As a Chicago native of a certain age, 1968 always conjured images in my mind of police brutality at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. But if you were a gay New Yorker in 1968, you probably remember fighting the social oppression that ignited the Stonewall Riots of 1969, which were the first open call for gay rights. The social milieu of 1968 and how it shaped the gay mentality is being revisited by the new production of Mart Crowley’s ground breaking play, The Boys in the Band, now celebrating its 50thanniversary in a fine, star studded production enjoying a nearly sold out limited run on Broadway at the Booth Theater through August 11.
I have a particular affection for this play because, when I was a boy in the 60’s, there was a period during which several Broadway plays were specially recorded for issue on multi-disk LP sets. I collected them all, and listened to them over and over. The Boys in the Band was one of those plays. I loved the bitchy jokes which masked everyone’s deep pain, so much so that I surprised myself when I turned out to be straight! Because the play was recorded in a studio without an audience, I had no idea how incredibly funny it really could be on stage, until seeing this wicked, it-only-hurts-when-I-laugh production, superbly directed by Joe Mantello.
The play takes place in the home of Michael a 32 y.o, gay, Catholic man of Southern origin, played by Jim Parsons. Mr. Parsons is, of course, the hugely popular star of The Big Bang Theory, who plays the socially clueless but brilliant scientist, Sheldon. He also bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Crowley himself, as he looked at the time he wrote the play. Although Mr. Parsons is trying very hard these days not to be type cast as Sheldon, his accent, inflections, and manners, as well as his deadpan comedic style, remain so distinctive yet similar in all the roles he plays that he seems to bring much the same person to the stage in this role. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, because Mr. Parson’s theatrical persona is absolutely credible as this bitchy, frustrated, pained, self-hating man who hides behind a mask of forced joviality. What does get lost in the newly edited script, however, is Michael’s penchant for impersonating female movie stars, and a certain amount of flamboyance, which could have allowed Mr. Parsons to smile once in a while.
In preparing his script for this revival, Mr. Crowley also cut a memorable albeit deeply depressing monologue from the beginning of the show in which Michael seems to blame his being gay on the feminizing influence of his uncomfortably close relationship with his mother. That monologue is also full of the self-loathing which will define Michael and drive his destructive behavior as the play moves forward.
At first, I thought that monologue had been cut because the “nurture vs. nature” argument it set forth has been discredited. But the more compelling reason to cut it was to eliminate what would have been a real downer at the top of the show. By doing so, the audience was much more willing to feel they’ve been given permission to laugh, and laugh we did. Although none of the sex jokes can shock anymore on the heels of Will and Grace or Book of Mormon, I’m sure the handful of people who walked out last night did so because they mistakenly thought they had bought tickets for The Band’s Visit,and they were expecting a very different tune.
At rise, Michael is preparing to host a birthday party for his friend, Harold. The friends who gather to celebrate Harold’s birthday are as individual as they are bonded together. Michael’s friend and former lover, Donald (Matt Bomer) is the most compassionate and least troubled of the group, although Crowley has ascribed to him some of the scars of being raised by the clingy mother and ineffective father figure formerly attached to Michael’s character. Robin de Jesus is the funniest and most heartbreaking of the group, as Emory, the most fragile and effeminate butterfly among them. As Emory’s lover, Bernard, Michael Benjamin Washington captures a proud, intelligent African-American man with all the dignity one could muster at that time. Emory brings a twenty dollar male prostitute called Cowboy as “present” for Harold. Innocent, clueless, and hunky, Cowboy is played with touching sincerity by Charlie Carver. Tuc Watkins is the solid, straight acting, bi-sexual schoolteacher, Hank, fighting to save his relationship with his sexually polyamorous partner, Larry (Andrew Ranells). It is the birthday boy, Harold, a pockmarked, self-loathing, ascerbic, Jewish queen, played with delicious sliminess by Zachary Quinto, who stands in the center of the action like the eye of the storm, commenting wryly.
What could have been a nice little party gets upended by the appearance of Michael’s very straight laced college roommate, Alan (Brian Hutchinson), who broke down in tears on the phone before showing up unexpectedly at Michael’s door to talk. Alan supposedly did not know in college that Michael was gay, and it takes an unusually long time for the message to sink in when he arrives. Michael forces his friends to play a game like “truth or dare” which is meant to entertain, intimidate, and possibly out Alan. What actually happens leaves the audience literally gasping in surprise.
