When The Boys in the Band, Mart Crowley’s play about a birthday party that becomes a hellish night of unleashed secrets for a group of close-knit gay pals, opened off-Broadway in 1968, it made history as the first produced dramatic play to deal honestly with homosexuality. The show was an immediate sensation, running for more than 1,000 performances and it wasn’t unusual for audience members to find themselves seated next to A-list celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor or Natalie Wood.
By the time director William Friedkin’s film adaptation was released in 1970, the Stonewall riots had taken place and the gay liberation movement had officially begun. Thus began a critical reaction to the characters that continues to this day, with admirers touting its accurate depiction of a microcosm of gay friends while critics complain that the story perpetuates negative queer stereotypes.
With news coming that producer Ryan Murphy plans to mount a 50th anniversary revival of the show, below are some unlikely casting suggestions that would make the play relevant — or at least interesting — to 21st century audiences. Hint: They’re going to need a bigger marquee.
Luke Evans as Michael, a writer and recovering alcoholic who hosts the party
Why: Evans has been cagey about his sexual orientation, coming out of the closet, going back in around the time he became a star of action films, coming back out so he’ll have plenty of real-life experience to draw upon to play the tortured leading role.
Zachary Quinto as Emory, a quick-witted interior designer who revels in his homosexuality
Why: Emory, who puts the flam(e) in flamboyant, is the play’s most problematic character and thus the trickiest role to cast. Quinto, who is openly gay and played other challenging queer characters, seems trustworthy enough to keep Emory from devolving into a dated stereotype.
Jake Gyllenhall as Alan, the conflicted straight college friend of Michael’s, who shows up unexpectedly
Why: Gyllenhall has developed into a sensitive, capable actor who could easily navigate the nuance required for Alan, plus what an interesting bookend this would make to his Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain.
Frank Ocean as Harold, the birthday boy and self-professed “32-year-old, pockmarked Jew fairy”
Why: Harold’s first appearance halfway into The Boys in the Band is one of the most grand in theater history so it requires a dynamic performer such as Ocean, who, though inexperienced as an actor, could potentially own the stage.
Evan Ross as Bernard, a black man who still pines for the wealthy white boy of the house where his mother was a maid
Why: Besides being the son of legendary gay icon Diana Ross, Evan has proven his acting prowess in projects as diverse as ATL and the final two Hunger Games films. Although he’s married to “singer” Ashlee Simpson, think of all the potential “He’s Coming Out” headlines.
Macauley Culkin as Hank, a recently out teacher who left his wife for Larry
Why: Culkin has been largely M.I.A. since headlining another queer-themed project, Party Monster, in 2003, so he’s due for a comeback and no one working today is as skilled at resurrecting careers as Ryan Murphy. A generation grew up watching Culkin on the big screen and would likely queue up to see the former Home Alone star flex his acting muscle onstage.
Jamie Bell as Larry, who lives with Hank but insists on maintaining his sexual freedom
Why: Although Bell has been a compelling actor since his debut in 2000’s Billy Elliot, think of the publicity that would be generated by his portraying half of a gay couple with fellow former child star Culkin.
Jaden Smith as Cowboy, Harold’s birthday gift, a dim-witted hustler
Why: The character is traditionally cast as a sexy young white man, so Smith, a charismatic young performer, who has been an outspoken LGBT ally, as well as a gender-fluid fashion icon, plus playing a queer hustler would be a winky nod to his father Will’s role as a gay con in Six Degrees of Separation.
Watch Harold’s entrance in the 1970 film version below.