By Shannon Sigafoos

Five decades after its incarnations as a 1968 off-Broadway play and 1970 film, The Boys in the Band—often considered the first truly honest representation of gay life in pop culture—debuted on Netflix Sept. 30 with a familiar face as one of nine central characters. Brian Hutchison ’93 revives a role he played on Broadway in the Tony-winning 2018 anniversary production, with his character, Alan, unexpectedly crashing a birthday party thrown by an old college roommate.

“Alan comes to the party for a very specific reason, but that reason isn’t known to anyone at the party. Nor is it known to the viewer. That’s one of the mysteries of the film,” says Hutchison, who shares the screen with all of his 2018 castmates and whose character is allegedly the only straight one in the film. “There’s a lot left up to the audience’s interpretation of who this guy is, and it’s more interesting for people to kind of draw their own conclusions.”

Set inside and outside the Manhattan apartment of party host Michael, the story doesn’t change in the adaptation from stage to screen, though moving to a Los Angeles soundstage for production meant that the actors had the Broadway run as part of their rehearsal process, as well as a set that utilized cameras to eliminate the distance between performer and observer.

Having performed the material seven times a week in front of more than 800 people each performance, the biggest challenge, Hutchison says, then becomes making viewers feel like they’re in the room with you instead of acting to fill a very big stage and reach audience members at the back of the house.

“It was really getting used to the new set and figuring out the movement, the blocking, and where the cameras were going to be. For the play, it was much more about figuring out who the characters were, what the relationships were between the guys, and why we were saying what we were saying. Because we had already done that, we were able to really focus on the technical aspect,” says Hutchison. “Things can feel very big on stage, so this was getting that out of your muscle memory and realizing that the camera picks up everything.”

The intimacy of performance is particularly important for a work that has exposed its audiences to certain truths about gay identity. Playwright Mart Crowley, who penned the original script and passed away in March, not only covered hidden issues in the 1960s gay community, but put those issues front and center in a way that had not been done before. Because the film is also set in that time period, it was important to consider the historical context and remember that the story takes place even before the 1969 Stonewall Riots—the first major protest on behalf of equal rights for LGBTQ people.

“It’s a tricky film for a lot of people, because for years, many gay people did not want to be associated with it. They didn’t want to be that person. Now, 50 years later, young people watching can thankfully look at it through a more historical lens and understand this is an important part of our shared history,” says Hutchison. “There are still decisions that are being made in terms of equality, and we see what’s happening with the Supreme Court right now. In many ways, I hope young people watch the film and relate to it.”

Hutchison, who has several Broadway and theater credits to his name, also points out that stories written for the stage having the opportunity to be turned into films for streaming platforms (Netflix currently has nearly 200 million subscribers) can only be beneficial in terms of exposure to new audiences.

“It’s very rare that an entire cast of a Broadway show gets to do a film. Keeping the cast together really came from a place of love from [producer] Ryan Murphy and [director] Joe Mantello, who wanted to keep the integrity of the production. Ryan’s goal with Netflix is to bring more stories about gay history to people, because there aren’t a lot of them.”