In 1968, playwright Mart Crowley wrote a story about a birthday party in New York City. This play was groundbreaking. Why? Because the story focused on a group of gay male friends, one of the first pieces of American media to truly showcase gay life, shocking the mainstream audience in the process.
The story takes place in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in 1968 and focuses on a group of friends celebrating a birthday party. As the party unfurls and the drinks are poured, secrets and an uninvited guest spin the party out of control. The characters are a mix of personalities, from dramatic, campy, effeminate to in-denial. Many of the characters are based on Crowley’s own friends and experiences, having been openly gay throughout his career. The story is as intense now as it would have been for a time where gay men were still not openly ‘out’ or accepted in general society. The play is credited with helping inspire the 1969 Stonewall riots and furthering the gay rights movement in the United States.
After its original debut on Off-Broadway, it was shown in London, continuously revived in Off-Broadway during the 1990’s/2000’s as well as a Broadway production in 2018. The play was subsequently adapted twice into feature films, once in 1970 and in 2020, the play was adapted for Netflix with the original 2018 Broadway revival cast, releasing in late September.
The 2020 film was released to generally positive reviews from critics and features a sleuth of well-known actors including Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory), Zachary Quinto (Star Trek) and Matt Bomber (White Collar).
One of the most interesting aspects of ‘The Boys in the Band’ is that it has continuously hired gay actors for the leading roles. Although the original cast were in the closet after the premiere of the play, it’s encouraging to see that all of the actors for the 2020 performance are all openly gay. It’s not only a credit to the story itself and the environment that Mart Crowley was able to create but showcases the progress we have made as a society in the past 50 odd years.
Alongside the release of the film, Netflix additionally released a special entitled ‘The Boys in the Band: Something personal’ focusing on Mart Crowley as he reflects on the legacy and importance of his story. Crowley, unfortunately, passed away in March of 2020, 6 months before the release of the film.
Stream The Boys in the Band on Netflix here