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Review Roundup: Critics Weigh-In on THE BOYS IN THE BAND on Broadway

The Boys in the Band

Directed by Joe Mantello and produced by Ryan Murphy and David Stone, The Boys in the Band officially opens on Broadway tonight. Mart Crowley's groundbreaking 1968 play, The Boys in the Band, centers on a group of gay men who gather in a NYC apartment for a friend's birthday party. After the drinks are poured and the music turned up, the evening slowly exposes the fault-lines beneath their friendships and the self-inflicted heartache that threatens their solidarity.

A sensation when it premiered in April 1968, The Boys in the Band was originally scheduled to run for five performances at the Playwrights' Unit, a small off-Broadway venue. Overnight, the show became the talk of the town for its unflinchingly honest depiction of gay life, and transferred to Theater Four on West 55th Street, running for over 1,000 performances. The entire original company performed the show to great acclaim in London and also appeared in William Friedkin's 1970 film version.

Let's see what the critics had to say!

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: I wish I could report that this charismatic and capable team, directed by the busy Joe Mantello, transported me vividly and uncompromisingly into the dark ages of homosexual life in these United States, and that I shuddered and sobbed in sympathy. But even trimmed from two acts to an intermission-free 110 minutes, the show left me largely impatient and unmoved.

Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: Newspaper ads during the play's original run boasted quotes like "Screamingly Funny," and "Lancing Wit," perhaps luring in hesitant straight ticket-buyers with the promise of a jolly comedy rather than witnessing the self-reflections of members of a group their society has marginalized. While Mantello's immensely engaging production certainly isn't stingy with the laughs, the director also has the liberty to play to a more sympathetic public, allowing the sharp edges to occasionally soften, giving clearer views of what all that laughter was hiding.

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: Mantello wants his audience to breathe in not just his characters, with their one-liners, quips, power trips and deep sadness, but also to imbue the breathtaking contrast with the self-assured men who now are playing them, luckier men not born when the play was written. That is not to imply condescension on the part of these actors - on the contrary, for you can read the seriousness with which they take their assignments to play men much less famous than themselves - but merely to claim Mantello's clear purpose, as intensified by a design from David Zinn that has one foot in two eras and its cleverly timeless body in the close proximity of such contradictions as intimacy and performance, privacy and display.

Matt Windman, amNY: Like the musical "Hair," "The Boys in the Band" is very much a product of its time. Had it premiered just a year later following the Stonewall Riots, Crowley may have made his characters more defiant and less self-loathing in nature. Yet even if the play is dated and its shock value has worn off, as this crowd-pleasing revival demonstrates, it can still be a powerful piece of theater.

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: To some degree, at least, we seem to have learned. The keen-edged and engrossing 50th-anniversary revival of The Boys in the Band-which is also the play's Broadway debut-is the creation of five openly gay producers, an openly gay director (the redoubtable Joe Mantello) and nine openly gay actors. No one seems worried about being role models; they focus on their roles, and on Crowley's favorful dialogue, whose basic bitterness is frequently cut with acid.

Robert Hofler, TheWrap: "Inspired" is the word for casting Jim Parsons as Michael, the vitriolic host of a totally misbegotten birthday party. Equally fortuitous is getting Joe Mantello to direct the first Broadway revival of Mart Crowley's "The Boys in the Band," which opened Thursday at the Booth Theatre, half a century after its Off Broadway world premiere in 1968.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Fifty years after Mart Crowley's landmark comic drama about a group of gay men in pre-Stonewall New York first made waves, director Joe Mantello vigorously shakes the dust off The Boys in the Band. What might have been another bulletin from the distant queer past is transformed into a scintillating portrait of the self-loathing that festers in ghettoized subcultures, perhaps as much now as then. Starring a high-caliber cast of out gay actors led by Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer and Andrew Rannells, the production is sharpest when the zingers are flying back and forth like missiles, but the anger coursing through the play's veins still scalds.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Festivities are certainly in order for this superbly mounted 50th anniversary production of "The Boys in the Band," Mart Crowley's breakthrough 1968 play about Manhattan gay life - still largely underground in an era that preceded both Stonewall and AIDS.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Through it all, the ensemble filled with out-and-proud actors is uniformly terrific. They deftly hug the curves of the script as it goes from barbed humor to bile-spewing. To his credit Crowley doesn't tie things up with a bow. "Call you tomorrow," says Harold, after the carnage. In other words, boys will be boys.

Barbara Schuler, Newsday: That painful declaration, spoken by Michael (Jim Parsons) near the end of the 50th anniversary revival of Mart Crowley's "The Boys in the Band" at the Booth Theatre, comes close to saying it all. The rest is bitter, biting exposition.

