Saturday, April 14, 2018

50 Years Ago Today: 'The Boys In the Band' Premiered

The play, The Boys In the Band, written by Matt Crowely, premiered Off-Broadway today, April 14, in 1968. It opened at Theater Four, and closed on September 6, 1970, after 1,001 performances. 

When The Boys in the Band premiered, mainstream audiences were shocked. Nothing like it had been done before. The play was one of the first works to present a story centered around gay men.

Directed by Robert Moore, the cast included Kenneth Nelson as Michael, Peter White as Alan McCarthy, Leonard Frey as Harold, Cliff Gorman as Emory, Frederick Combs as Donald, Laurence Luckinbill as Hank, Keith Prentice as Larry, Robert La Tourneaux as Cowboy, and Reuben Greene as Bernard.

The play is set in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and the backgrounds of characters are revealed in the course of a birthday party. Harold celebrates his birthday. He becomes increasingly morose about losing his youthful looks and claims that he no longer can attract cute young men.

"Cowboy," an attractive, blond prostitute who is "not too bright," is one of Harold's birthday presents. Alan McCarthy is an unexpected party guest, Michael's married college friend, who is visiting New York and anxious to tell Michael something but hesitant to do so in front of the others.
The party is given by Harold's six closest friends: Michael is Harold's "friend-enemy," the host, and a lapsed Catholic as well as an alcoholic. Donald is Michael's conflicted boyfriend who has moved from the city to spurn the homosexual "lifestyle," and is undergoing psychoanalysis. Bernard is an African-American, who still pines for the wealthy white boy in whose house his mother worked as a maid. Emory is a flamboyant and "effeminate" interior decorator. Larry, a fashion photographer who prefers multiple sex partnersHank, Larry's live-in boyfriend who has been married to a woman from whom he is separated and is divorcing. He "passes" as straight and disagrees with Larry on the issue of monogamy.

During the party, the humor takes a nasty turn, as the nine men become increasingly inebriated. The party culminates in a "game," where each man must call someone who he has loved and tell them about it. Michael, believing that Alan has finally "outed" himself when he makes his call, grabs the phone from him and discovers Alan has called his wife. The audience never learns what Alan intended to discuss with Michael in the end.

Crowley told Dominick Dunne about the title: "It's that line in A Star is Born when James Mason tells a distraught Judy Garland, 'You're singing for yourself and the boys in the band.'"

Crowley reminded himself of Michael as "a complex person who is aware of what is politically correct but has a sort of contempt for it," and he called Donald "a foil for Michael," and an inspiration of Crowley's friend. 

In the 1995 documentary, The Celluloid Closet, Crowley explained, "The self-deprecating humor was born out of a low self-esteem, from a sense of what the times told you about yourself."

In the same year as the premiere (1968), a two-disc, vinyl LP set was released, containing the full dialogue of the play voiced by the original actors.

In 2002, Peter Filichia from Theater Mania contended that the play's original production helped inspire the 1969 Stonewall riots and gay rights movement.

The play was revived Off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in 1996, running from August 6, 1996, to October 20, 1996. The Boys in the Band was also presented by the Transport Group Theater Company, New York City, from February 2010 to March 14, 2010, directed by Jack Cummings III.

In 2002, Crowley wrote The Men from the Boys, a sequel to the play, which takes place 30 years after the original. The Men from the Boys premiered in San Francisco in 2002, directed by Ed Decker, and was produced in Los Angeles in 2003.
For its 50th anniversary, Joe Mantello is directing a Broadway production of the play opening at the Booth Theatre, running from April 30 to August 12, 2018. The production stars Matt BomerJim ParsonsZachary Quinto and Andrew Rannells.

The play was adapted into a feature film of the same name by Cinema Center Films in 1970, directed by William Friedkin. The trailer is below and the entire film is available on YouTube here.

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