When Angels in America returns to Broadway on Friday, in a production starring Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane, it will encounter a very different world from the one in which the play debuted around 25 years ago. In the intervening years, HIV and AIDS — the crisis around which so much of the Tony Kushner epic revolves — ceased to be the “death sentence” they once were, and the LGBTQ community won major political victories across the United States and elsewhere. But, as Nathan Lane recently told TIME, that doesn’t mean the play doesn’t still have meaningful lessons for the world of 2018.
That political side has always been part of what makes Angels so significant in the history of American theater. TIME’s William A. Henry III first reviewed the play in late 1992, after it had already debuted in San Francisco, won awards in London and run in Los Angeles — all before its 1993 Broadway opening. Though he found some of the acting “bland,” it was clear from his review that there was a reason why Angels was making such waves:
Henry explained that one of the main reasons behind the anticipation for Angels in America was that the play represented a new era in the cultural depiction of gay life: “The author and the delighted spectators reflect an evolution in attitude akin to what happened among blacks and women: one generation sought empathy; the next demanded justice; the generation equivalent to Kushner’s just flat-out asserted equality and spurned any more debate.”
Henry returned to the play about a year later, to cover the Broadway production, now complete with both parts, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika. Its box-office success — despite the early days of the Perestroika production being mired in behind-the-scenes drama ranging from rewrites to what Henry called “stagehand mania” — had defied any fears that the subject matter would only appeal to a niche audience.
And it was, as the piece noted, “hugely significant”:
That was why, despite the show’s rocky road to the stage and any nitpicking that might be done over the script or acting — Henry, for example, found the second part too quick to declaim its theories about the world, rather than letting the audience arrive at those conclusions — the team behind it only expressed pleasure with the result.
”When we look back on this in five or 10 years, we are not going to remember our exasperation at the script coming in late or how much money it cost,” Rocco Landesman, president of the theater-ownership group financing the 1993 production, told TIME back then. “We are going to remember that we are the producers of Angels in America, the most important play in a generation.”
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