some of the Met’s best-known works, alluding to paintings by Edward Hopper and Jackson Pollock along the way. But an art history lecture this is not, as Creel’s aesthetic observations soon give way to deeper revelations about his relationships, Christianity and sexuality.

It’s a heartfelt and, at times, deliberately messy peek into his psyche as he reckons with his past and future at middle age. And while Creel is the main star, “Walk on Through” is very much an ensemble piece, with performers Sasha Allen and Ryan Vasquez appearing in featured roles.

Creel, left, with his "Walk on Through" co-star Ryan Vasquez.
Creel, left, with his "Walk on Through" co-star Ryan Vasquez.
Joan Marcus

“I felt like a stranger at the Met, a place that was almost certainly made for white cisgender men, because I’d cast myself in the world as somebody who didn’t belong there, didn’t have the attention span or the intelligence or whatever,” Creel, 47, told HuffPost in an interview.

“[But] I think the reason we respond to certain pieces of art is because we see ourselves there,” he said. “So I started thinking about my past and being queer. Who am I meant to be in this world, in this space? Not just the literal space of the Met, but the space I inhabit in my body and in the world and in the business.”

An Ohio native, Creel rose to prominence in the 2002 stage adaptation of “Throughly Modern Millie,” for which he earned his first Tony Award nomination. He’s gone on to showcase his talent, charm and chiseled visage in musicals like “Hair,” “The Book of Mormon,” “She Loves Me” and, most recently, last year’s revival of “Into the Woods.” In 2017, his career hit an all-time high when he won a Tony for his sterling performance as Cornelius Hackl in the Bette Midler-led revival of “Hello, Dolly!

From the outside, Creel’s success seemed unstoppable. By the time “Hello, Dolly” closed, however, he felt a sense of artistic malaise. As a gay man in his mid-40s, he became conscious of how his age would be perceived both within the LGBTQ+ community and in his youth-worshipping profession. Then there was the heartbreak of a recent breakup with a boyfriend and, later, the COVID-19 pandemic, which left him and other live performers without a creative outlet.

In 2017, Creel won a Tony for his performance in "Hello, Dolly!"
In 2017, Creel won a Tony for his performance in "Hello, Dolly!"
via Associated Press

Those introspections found their way into “Walk on Through,” first staged as a standalone concert at the Met in 2021 and later reworked as a narrative piece. Though Creel has two albums of original music to his credit ― 2006’s “Goodtimenation” and 2012’s “Get Out” ― the show afforded him a full-fledged opportunity for personal catharsis.

The songs in “Walk on Through” evoke Billy Joel and George Michael. There are also playful winks at Whitney Houston, one of Creel’s childhood inspirations. Still, he acknowledges that fans who expect him to stick to the Broadway songbook “just aren’t going to feel it.”

“I was raised Midwestern, and we don’t talk about our feelings, politics, sex or religion,” he said. “I’m talking about all of those things in a play. I’m trying to energetically embody myself, and that’s hard because all that I’ve done is tried to make characters that I’m not as real as possible. When I’m up there, when I’m in the moment, I feel ageless. I feel like the Midwestern kid, mowing lawns and babysitting. I feel like the young adult who’s exploring New York City for the first time and then falling in love.”

“The most painful stuff I’ve experienced is in the show,” he said. “[Some audience members] don’t want to hear about my life — they don’t think it’s interesting or dramatic enough. But I can’t worry about that. I see it as an opportunity to connect with people rather than just entertain them.”

The show’s sexiest, most electrifying number is “Hands on You,” in which Creel cheekily admits to finding himself aroused by the sinewy male statues in the Met’s Great Hall, and traces his thoughts back to his days as a closeted teen, flipping through men’s underwear and swimwear catalogs in the back aisles of bookstores and in the privacy of his bedroom.

“I was raised Midwestern, and we don’t talk about our feelings, politics, sex or religion,” Creel said. “I’m talking about all of those things in a play."
“I was raised Midwestern, and we don’t talk about our feelings, politics, sex or religion,” Creel said. “I’m talking about all of those things in a play."
Joan Marcus

“I had a come-to-Jesus moment, where I was like, ‘Am I really going to talk about the fact that I’m looking at all of these naked statues and I’m turned on? Am I going to talk about the fact I want to fuck all of these statues?’ It’s really about sexual shame,” he said. “I was raised to believe that who I am and what I am is not only abhorrent, but deserves to be condemned, because of religion and society. Now you know what I was back there doing. You were, too, because we’re all thinking about screwing. Well, I’m not pushing it back anymore. I’m not going back to who I was before.”

“Walk on Through” is slated to run in New York through Jan. 7, and most performances have already sold out. Ultimately, Creel would like to take the musical to Broadway, and he’s also thought out plans for a global tour, a documentary film and a podcast based on the show. Only time will tell, of course, if those projects materialize — but for Creel, the show’s current iteration has already been a dream come true, in more ways than one.

“My parents saw the show for the first time, and my dad, quite beautifully, said to my director: ‘I wish I’d known the pain he was in when he was younger. I didn’t know he needed that help,’” he said. “And I thought, ‘How wonderful is it that I can share a little window into my experience.’ I’ll get up there and tell you the truth and try to open myself up to you, so that you feel empowered to open up to someone else.”

Creel would like to take "Walk on Through" to Broadway, and he’s also thought out plans for a global tour, a documentary film and a podcast based on the show.
Creel would like to take "Walk on Through" to Broadway, and he’s also thought out plans for a global tour, a documentary film and a podcast based on the show.
Joan Marcus

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