How a straight man brought you 'Sex Tips' from a gay man


This is the story of how a straight man brought you Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man.

University of Colorado graduate Matt Murphy is a rising New York theatre producer whose breakout hit is now entering its third provocative year off-Broadway. He’s also touring the show to cities like Denver, where it is now playing the Garner-Galleria Theatre through July 24.

“As the producer and writer, I do think people naturally assume I’m ‘the gay man,’” Murphy said last week in an interview joined by his wife and three wee children. “I’m totally good with that. And I am kind of a gay guy anyway, because I work on Broadway.”

a-sex-tips-quoteMurphy, who has been a smaller part of large New York producing teams such as Side Show, Memphis and Altar Boyz, formed his own production company because he wanted a more direct hand in the creative and financial decision-making. He has since turned The Berenstein Bears LIVE! into an Off-Broadway cottage industry. And 10 blocks up the street on New York’s Eighth Avenue, he’s exploring … well, the opposite of children’s theatre.

Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man is Murphy’s own adaptation of the best-selling 1997 book by Dan Anderson and Maggie Berman. He picked it because he’s a producer – “and this is the best title in the history of mankind,” he said. “You can’t say it without laughing.”

Murphy had been kicking around the idea of developing a show centered on a sex-tips seminar when his wife remembered a book her friends passed around in college. “Something about sex tips from a gay guy,” he said. “So I Goggled it and, sure enough, there it was.” The book had its moment in the cultural zeitgeist when it was prominently referenced in the 2012 film Hope Springs – a sex therapist played by Steve Carell prescribes the book to Meryl Streep as essential reading to spice up her sex life with Tommy Lee Jones.

The book’s writers were all about a possible stage adaptation, so Murphy took on the tricky task of turning their straightforward “how-to manual” into a theatrical story with a beginning, middle and end.

The premise he came up with is a ‘meet-the-authors’ event, with Anderson himself as the evening’s featured author. “But the moderator for the event is a substitute named Robyn who is about as mousy and buttoned-up as she could possibly be – and she doesn’t know what book she will be discussing,” Murphy said. “As soon as she finds out, she goes ashen white and wants to get out of there as quickly as possible. But she forges on and attempts to engage Anderson in a scholarly discussion.”

The author has other ideas. He wants to give the audience a full-on sex-tips seminar complete with props and audience interaction and visuals and sound effects and exploding confetti cannons.

“And then the third character is this sexy, hunky stage assistant named Stefan, and it’s clear that Robyn has an attraction for one him,” Murphy said. “And so our gay man spends the evening not only teaching sex tips to the audience, but also encouraging Robyn to act on her own passions and go for what she wants. Dan really helps her find her inner tiger.”

The play, he said, makes for the ultimate girls night out. Denver Center theatergoers might naturally equate Sex Tips with the popular Dixie’s Tupperware Party franchise that has visited the Galleria four times.

“The difference is that with Dixie, the title brings you in. And then you are actually kind of shocked because the show is more risqué than you would think that title suggests,” Murphy said. “Our show is actually the opposite. Our title is shocking, but when you come into the show, you find that it’s really a romantic comedy with some sex tips speckled throughout.”

Murphy’s anachronistic ride from Indiana to Boulder to becoming a producing partner on Broadway’s 2010 Tony Award winning Best Musical Memphis took an unlikely (but essential) turn through Steamboat Springs.

Murphy moved to Colorado in 1996 to study Anthropology and Classical Guitar. He was President of the CU Hiking Club and played in several music ensembles, both as a guitarist and percussionist. He studied white-face capuchin monkeys abroad and was the stage manager for the CU opera program. No wonder he was destined to create theatre as antithetical as The Berenstein Bears and Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Guy.

From ‘Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man.’ Photo by Jeremy Shaffer.

His path changed when he took a class on the history of musical theatre from CU Theatre Professor Bud Coleman. “I loved that he was talking about Jerome Robbins and Harold Prince and George Abbott and Michael Bennett and Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter and all these people who shaped what theatre was,” Murphy said. “But I was specifically interested in the producers and the directors. I had never realized that those were actual positions in the theatre.”

After reading Prince’s biography A Life in the Theatre, Murphy was hooked. And his new passion sabotaged his immediate postgraduate goal of moving to Steamboat Springs to be a ski bum. “I wasn’t a very good ski bum, because I got immediately involved with the local theatre there,” he said.

a-sex-tips-400On his second day in Steamboat Springs, Murphy went to a board meeting for the Steamboat Community Players, where he learned the troupe not only didn’t have anyone to direct or produce the winter musical – they didn’t even have a winter musical in mind. “I raised my hand and said, ‘I’ll do it – and I want to do Little Shop of Horrors,’ ” Murphy said. “And they were like, ‘Who the (bleep) are you? Oh, and … yes!’ ”

Murphy produced what he calls “a perfect run.” Little Shop of Horrors sold out and the run was extended, selling nearly 10,000 tickets in a town of just 12,000. Murphy had written himself a smart advance deal that seemed absurd at the time, but instead turned into a tidy paycheck. A producer was born.

“That was my first taste of a hit. We were the toast of the town,” he said.

So naturally, he thought, “Let’s go take over Broadway.”

There were some hard knocks to come, but Murphy soon found his way by creating a musical for kids called Virtually Me that toured on the educational circuit, raising awareness about technology, texting, social media and cyber-bullying.

Now he’s riding the Sex Tips wave, which is still going strong in New York while also touring the country – every producer’s dream. He admits it is a show that appeals mostly to straight women (and their gay best friends), but he says straight men both enjoy the lighthearted innuendo and also inevitably pick up a tip or two probably no one ever taught them about, say, hygiene and the effectiveness of their pick-up lines.

Murphy said Sex Tips is certainly a show of its moment, with social attitudes about the gay community changing radically alongside an explosion of television exposure as well as the legalization of same-sex marriage.

“I do feel like we really are the right show at the right time,” he said. “It is acceptable to a lot more people now than it would have been even five years ago. It’s also in vogue to be exploring gay culture right now. And I am proud that we are a part of pushing that envelope.”

But the message of the show, he said, is more universal.

“It’s about really going after what you want and being yourself,” he said. “That applies to everyone.”

Murphy was asked about a potential Sex Tips theatregoer who wanted to know whether the show would make for a good date night – making it clear that she was not yet sleeping with the man she is dating.

“I kind of feel like if you’re not sleeping with him yet,” Murphy said, “then this show might help you get there.”

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man: Ticket information
• Through July 24
• Garner Galleria Theatre
• Tickets: 303-893-4100 or Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
• Groups: Call 303-446-4829

Official web site