Review of John Barrowman’s “Anything Goes”

Here are a few things you may not know
about openly gay Torchwood and Doctor Who star John Barrowman. His
friendship with Rob Lowe led to him initially being offered the Jason
McCallister role in Brothers &
that later went to Eric Winter – a role Barrowman had to turn down
because his Torchwood schedule was so
busy. He has never had sex with a woman. He and his friend Sir Ian McKellen have
discussed the idea of hosting a dinner party to which they would invite all the
closeted actors that they know, and Barrowman says that:

“When I was eighteen, I found myself in a
compromising position on a bed in a New
York loft with a man whom I would consider to be one
of the finest actors of my generation. Nothing ended up happening, but over the
years our paths have crossed at a distance, and I think this man would be a
prime candidate for an invite to Ian’s imagined dinner party.”

Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, a
couple of chapters later he also mentions travelling to New York as a young man and meeting Kevin

All of these anecdotes are to be found in
Barrowman’s autobiography, Anything Goes,
released today in the U.K.
by Michael O’Mara books, and due out in the States on
April 28th. Co-written with his sister, Carole E. Barrowman, an English
professor, the book is in 19 chapters, each named after one of Barrowman’s
favorite songs from musicals.

Moving back and forward in time, it
recounts Barrowman’s Scottish-American upbringing, his relationships with his
boisterous, prank-happy family, early success in musical theater, his first
starring role in London’s West End at the age of 22, and his career since then,
including U.K. children’s TV and the American soaps Titans and Central Park West,
films such as De-Lovely and The Producers, leading up to his current
success in Torchwood and Doctor Who.

For gay fans, the book may seem a
refreshing change in the annals of books by openly gay stars in that it isn’t a
coming-out story and wasn’t written at the tail end of a long career mostly
lived in the closet. Now forty years old and at the height of his fame,
Barrowman has been officially out to the public since 2004, but he has been out
to family, friends and colleagues much longer (as well as being in a long-term
relationship), and his sexuality is wound as a completely matter-of-fact strand
through the story.

Discussing his conscious realization that
he was gay, at the age of 13 or thereabouts, Barrowman is downright dismissive:
“I’m not saying that coming of age as a gay male in the late twentieth century
wasn’t difficult for many boys, but, honestly, at least for me, it was no big

For those readers who have had a similarly
easy journey, or who are simply tired of reading of coming out as a
life-shattering, traumatic event, this sort of attitude may come as a relief.
Those who are looking for coming-out angst to compare to their own, or for deep
self-analysis, may feel less satisfied. They may also wonder, as I did, whether
Barrowman is just failing, from his comfortable middle-aged viewpoint, to fully
project himself back to the years of adolescence.

In an early chapter, he says that “I never
felt as if I’d been ‘in the closet’ [...] those years of puberty and
adolescence were never really years of keeping myself hidden.” Yet by his own
account he didn’t actually tell his parents and siblings he was gay until the
age of twenty-four or twenty-five.

Since they apparently all indicated that
they’d known anyway, Barrowman may have felt in retrospect that nothing had
been hidden. But to the reader, it feels as if perhaps the finer details of his
coming-out process are getting blurred over by his current perspective.

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