When The Boys in the Band premiered Off-Broadway 50 years ago, it was an insta-classic of the gay movement. Pre-dating the Stonewall riots, Mart Crowley’s play is a snapshot of what it meant to be gay in the 1950s and ’60s—discriminated against, ostracized, even seen as mentally ill. The play’s Broadway debut, produced by Ryan Murphy, directed by Joe Mantello and boasting a stellar cast that features Matt Bomer, Brian Hutchison, Zachary Quinto, Tuc Watkins, Michael Benjamin Washington, Robin de Jesús, Charlie Carver, Andrew Rannells, and Jim Parsons, reveals how far we have come and how far we have to go in terms of accepting differences in sexuality.
Here, the cast of The Boys in the Band remembers the pop culture that influenced them and helped them embrace their identity as gay men:
“It may be an obvious choice, but I would say Will and Grace. There was something about that show being in people’s living rooms every week that took away a lot of people’s fears and stigmas. I know it’s not a piece that includes every aspect of gay life, but it really did help to move the dial in terms of social progress.”
“The Craft! I don’t know if this totally qualifies as gay pop culture, but it certainly queered my heart up as a kid. Cute school uniforms, social outcasts, and witchcraft? What’s not to like? This one goes deep into coven dynamics, and Fairuza Balk is nothing short of genius. Plus a good binding spell is all too necessary in 2018.”
ROBIN DE JESÚS
“The Color Purple. The joy and release on Celie’s face when she kissed Shug Avery shook me. I had never seen two women kiss. But the real heart of the story for me is the construct that Shug uses to describe God to Celie: ‘God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don’t know what you looking for.’ All those times I thought being gay was the absence of God, this quote would bring me to a place of introspection and I knew God wouldn’t make me anything less than.
“Longtime Companion was so significant for me, in terms of showing accurate portrayals of several distinct gay relationships. The uncompromising, all-encompassing, and unconditional love that they had for each other made an indelible impression. I’ve worked with a few guys who acted in this film over the years and I always ask about it—it really stayed with me and is all around just beautiful.”
“The plays of Charles Busch, and there really isn’t a close second. Participating in Busch’s works placed me in a world I had never fully dreamed of, but one that made me, a young adult figuring out his sexuality and his career, feel more at home than I’d ever felt before. I found a freedom as a performer that was impossible to shake once tasted—much the same way that, once I let myself admit I was in love with another guy, there was no going back. No one wants to live falsely, onstage or off. Especially on. Ha!”
“Barbra Streisand’s Hello, Dolly! and Funny Girl. They each have the magnificence of full-out movie musical spectacles anchored by phenomenally executed work by a true icon.”
“The Tony Awards were hugely informative for me as a kid. They still are. And thanks to YouTube, there are so many past clips available online. I would have to say that two of my all-time favorites are Patti LuPone in Evita singing ‘A New Argentina’ and Bernadette Peters in Gypsy singing ‘Rose’s Turn.’ If you haven’t seen either of these, treat yourself.”
MICHAEL BENJAMIN WASHINGTON
“Every generation needs to know the grand triumvirate of Michael Bennett, Michael Peters, and Bob Avian and their gift called Dreamgirls. The audacity of bringing the story of three African-American leading ladies and three African-American leading men to life in Broadway’s most destitute of times, brought this child of the ’80s great joy.”
“Madonna: 1990. Trailblazer, role model, gay icon. ‘Vogue’ had us on the dance floor. ‘Blonde Ambition’ had us at the concert. Dick Tracy had us at the movies. The Immaculate Collection was at the front of our CD collection. George H.W. Bush may have been president in 1990, but Madonna was God.”