By Lawrence Pfeil Jr.
prism – a three-sided transparent object capable of breaking light into the spectral colors, i.e. rainbow
With the announcement that the critically acclaimed revival of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song transferring to Broadway this fall, the stage is set for a historic year on the Great White Way. Three masterworks of gay theatre, The Boys in the Band, Torch Song, and Angels in America – A Gay Fantasia on American Themes, will open during 2018 marking an unprecedented year for gay stories on Broadway.
It was only 36 years ago when having even one “gay play” on Broadway was considered groundbreaking. Ironically, it was Harvey Fierstein’s four hour, Torch Song Trilogy making history and would go on to win the Tony Award for Best Play that year. Since 1982, many LGBT plays and musicals have been seen on Broadway telling diverse and compelling stories of triumph and tragedy from the Community.
But there has never been this quantity or quality of gay plays for Broadway audiences to see in the span of a few short months. Moreover, these works shed a vibrant light on three pivotal points in gay history, the pre-Stonewall era; the pre-AIDS era; and the erupting AIDS Crisis in America. Together they trace an arc of “gay genealogy” from 1968 to 1986, much of which has been lost due to an entire generation of gay men nearly wiped out during the plague of AIDS.
The OG “Boy Band”
It’s hard for anyone who wasn’t there to imagine what ordinary, daily life was like for gay men pre-Stonewall. Even if you were there, the only images you saw of yourself on stage or in film was a “Nance,” “the fop,” or a lisping effete friend who often died in the fourth reel. When Matt Crowley’s The Boys in the Band opened in the Village in 1968, it wasn’t just a revelation of gay humanity it was revolutionary and became a literal overnight sensation.
In April “The Boys” make their uptown debut when performances begin on Broadway of the 50th Anniversary production with an all-star cast. While dismissive, PC gay millennials needing trigger warnings may likely tweet the “Band” as offensive, dated, or unrelatable; if they’d put their phones down and listen? They’d hear that fifty years later the songs may have changes, but the vicious and hurtful ways the players treat each other have not.
Sing Out, Arnold
Would anyone care about an effeminate, gay, Jewish, drag queen looking for love, or sit still for four hours while he was? Starting in 1982, audiences certainly did when Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy premiered on Broadway running for three years and 1,222 performances (an unparalleled record by any recent play on Broadway). In Its first major revival, Torch Song (a revised 2:45) starring Michael Urie and Mercedes Ruehl played to sold-out audiences last fall off-Broadway. Both leads will be reprising their roles when the production opens at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theater (the same house as the original) in October.
Beginning less than a decade after The Boys in the Band, Arnold Beckoff’s “Song” is in three verses, now two acts: “International Stud” with “Fugue in a Nursery” and “Widows and Children First!” Fierstein shows a young gay man (and arguably a young Gay Community) growing up. He discovers how he “fits” with his straight counterparts; the family he came from; and the family he wants to create himself in the early 1980’s, the last days before AIDS.
The Great Work Returns
The only play to win a Pulitzer and the Tony Award for Best Play twice, Tony Kushner’s epic, Angels in America, is currently in previews for its first Broadway revival since it premiered in1993. From the National Theatre in London, the production features Tony Award winner, Nathan Lane and Andrew Garfield. The sprawling two-part, seven and half hour “gay fantasia on national themes” sets the three American taboos, sex, religion, and politics on a collision course. But in Kushner’s eyes, the collision was no accident.
Set against the suffering and deaths of thousands of AIDS victims and apathetic conservatism of the mid-1980’s, “Millennium Approaches” is more foreboding than fortuitous. Hypnotic hallucinations, ideologic fervor, and an ethereal messenger, try to keep the hopeless carnage of humanity at bay. Ultimately, “Perestroika” the “rebuilding” of community, family, and life must begin for “the world only spins forward.”
Angels in America Info and Tickets HERE
The Boys in the Band Info and Tickets HERE
Torch Song Info and Tickets HERE
(all images courtesy of production websites)