Ryan Murphy celebrates equality and the history of theater with his revival of The Boys in the Band, starring Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, and Zachary Quinto.
The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley originally premiered off-Broadway in 1968. The story is about a group of gay men who gather to celebrate a friend’s birthday, but as the hours go on, the focus shifts to the realities of being gay in the 1960s. The play was one of the first of its kind; often, if gay characters existed in entertainment, they were side characters and typically the butt of the joke. In Crowley’s play, gay men were central characters with real problems.
Despite the beautiful writing and rich, full characters, the casting for the original run seemed next to impossible. Actors were afraid to be seen as gay; truthfully, they were right to be worried. The actors who did appear in the 1968 play (and the 1970 movie) later struggled with their careers.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ground-breaking play, Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story; The Normal Heart; The People v. O.J. Simpson, American Crime Story) has produced a revival of Boys but with a few changes from the original run. This time, the play is running on Broadway, not off, and boasts an all-star cast filled with openly LGTBQ+ male actors whose careers thrive regardless of their sexual orientation or preferences.
The revival stars well-known actors from movies, television, and theater:
- Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory, The Normal Heart)
- Matt Bomer (White Collar, Magic Mike)
- Andrew Rannalls (Girls, The Book of Mormon)
- Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, American Horror Story)
- Charlie Carver (Teen Wolf, The Leftovers)
- Robin de Jesús (In the Heights, Wicked)
- Brian Hutchinson (How To Transcend a Happy Marriage, Big Night)
- Michael Benjamin Washington (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 30 Rock)
- Tuc Watkins (Desperate Housewives, One Life to Live)
The Boys in the Band is thoughtful and entertaining in a not-fun and historical way. The play opens with light banter and then quickly devolves into a spiral of self-loathing and hatred for others. There is no hope for these men; they do not envision a world where living openly would be possible. It is this mood that instantly dates the play. Due to recent progress, same-sex marriage is recognized nationally, and men and women do not feel the need to hide ‘in the closet’ as often. In today’s world, children of all ages proudly declare their sexuality. Boys echoes a time when no one believed any of that could be possible… ever.
Why you should go:
Despite its heaviness and old-school thinking, the play is still one to see. If you go for no other reason, the talent is superb, and it is bracing to see how far we’ve come as a country since the play was written. The play motivates the audience to go out and move forward from a place of equality and acceptance. Knowing the history, understanding the injustice, and seeing it on stage allow us to avoid repeating past mistakes.
Update: The Boys in the Band is coming to Netflix soon!