February may be Black History Month, but gay history seemed to be the new black thanks to a glut of gay-themed shows off-Broadway. As if to warm audiences up for the highly anticipated reopenings of The Temperamentals and Next Fall, last year’s little gay favorites that could, high-profile new productions like Yank! and The Pride compare same-sex affection and dysfunction of yesteryear and today, while an unorthodox revival of The Boys in the Band reminds us of the milestones we can celebrate and the obstacles we must still overcome.
Picture it: World War II, 1943, the setting of York Theater Company’s Yank! which audiences will salute through March 21 at the Theatre at St. Peter’s. A 2005 Musical Theatre Festival hit, Yank! — written by gay brothers Joe and David Zellnik — uses an old diary to look through lavender-colored lenses at a time before “don’t ask, don’t tell,” when gay hanky-panky could land you in jail. Bobby Steggert (Ragtime) is adorably affecting as Stu, a confused kid who gets drafted and falls for fellow private Mitch, a conflicted stud played by Ivan Hernandez. The reprise-heavy show’s a smidge flabby, but it’s got everything you want in an old-fashioned tuner: tap dances, torch songs, a drag number, and even a dream ballet. It’s directed by Igor Goldin and choreographed by Naked Boys Singing!’s Jeffry Denham, who also plays a predatory gay journalist at a real-life WWII ’zine called Yank.
Transport Group’s startling production of The Boys in the Band, Mart Crowley’s groundbreaking 1968 gay drama about a birthday shindig gone sour, is the must-attend soiree of the season. In the play’s first New York revival since 1996, director Jack Cummings III celebrates the humanity of even the nelliest self-flagellating stereotype here, but it’s really special because it’s a “site-specific environmental production” — which means that a 12th floor penthouse space at 37 W. 26th St. with a great view of the Empire State Building has been transformed into a 99-seat theater that looks like the host’s apartment. With the aid of homelike lamp lighting and the fact that the party progresses in real time, you do feel like you’re a part of the action — like watching a bitchy gay Avatar. Some guests may be hard to spend time with, but there’s not one weak link in the daisy chain of performers.