The whole apartment is done in deep red velvet by scenic designer David Zinn, who also did the unobtrusive costumes. The color scheme foreshadows the emotional bloodletting which is about to occur over the course of the evening. Mantello freezes and isolates key moments for our special attention in highly sculptural and evocative lighting by Hugh Vanstone.
The Boys in the Band evokes a time very different than we know today. First, it was before any of the incurable STD’s which brought the party to a crashing end. But even sexual freedom without physical consequence couldn’t compensate for having to meet in public restrooms under clandestine circumstances, for being considered depraved and aberrant by straight society, or for living in a world where you could get arrested in a bar just for touching the same glass another man had recently held. It was also a time where there were few gay characters in mainstream plays and movies. Such as there were all seemed to come to a bad end. The scandalously frank, lesbian tale, The Killing of Sister George, made into a movie also in 1968, didn’t end any more happily. Although The Boys in the Bandwas made into a critically acclaimed movie in 1970, the play remained largely shunned by the gay activists who were seeking equality, validation, and more positive self-images.
Like all good plays, The Boys in the Band is not about gays with a capital “G”. It’s about a room full of very specific men in a very specific time. It is the insight and compassion with which Crowley captured that moment in the lives of those men which makes this an enduring theater piece well worth revisiting.
The Boys in the Band: Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street. closing 8/12
League of Professional Theatre Women’s 10th Annual Women Stage The World March
The League of Professional Theatre Women (LPTW) will hold its 10th Annual “Women Stage the World March” — a Suffragette-inspired project to educate the public about the role of women in the theatre industry — on Saturday, June 17. The march will begin at noon, at Shubert Alley and weave through Times Square and the Broadway Theatre District, wrapping up at about 2 p.m.
“The event is FREE and LPTW invites all theatre women and allies to join us as we increase awareness, lift our voices, and advocate for more opportunities for women in theatre,” said Ludovica Villar-Hauser, Co-President of LPTW.
“The Women Stage the World March is designed to educate the public about the role women play in creating theatre and the barriers they face as men continue to outnumber women by 4 to 1 in key roles such as playwright, director and designers. Women buy 67% of the tickets and represent 65% of the audience, yet 80% of the storytelling on stage is shaped by men’s voices,” said Katrin Hilbe, Co-President of LPTW.
Handouts during the March will prompt ticket-buyers to ask three questions as they make buying decisions: (1) Who wrote, directed and designed this play? (2) What is this theatre’s track record in giving opportunities to women? (3) How can you spread the word and promote women’s voices?
“All participants are encouraged to dress as their favorite historical theatre woman, or dress all in white. March participants will gather at Shubert Alley starting at 11:30 AM, in preparation for the start of the march at noon. Women Stage the World sashes and signs will be provided, as supplies last,” noted Penelope Deen, LPTW member and organizer of the event. Those interested in participating in the event please R.S.V.P. at: https://www.theatrewomen.org/women-stage-the-world or contact Penelope Deen at: Womenstagetheworld@Theatrewomen.org
LPTW Co-President Ludovica Villar-Hauser added: “The League of Professional Theatre Women stands alongside the Writers Guild of America (WGA) as they demand fair wages and take action to ensure more protections for artists. We encourage LPTW members to find a time to join the WGA on the picket lines this month as the strike continues. Women writers are the future of the film and television industry, just as they lead the way in theatre. LPTW supports the women on the frontlines of this movement as they call for long overdue change. We are stronger together.”
For the past 10 years LPTW members, affiliated union members, theatre artists and their allies have hit the streets in a March reminiscent of the Suffragette parades of the early 20th Century, with some marchers dressed in traditional suffrage garb and colors. Like the Suffragettes before them, participants in the Women Stage the World March empower women and men to become aware, take action and influence others.