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: From the beginning, Boys has been criticized for catering to some of the deepest and most damaging stereotypes of gay life: the nelly, the show queen, the self-loathing closet case. Certain facets do feel dated, but to scrub them entirely would also feel like a denial of the truths and the time the play is rooted in. And for all the pop-culture asides and pointed wit, it's hardly a hollow platform for banter and bitcheries; director Joe Mantello (Wicked, the original production of Angels in America) takes care to let his characters' messier humanity come through.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Boys is a historical marker, a fascinating night in with a group of imperfect buddies, a dark night of the soul, and-in Mantello's supple charge-an exhilarating, investigatory night of many souls.

Greg Evans, Deadline: Because director Joe Mantello, a production team that includes Ryan Murphy and Scott Rudin, and a cast led by the full-of-surprises Jim Parsons as well as Zachary Quinto and Matt Bomer, have revived and revitalized a play that for all its imperfections throws a party at the Booth Theatre that shouldn't be missed.

Michael Sommers, New York Stage Review: A long-running Off Broadway sensation in 1968 and then a controversial film (featuring its original stage actors) in 1970, The Boys in the Band eventually was dismissed, in the bright light of latter-day social change, as a rather shady depiction of gay men. Thanks to its excellent new Broadway production, which bowed tonight at the Booth Theatre, The Boys in the Band is revealed to be a trenchant period drama that dazzles contemporary viewers with a barrage of explosive laughs even as its smart staging respects the thorny past.

Jesse Oxfeld, New York Stage Review: This game is the central action of The Boys in the Band, newly and extravagantly revived at the Booth Theatre on its 50th anniversatry. It's playwright Mart Crowley's device for getting under the skin of the group of bitchy, quippy gay men gathered at Michael's. It also, as ever, makes no sense. Boys is a milestone play in the history of gay theater, a fascinating and lacerating just-pre-Stonewall take on a demimondial gay Manhattan that's essentially alien to the well-employed, well-partnered, post-Obergefelled couples currently snapping pre-curtain Playbill selfies. The play remains compelling viewing, for its wit and its pathos and especially as a slice of historical anthropology. But there's just no good reason, and there's never been a good reason, why the miserable men in Michael's living room don't simply get up and leave. It's the unavoidable flaw in this unavoidable work.

Charles Isherwood, Broadway.News: Bravely, the new production sticks pretty closely to the original, not even sanitizing the flippant racism directed at the one black character. (Some trimming has been done, and a few cosmetic changes have been made here and there: a reference to the operetta "The New Moon" has been changed to the less arcane "Funny Girl.") And with a few exceptions, Crowley's lacerating wit still raises big laughs. But even more impressive is how, even in a much more enlightened era, the characters' battles with their inner demons - battles that are played out in conflicts with even their closest friends - can sting the heart.

Sara Holdren, Vulture: There are surely things to be enthusiastic about in Joe Mantello's glitzy, solidly acted revival, perhaps most of all the commitment of its producers, David Stone and the seemingly omnipotent Ryan Murphy, to assembling a complete cast of openly gay actors, a feat that would have been impossible when the original production shocked and captivated New York a year before Stonewall.

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: Seen from some vantages, it's all rainbow flags and smiley faces. The US has achieved marriage equality, for now anyway, and many people who don't identify as heterosexual no longer feel compelled to closet themselves. Aids, which postdates this play, but seems to be prefigured in its discussion of the bathhouses and an analyst who couldn't make a session because of "a virus or something, he looked awful", continues to transform from a terminal illness into a chronic one. One of the play's producers, Ryan Murphy, an openly gay man, is pretty much the hottest thing in entertainment and the play's cast is made up mostly if not entirely of openly gay actors, including Matt Bomer and Andrew Rannells, a thing unimaginable even a few decades ago. The actors are doing strong work, though a few of them keep signaling just how strong that work is.

David Cote, Theater News Online: One senses that Crowley knew and loved each one of these men, however weak and spiteful he may act. Joe Mantello's starry and glossy revival maximizes the script's angsty impudence. As waspish host Michael, Jim Parsons tempers his innate sweetness with a complex portrait of a narcissist beset by self-hatred. Matt Bomer adds warmth and solidity as Michael's friend, Donald, also neurotic but kinder and more grounded. Zachary Quinto lobs some of the night's best zingers as birthday boy Harold, a self-described "32-year-old, ugly, pockmarked Jew fairy." Brian Hutchison neatly navigates the pathetic but crucial role of Alan, Michael's former college buddy and a crypto-closet-case. Rannells brings his swaggering charisma to Larry, the semi-openly gay professional who might age the best of this lot.

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