Matt Murphy, author of comedy sensation ‘SexTips for the Straight Women’
Producer and playwright Matt Murphy has a runaway hit on his hands with Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man. In addition to its long-running off-Broadway production in New York, the show has a touring company that takes it across the country to cities big and small. Now based in New York, Indiana-native Murphy is also behind a variety of other productions, including the off-Broadway boy-band parody Altar Boyz and the Tony Award-winning musical Memphis, to name just two. I spoke with Murphy about his career and the success of Sex Tips.
— Gregg Shapiro
Dallas Voice: Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man is based on the best-selling book of the same name. What was it about the book that compelled you to adapt it for the stage? Matt Murphy: The tone of it is what I appreciated most. It was so inviting and encouraging. I tried to hold onto that tone in adapting it into a romantic comedy. It really is Will & Grace onstage. The character of [Sex Tips co-author] Dan Anderson as it is written in the book is the same way that he is written in our play. He wants people to succeed. He wants people to try new things. Not because he’s challenging them but because they will enjoy it. I’m not just talking about enjoying it from a physical standpoint, but enjoying the notion of trying something different. That comes across in every way, shape and form. He’s funny, witty, supportive. You get that from reading the book. I hope you get that from seeing the play, as well. I think you do and I think that’s part of the reason it’s been successful. People come to our show and it’s not like we’re pushing this advice on people. We’re presenting a classic American comedy story. We’re entertaining them with theatrical tricks and props and fanfare, while also serving up a few bits of advice that they may or may not take home with them.
The show is on the bachelorette party circuit. How did that come about? I think anything with the word “sex” in the theater will become a destination for “girls’ night out” groups. That wasn’t by design, it just happened naturally. Shows such as Menopause The Musical and other fare geared towards or dealing with issues of interest to women will naturally bring out a female audience. We get a lot of bachelorette parties. More so, we get groups of women out for a night out on the town, whether it’s a bachelorette party, a birthday party or just a night out. I have been heartened by the fact that a majority of our audience is couples, women coming with their boyfriends or their husbands. I think a lot of people step into the theater not quite sure what they’re going to get. They walk out with a big smile on their face. They had a good time. It’s a very funny piece of theater. On the way home, they may be thinking, “Up, twist, over and down. I wonder what that’s like!” Who knows where it goes from there? The play has been a great night for gay men, too. Gay men and their female best friends. Or just groups of people that include couples, single people, gay or straight, young or old. I think because sex sells and it’s a universal topic, it really has appeal to a wide demographic.
I’m glad you mentioned gay men. What percentage of the audience at the show is gay men on any given night? When we first opened in New York it was quite significant. The gay audience in New York doesn’t last forever. Once the word is out, the majority of gay theatergoers will come find your show and see it. Then that audience is on to the next thing. But when we go out on tour, the percentage of the audience that is gay men is higher again. I think there are fewer options for gay men when you get outside of major markets. When our play comes to town, it’s a good option. We played Provincetown for a week. The audience there was majority gay men. I think the show is fun for gay men, too, because a gay man is the leading role in the play. He’s handled with respect, he’s charismatic and he’s not a caricature. He’s an encouraging, supportive man who feels like he has something of value to share with the audience. There’s a message in there for gay men, as well.
How does the show play in more conservative parts of the country? We just sold-out Fayetteville, Ark., at the Walton Arts Center, which is majorly funded by the family who owns and operates Wal-Mart. They loved it! The presenter there loved it. We track all the social media mentions about the show from wherever we are, and everybody in Fayetteville was talking about the show. It was couples in their 40s, couples in their 70s. Wherever it goes, it seems to do well.