Written by playwright Mart Crowley, The Boys in the Band tells the story of a group of gay men gathered at a mutual friend's apartment for his birthday celebration. Over the course of the evening, as the drinks continue to pour, faults in the men’s relationships are exposed and friendships are tested. The party culminates in a nasty parlor game where each of the guests must call someone they loved and tell that person about it.
Premiering Off-Broadway in 1968 -- a year before the Stonewall riots -- the play was considered groundbreaking at the time for putting gay men’s lives onstage. In an interview with SFGate, Crowley said that writing it “had to do with the social attitude of people around me, and the laws of the day,” which forced gay men to hide their true selves. Even the gay actors in the original production stayed in the closet, despite the show’s success.
Garnering critical acclaim and a place in the LGBT storytelling canon, the show has been revived twice Off-Broadway in the past two decades and translated into several languages. The play was adapted into a feature-length film released in 1970, and a 2011 documentary, Making the Boys, captured the legacy of the show and the modern criticism it's received for perpetuating stereotypical portrayals of gay men. In 2010, The Collected Plays of Mart Crowley, which includes The Boys in the Band, received a Lambda Literary Award, the highest honor among LGBT literature.
“I didn’t think of that one more than I did of the five full-length plays I’ve professionally produced as well. Of course, they didn’t cause the furor that the one play caused, and I didn’t anticipate that,” Crowley told ET in 2011 of The Boys in the Band’s breakout success. “But here we are.”
In 2018, 50 years after the show debuted, Ryan Murphy brought Crowley’s play back to the stage -- this time on Broadway. Currently playing through Aug. 11 at the Booth Theatre, the revival stars Andrew Rannells, Brian Hutchison, Charlie Carver, Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Michael Benjamin Washington, Robin De Jesus, Tuc Watkins and Zachary Quinto -- the first time in the show’s (and film’s) history that the ensemble consists entirely of openly gay actors.
Speaking to Time Out about the significance of working with an all-out cast, Bomer, who plays the sympathetic Donald, says that it is “my favorite thing about the experience so far. So often, I’m the only gay person on set -- there might be one closeted person or something.”
“It was just hard to say no to,” Parsons tells ET about joining the revival, in which he plays Michael, the host of the party and instigator of the evening’s game. “It’s very meaningful to be able to play these parts as out gay actors 50 years later, when so many of these men not only hid their sexuality but died of AIDS eventually, a disease that undoubtedly was allowed to get as bad as it did in part due to homophobia, a secretiveness and no action being taken.”
However, Parsons did have one caveat for doing the show: Quinto. After doing a reading of the play with the actor -- he plays the scene-stealing and increasingly morose Harold, who is celebrating his 30th birthday -- Parsons recalls telling his agent he would only commit to the Broadway production if the Star Trek actor was going to be part of it: “If Zach’s not going to be involved, I feel real iffy about this because I just didn’t know who else could do it to the level he does it. He’s that good.”
To Parsons' credit, Quinto, “the cast’s starriest member,” Vulture writes in its review, “is doing something rather fabulous with the drugged up, dripping-with-sarcasm birthday boy.”
Speaking with ET at the 2018 Tony Awards, Quinto said the experience has “been incredible,” adding that because the cast were all friends for a long time before the production, there’s a “sense of interconnectivity going in to this experience on stage.”
--Additional reporting by Keltie Knight and Lauren Zima