BWW Review: THE BOYS IN THE BAND at Barbershop Theatre is one party you will NOT forget!

BWW Review: THE BOYS IN THE BAND at Barbershop Theatre is one party you will NOT forget!

Fifty years following the premiere of Mart Crowley's iconic pre-stonewall comedic drama about a group of gay men living in New York, The Boys in the Band offers an interesting perspective to modern audiences of the many issues which tend to plague groups of people who are seen as "different", and how much (or rather, as audiences will likely find, how little) those issues have changed over time within the gay community.

This wildly entertaining evening full of laughs, queens, booze, shirtless hunks, self-loathing, and lasagna is one which is sure to wow audiences with the exceptional performance of its cast, while providing deeper insights into what it means to be a societal outsider, and how that treatment often manifests itself both internally and externally.

A gift to Nashville audiences, Jeffrey Ellis's production of The Boys in the Band is the first to be performed since its recent successful Broadway revival which closed in August of this year, and delivers the latest condensed one-act version of the script which was recently seen on the Great White Way. This new cutting of the iconic script is a fresher and more engagingly paced version of the classic text, which fans of the original will fail to feel as if anything is missing from. The nonstop action fails to drag at any moment, as is often a risk for full length one-act plays, nor does it feel rushed or robbed of its richly developed characters and iconic jokes.

The Jeffrey Ellis-directed and produced production which premiered last night at the intimate Barbershop Theater welcomes in audiences warmly as guests to the birthday party at which the play's events occur. At a first glance, one might ask the question: how could anyone stage a play with a cast of nine in such a close quartered proximity? However, as soon as the audience begins to fill the space, and the cast inhabits the room, the intimate setting (which is quite literally the size of a New York living room) enhances the experience. Staged in the round, its masterful director, Ellis has forced audiences to share the space during the show with fellow party-goers, laughing together and sharing in the evening of entertainment. This creates the electric, connected effect within the room which truly inspires a sense of togetherness with the community of the evening, drawing the audience in further to the immersive experience.

Crowley presents a cast of characters that are easily recognizable, and while often criticized for perpetuating stereotypes through these roles, the honesty and ease with which the cast of Ellis's production don their personas paint the fictional lives seen onstage as very real and authentic people with which the audience is able to identify and relate.

BWW Review: THE BOYS IN THE BAND at Barbershop Theatre is one party you will NOT forget!Michael, the host of Harold's birthday party, is played with bitter shade and savage humor by Bradley Moore whose bitchy humor and alcohol accentuated unhappiness with life leads him and his fellow queers in an evening which begins as playfully snarky, but builds into micro (or not so micro) attacks and lashings out at the only people with which he is able to identify. Moore's memorable performance expertly taps into the insecurities and fears which inevitably contribute to his isolation. Moore's gradual and realistic progression from pessimistically witty host to full on bully is stirring and impactful. While The Boys in the Band focuses on the gay community, the issues of insecurity and bitterness which result from the need to hide aspects of oneself are universally applicable to anyone who has ever felt "different".

The evening takes a turn when Michael receives a call from his former college roommate, Alan (played by Bryce Conner), who, in tears, insists upon seeing him that evening. Michael invites him over to join the gaggle of gays, despite Alan's (presumable) heterosexuality. Michael, who never came out to Alan, commands his guests to suppress their more flaming characteristics and play straight while his old friend is around.

However, not all of Michael's guests are able to hide who they are. Russell Forbes joins the festivities as the fabulous and flamboyant, hip sashaying, stereotypical queer. Emory, a role with which Forbes owns with great ease and larger-than-life authenticity. Rather than falling into the trap of becoming an accumulation of cheesily fabricated mannerisms which feel unnatural or "faked," Forbes breathes a dramatic and over-the-top comedic life into the role that feels refreshingly natural to the actor, and engagingly lovable to the audience. As Alan mingles at the gathering, it is not long before the he is able to identify Emory's "pansy" nature, which, as more and more alcohol gets added to the mix, is confronted in a less than cordial manner-to say the least.

While times and freedoms have certainly changed since Crowley's 1968 play originally premiered, the show re-emerges in 2018 with enduring modern relevance. A point of dramatic tension within the play which current audiences (especially within the LGBTQ+ community) may find themselves familiar with is the troubled, but ultimately loving relationship between Hank and Larry (played by Brad Hunter and J. Robert Lindsay respectively). The pair struggle to find a balance with one and other's differing sexual desires as a gay couple living in a heteronormative society. While Both wish to maintain their relationship, Larry's sexual appetite for a polyamorous connection forces Hank, the mid-divorcee, to redefine how his newly accepted same-sex lifestyle merges with his current partner's wishes.

The two actors complement each other well as foils. Lindsay is the younger, more fun, stronger built, and "gayer" of the pair, who clearly finds entertainment in teasing his lover, while Hunter, in contrast, gives a more reserved, outwardly unhappy, and serious performance as Hank. The conflict between the two is deliberately uncomfortable from the moment each actor enters the stage, and manifests itself in every aspect of the two performers very brilliantly different but complimentary performances throughout the production.

Whether looking for a fun night out at the theater, a thought-provoking and relevant discussion of community and self-identity, or even some hunky eye candy,The Boys in the Band delivers. The entertaining and engaging "kiki" which audiences become a part of is only improved by the arrival of one of Harold's (and the audiences visual) gifts. Cowboy, a chronically oblivious hustler who delights audiences with the sight of his "pec"-tacular body and his mentally vacant humor, is perfectly cast in Jon Rodgers, whose comedic timing is even more solid than his chest.

Other points of the production which cannot go unnoticed are the performances of Macon Kimbrough as the tardy birthday boy, and Patriq James who graces the stage as the double-outsider, Bernard, who is not only a gay man living in the 60's but African American as well. James is a maturely warm presence who balances out the evening's shady interactions with an instantly likable demeanor and strength. Kimbrough's Harold, who the audience is left waiting nearly half the show for the arrival of delivers a performance that is well worth the wait. Kimbrough dominates the stage with a presence that is calm yet powerful, never seeking attention, yet leaving audiences incapable of looking away.

For a darkly honest and hilariously entertaining night out to remember, do not rob yourself of the opportunity to join the party in Jeffrey Ellis' newly opened production of The Boys in the Band, playing through Oct 1 with performances on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday evenings at 7:30 p.m., with a 2:30 matinee on Saturday, September 29, at The Barbershop Theatre, 4003 Indiana Avenue.

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From This Author Payton McCarthy

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