By Cami Hancock
This month marks the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, largely regarded as the most formative moment in the history of the LGBTQ rights movement. On June 28, 1969, police raided Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn without warning, and the LGBTQ community retaliated against the unfair treatment by the police. The aftermath of Stonewall resulted in the creation of gay rights groups in every major US city, annual Gay Pride marches across the country, and international awareness of the ongoing gay rights movement. On this anniversary of Stonewall, Broadway happens to be experiencing a history-making season for LGBTQ representation. Two major trailblazers are The Boys in the Band and The Prom, shows that have received great critical acclaim and were nominated for top Tony Awards® this year.
The Boys in the Band is a play whose original production premiered in 1968, and it revolves around a group of gay men who gather in New York City for a birthday party. Although the plot of the play doesn’t seem radical by today’s standards, it was one of the first plays to present a story centered on gay characters. The public’s evolving reception to the piece is shocking. Leading up to the show’s original premiere, its creative team found it almost impossible to find actors willing to play gay characters. This was referenced by the playwright Mart Crowley when The Boys in the Band ended up taking home the prize for Best Revival of a Play at the Tony Awards® on June 9, 2019. In his acceptance speech, Crowley said, “I’d like to dedicate the award to the original cast of nine brave men, who did not listen to their agents when they were told that their careers would be finished if they did this play,” This was vastly different to the response to the recent Broadway revival, whose production featured a starry cast of popular gay actors, including Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, and Matt Bomer. This shows how the public’s reception to the LGBTQ community has drastically improved in 50 years, and The Boys in the Band was one of the first “theatrical game changers” to pave the way for other shows centered around gay characters, including The Prom.
The Prom is a new musical that tells the story of a teenage lesbian, Emma, who, with the help of some Broadway veterans, fights against her school’s rule that says she can’t bring her girlfriend to the prom. The show has dramatized an event that has happened in real life repeatedly across the country, and The Prom made history when the cast performed at the 2018 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, featuring the first gay kiss to be seen in the parade’s 91 years. Just 50 years after the Stonewall protests, a gay-centered musical is being overwhelmingly embraced by both critics and audiences. It recently won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical, as well as announced the launch of its first national tour.
Other Broadway shows this season featuring openly gay characters include Choir Boy, Mean Girls, Come From Away, and Be More Chill. Why, you may ask, is this season on Broadway so groundbreaking? Representation and validation for the LGBTQ community is necessary. This season, kids who identify within the community can sit in a Broadway theater and see themselves reflected on a Broadway stage. As an art form that has created social change in the past, Broadway has the potential to play a role in getting the Equality Act passed by swaying the hearts and minds of the millions of people who attend Broadway shows every year. The passing of the Equality Act would allow for sexual orientation and gender identity to be explicitly protected classes under national law, which would be monumental in the protection of gay rights. Broadway also happens to be located only blocks from Stonewall and the birthplace of the gay rights movement. The fact is that without the LGBTQ community, Broadway simply wouldn’t exist. This is because the contributions made to Broadway by members of the LGBTQ community have been immeasurable. Since the early days of Broadway, members of the LGBTQ community have made up a large percentage of Broadway casts, creative teams, and audiences. The LGBTQ community is the core of Broadway, and they deserve, as much anyone, to have their rights protected and to have their stories told on a Broadway stage.
Cami Hancock is a Wharton Center intern and a junior at MSU, studying Arts and Humanities with a focus on writing and theatre.