‘The Boys in the Band’: ‘Engrossing’ 50th anniversary revival boasts star-studded cast led by Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer

The Tony Awards celebrating the 2017-18 Broadway season are still a week away but the derby for next year’s trophies has already begun with the opening of “The Boys in the Band,” the first production of the 2018-19 season. This 50th anniversary revival of the 1968 landmark play by Mart Crowley opened at the Booth Theatre on May 31. Helmed by director Joe Mantello, who competes for Best Direction of a Play at this year’s Tonys for his helming of Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women,” “The Boys in the Band” cast includes Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, and Andrew Rannells.

Set on a single night in April 1968, “The Boys in the Band” centers on Harold’s (Quinto) birthday party, hosted by Michael (Parsons) for a small group of their gay mutual friends. When two unexpected guests arrive and Michael begins to drink for the first time in a while, the proceedings turn more caustic than celebratory and, ultimately, revealing.

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“The Boys in the Band” received varying reviews from critics. Giving the production four out of five stars, Adam Feldman (Time Out New York) applauds this staging as a “keen-edged and engrossing” revival and deems that, fifty years later, the play “has aged mostly well: It has resonance and snap.” Of the cast, he singles out the “ebullient and vibrant” Robin de Jesús, the “effortless” Rannells, and Parsons who “offers a searing portrait of self-loathing that defies us to confine [the play] to the comfort of a period piece.” Despite these kudos, though, Feldman suggests that the production’s “star casting is not completely effective.”

Tim Teeman (Daily Beast) similarly lauds this revival, calling it “an exhilarating, investigatory night of many souls” and saying, “Mantello and the cast have done a wonderful, respectful, and intelligent job bringing it back.” Although he calls Mantello’s staging “brilliant and sometimes puzzling” as this revival “doesn’t feel or look like 1968,” Teeman ultimately finds the decision effective as it opens up the resonance of the play beyond a mere period piece and allows “certain parts” of the play to “hit the mark, positive and negative, today.” Like Feldman, Teeman applauds the “riotously mugging Robin de Jesús,” but also praises Rannells and Tuc Watkins, the “excellent” Michael Benjamin Washington, and the “adept scene-stealer” Charlie Carver.

On the less than favorable side, Ben Brantley (New York Times) calls the revival “starry but disconnected” and ultimately “disharmonious,” leaving him “largely impatient and unmoved.” Despite the negative tenor of his review, Brantley does appreciate the scenic and costume designs, both by David Zinn, and a few of the cast members, including a “solid” Matt Bomer, an “impressive” Parsons, and most notable, Robin de Jesús who gives a “superlative performance… that provides the show with its most genuinely moving moments” of both “pain” and “resilience.”

While not quite as negative, Sara Holdren (Vulture) also calls the revival “glitzy” and “solidly acted,” but bemoans the  “museum-piecey-ness… overwhelms this production.” Even so, Holdren says “there’s something still alive, and still painful” in the piece despite it feeling “like a carefully packaged luxury item.” Holdren does offer much praise for many of the performances, too, including for Parsons, Bomer, Quinto, Washington, and Robin de Jesús, who “often feels like the show’s real heart” and whose “energy is exhilarating.”

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A few elements of the sow earned notices worthy of awards consideration. Of the richly talented ensemble cast, Robin de Jesús received across-the-board raves for his performance as Emory. De Jesús already has two Tony nominations on his résumé (“La Cage aux Folles,” 2010; “In the Heights,” 2008), so a third bid seems entirely possible. Of the rest of the cast, Jim Parsons could factor into the awards conversation come next Tony season. Parsons has appeared in three previous Broadway productions, including revivals of “The Normal Heart” (2011) and “Harvey” (2012), without earning a Tony bid, so his strong notices plus his increasingly strong track record on the boards could work in his favor next year.

Even though some critics quibbled with his some of his directorial choices, Joe Mantello should never be counted out come awards season. In addition to his bid this year for directing the revival (and first Broadway mounting) of Albee’s “Three Tall Women,” Mantello has two Tony wins (“Assassins,” 2004; “Take Me Out,” 2003) and five other nominations to his name, including two for acting.

The early premiere and limited run of “The Boys in the Band” will certainly work against the awards prospects of these individuals and the Best Revival prospects of the production, though. Slated to close on August 11, 2018 due to the extremely limited availability of the TV and movie stars of the cast, “The Boys in the Band” may seem a distant memory to the Tony nominating committee as many productions open in the fall and especially the spring, when most producers vying for Tony nominations attempt to open their shows.

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