The League of Professional Theatre Women (LPTW) is a membership organization championing women in theatre and advocating for increased equity and access for all theatre women. Our programs and initiatives create community, cultivate leadership, and increase opportunities and recognition for women working in theatre. The organization provides support, networking and collaboration mechanisms for members, and offers professional development and educational opportunities for all theatre women and the general public. LPTW celebrates the historic contributions and contemporary achievements of women in theatre, both nationally and around the globe, and advocates for parity in employment, compensation and recognition for women theatre practitioners through industry-wide initiatives and public policy proposals. LPTW is celebrating its 40th Anniversary in 2023.
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Chicago
John Kander & Fred Ebb / Bob Fosse musical Chicago is now the longest running show playing on Broadway. Having played 10,338 performances, Chicago is the Tony Award-winning, record-breaking hit musical playing at the Ambassador Theatre, 219 W. 49th St., NYC.
Ham4Ham: Some Like It Hot, Parade and Shucked With Special Guests
Lin-Manuel Miranda brought out a. special edition of Ham4Ham outside the Richard Rodgers Theater yesterday and it was a star studded afternoon.
First up Leopoldstadt stars Josh Molina and Brandon Uranowitz introduced Some Like It Hot‘s J. Harrison Ghee, who performed “You Coulda Knocked Me Over With a Feather” accompanied by the show’s composer, Marc Shaiman. You can watch the beginning of this and the whole performance of that song here.
Then Nikki Crawford and playwright James Ijames from Fat Ham, introduced composer Jason Robert Brown and performers Ben Platt and Michaela Diamond who perform the duet “This Is Not Over Yet” from the must see revival of Parade.
The Thanksgiving Play stars D’Arcy Carden and Chris Sullivan introduced book writer Robert Horn and the Tony-nominated cast of Shucked recreated new lyrics for “We Love Jesus” and a parody of Hamilton‘s “The Story of Tonight.”led by Ashley D. Kelley, Grey Henson, Andrew Durand and Kevin Cahoon
This was a spectacular afternoon that can only be had in NYC.
T2c would love to thank these three ladies who gave us a chair to sit on.
The Outer Critics Circle Awards and You Are There Part 2
Yesterday the 72nd Annual Awards honoring achievements in the 2022-2023 Broadway and Off-Broadway season were presented at the Bruno Walter Auditorium, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
Here are highlights from the show.
Outstanding New Score: Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman – Some Like It Hot
T2c interviewed the fantastic duo.
Outstanding Lead Performer in an Off-Broadway Play: Bill Irwin –Endgame
Outstanding Featured Performer in a Broadway Musical: Alex Newell – Shucked
Outstanding Lead Performer in a Broadway Musical: J. Harrison Ghee
Outstanding Featured Performer in a Broadway Play: Brandon Uranowitz – Leopoldstadt
T2c talked to this amazing performer before the ceremony.
Special Achievement Award:To B.H. Barry, one of the world’s foremost fight directors.
Outstanding New Broadway Play: Leopoldstadt and Outstanding Director of a Play:Patrick Marber – Leopoldstadt
Outstanding New Broadway Musical: Some Like It Hot Robert E. Wankel and Neil Meron
Broadway’s Samantha Pauly and Reeve Carney Come To Chelsea Table and Stage
On May 29th catch Samantha Pauly for Memorial Day. Best known for originating the role of Katherine Howard in Broadway’s smash hit SIX the Musical, and her captivating performance as Eva Peron in Jamie Lloyd’s critically acclaimed revival of Evita on London’s West End, Samantha Pauly has carefully crafted an evening that reflects the last few years of her life. Join this Grammy nominee and Drama Desk Award winner as she revisits some career highlights, Broadway classics, pop/rock favorites, and all the fun stuff in between.
Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and actor Reeve Carneyreturns to Chelsea Table + Stage June 4th to perform a night of music honoring the artistry of the legendary rock n’ roll supergroup Led Zeppelin. Carney is best known for his portrayal of Dorian Grayin on Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, Riff Raff in Fox’s Rocky Horror Picture Show Reimagining, as well as originating the role of Peter Parker in Julie Taymor/U2’s Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark. He is currently starring in the Broadway blockbuster, Hadestown. Reeve Carney delivers a one-man-show cabaret that feels more like an invitation-only after-party than a traditional concert performance. Don’t miss this special performance from one of Broadway’s leading actors!
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