Bons mots like those that helped make Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band such a phenomenon when it opened off-Broadway in 1968 fly fast in a new documentary about the play, Making the Boys. Who hasn’t heard/said, “Who do you have to fuck to get a drink around here?” “It’s like Friends without Prozac,” says Carson Kressley, one of the endless array of LGBT luminaries director Crayton Robey lined up to discuss the 43-year-old play about a harrowing birthday party that changes the lives of a group of gay New Yorkers.
Not everyone is so complimentary, though. While author Michael Cunningham acknowledges that Boys, which became a film in 1970, may have finally made gays visible, he says it’s hard to imagine straight people leaving the theater and not rejoicing in the fact that they are heterosexual. And playwright Edward Albee, who was asked to invest in the production in 1968, says he decided against it because “I found it a highly skillful work that I despised…. I thought the play did serious damage to the burgeoning gay respectability movement.”
As much as Making the Boys thoroughly documents a vital piece of our history, it also serves as a valentine to Crowley. Through new interviews and priceless archival footage (Crowley frolicking with Judy Garland and Rock Hudson in 1965 at Roddy McDowall’s beach house!), the playwright charms as he looks back on his struggle to find direction while running with a fast crowd. Chief among that cadre was late movie star Natalie Wood, who became instrumental in getting Boys produced.
The play was a cause célèbre. Crowley became the toast of New York and Boys ran for two years, had two simultaneous touring productions, and even generated a soundtrack album, even though, as ads famously declared, it was “not a musical.”
“If I haven’t achieved anything else but this,” Crowley says, “it’s enough.”
Complaints of some aside, Robey agrees: “We need to respect this legacy and where we’ve come from. We didn’t just show up yesterday.”