An earnest and heartfelt original romance between two gay men set in an accepting vision of 1930s Europe? It’s more likely than you think.
Everyone remembers that groundbreaking historical moment from December 1936 when then-British King Edward VIII abdicated his throne to marry an American divorcee – well, if not everyone, for sure devoted superfans of the UK monarchy. But did you know that at the same time a famous American reporter was in pursuit of the “English Rose,” a dashing bachelor who had just left a New York socialite at the altar?
Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor, with American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
And that after finding a meek gent with glasses who claimed to be friends with said Rose, they would fall in love over a series of mishaps and be wed the very same day of the abdicated king and his American lover?
And that all of this happened, again, in 1936, when gay marriage was very much legal and seen as completely normal to public society?
We’re not surprised this isn’t ringing any bells for you either. Save for the tawdry tidbit of monarchy history, the summary above is the madcap plot of a romantic comedy musical called Boy Meets Boy that first debuted Off-Broadway in 1975.
Created by lyricist Bill Solly and playwright Donald Ward, Boy Meets Boy was quietly revolutionary; at a time when most LGBT+ characters in theater were preening caricatures only meant to be mocked and ridiculed, the musical boasted an almost entirely LGBT+ cast of characters, a first for theater.
Bill Solly (2018).
A sendup of 1930s Rogers/Astaire style romances, Boy wasn’t the most in-depth piece of theater. Guy Rose, a mild-mannered British bachelor who gets dubbed the “English Rose” by paparazzi after leaving socialite Clarence Cutler at the altar, and Casey O’Brien, the famous American reporter on the hunt for the mysterious “English Rose,” were mostly two-dimensional and still displayed stereotypical characteristics, even if the show was coming from a loving place (Solly and Ward were gay).
It’s nonetheless very heartening to see a work that celebrated and uplifted the LGBT+ community at a time when it was still fighting for basic civil rights.
Listen to the Boy Meets Boy soundtrack here.
Upon premiering Off-Broadway, Boy was reviewed positively, with praise focused on the humor, songs and story, though some were surprised by the revisionist take on civil rights history. Perhaps the most groundbreaking aspect of the show was that a romance between two men was accepted and all that was required to marry was a license and a wedding ring, same as any heterosexual couple.
When Boy Meets Boy premiered, marriage between two people of the same sex was still illegal in the United States and would remain so for another 40 years. For those counting, that’s almost 80 years after the show’s idealistic 1936 setting.
Playbill artwork for a production of Boy Meets Boy.
It’s easy to forget how far civil rights for the LGBT+ community have advanced even in just the past 10 years, and it’s important to remember how easy it is for these rights to be taken away again.
Despite continued success in regional theatre in the years since its debut (a 2012 London revival notwithstanding), Boy was never able to break into the mainstream. A few clips from the 1975 production are available on YouTube, and although a cast recording does exist, streaming options are nonexistent. We suggest taking a trip to your local used record store and checking out the musicals section. Or better yet, invest in local performing arts by partaking in a community theatre production of the show (bonus points if you put the show on yourself).
Production photo from the 2012 UK revival of Boy meets Boy.
It’s fitting, really, that such a groundbreaking piece of theatre still hasn’t received the recognition it deserves. Similar stories can be found throughout the LGBT+ community’s history, and it’s that resolve that speaks to the community’s resilience. No matter what, the LGBT+ community will always be here, uplifting their own and making sure their voices are heard.