'From Here' review — finding queer joy in the wake of tragedy

Read our review of From Here off Broadway, a new musical by Donald Rupe featuring the full cast of Orlando, Florida, natives from the show's premiere there.

Caroline Cao
Caroline Cao

Writer/lyricist/composer/director Donald Rupe had a rather humble mission for his musical From Here: celebrate queer joy in the face of tragedy. It's modest in its drama, humor, and lyrics, just as the score hits ample emotional sweet spots. In this musical’s off-Broadway premiere, it’s easy to absolve its hunt for a fuller polish thanks to the musical’s lack of pretension and the Orlando, Florida-native cast.

On June 12, 2016, a gunman murdered 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in that city. From Here does not submerge itself in the tragedy, but instead the queer joy of its fictionalized nightclub patrons. Before the tragedy, Daniel (Blake Aburn) was a 30something gay man with run-of-the-mill troubles. He passed voicemails to his estranged mother (Becca Southworth) and pined for a reply back. He also just broke up with his boyfriend (Jullien Aponte) and is about to open up to new love (Omar Jose Cardona from The Voice).

Although Daniel references an incoming trauma early on, no doom permeates the (at times slow) slice-of-life narrative to convey the suddenness of the disruption.

From Here glosses over potential opportunities for character depth (such as Daniel’s struggle for a teaching position and an infidelity that leads to his breakups), but it is at least frank about its hero’s messiness. The characters are not saints, just humans. They can be scathing as much as they love passionately.

Up for discussion is the musical’s self-aware spotlight on secondhand survivors who were not present at Pulse during the tragedy. “To be honest, I don't know how to talk about this,” Daniel admits. “In some ways, it feels like it isn't my story to tell.”

Although cast members like Aburn and Cardona did lose loved ones in real life, the fictionalized characters were not direct victims nor lost loved ones. To its credit, the musical grapples with the question about how to tell the story with secondhand experience in the ripples of collective mourning.

From Here is imperfect. Somewhere, there’s an evolved direction that may tighten the musical’s charms and find its footing. From Here searches for its polish, but its heart thumps with self-assurance.

1 from here-1200x600-NYTG

From Here summary

Undoubtedly, the musical was loaded with resonance when it debuted within the Orlando community. From Here first played at the 2019 Orlando Fringe Festival before a 2020 Orlando run at Ren theatre that was cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Centered around the 30something gay Daniel, a stand-in for the writer Donald Rupe, From Here pays homage to the Pulse nightclub community months before the 2016 shooting there that put the collective sorrow of queer communities front and center in the media. Through Daniel’s narration, the musical is a slice of life, which also centers on the tension between Daniel and his estranged mother.

What to expect at From Here

The lobby features a colorful collage paying tribute to Pulse and encourages the audience to donate to the Equality Florida and The DRU Project. Attendees can leave sticky notes on the collage.

In the musical, Blake Aburn beams up a rainbow bridge between him and the audience through the fourth wall. The musical’s communal spirit is knitted together by its all-Orlando cast. The backdrop of this show applies Philip Lupo's sparing scenic design, with floating squares of a Pulse map. The nondescript vibe of the sparing scenery hits as intentional, as if it could represent any sacred queer space.

This musical is not directly about the dead, but the Pulse community members who are secondhand survivors (not present during the event). As a storytelling choice, the musical keeps the violence off stage and focuses on the aftermath reaction of the queer community impacted by the tragedy.

3 from here-1200x600-NYTG

What audiences are saying about From Here

As of publication, the review aggregator Show-Score indicates a 63% audience approval rating, though this figure is only made up of five scores.

  • “The cultural memory of an event [namely the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting] 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.” - Joseph Donica's 2020 review for Thinking Theater NYC
  • “The show’s greatest strength is its sense of realness. Rupe has said the characters are based on his own circle of friends, and these people feel real — even if one or two, such as protagonist Daniel’s gal pal Michelle, could stand to be fleshed out a bit more. The audience’s introduction to Daniel is an attention-getter.” - Matthew J. Palm's 2020 review for the Orlando Sentinel
  • “The musical is an intimate look at the lives of those most affected by the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting who use the horrific event as a catalyst to foster community, and promote love and kindness. The Orlando-based cast and crew provide the show with irreplaceable heart that would be lost with Broadway-trained actors and production. It is evident that Renaissance Theater Company loves the city from which they come and we as an audience are lucky to take part in their story, and to experience a little piece of Orlando.” - My +1 at the show

Read more audience reviews of From Here on Show-Score.

Who should see From Here

  • In spite of its subject matter, or in defiance of succumbing to heartbreak, From Here is great for those seeking feel-good queer theatre about belonging.
  • If you appreciate a diverse LGBTQ+ ensemble with various body types.
  • People should see this show as a reminder that the queer communities surviving and living in largely conservative states like Florida exist and matter.
  • See it if you're thirsting for the kind of fresh star power found in Blake Aburn, Becca Southworth, and Omar Jose Cardona.

Learn more about From Here off Broadway

From Here would benefit from polish and tidying. Still, it’s tough to resist the rainbow bear hug of From Here and hope for its evolution and future.

Learn more and get From Here tickets on New York Theatre Guide. From Here is at the Pershing Square Signature Center through August 11.

Photo credit: From Here off Broadway. (Photos by Matthew Murphy)

Originally published on

Subscribe to our newsletter to unlock exclusive New York theatre updates!

  • Get early access to Broadway's newest shows
  • Access to exclusive deals and promotions
  • Stay in the know about top shows and news on Broadway
  • Get updates on shows that are important to you

You can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy