When Judy Levine’s son, Josh, came out to her 14 years ago, she felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. Not because her son was gay—“I knew he was gay since he was 8 years old,” she says—but because it dawned on her that he would miss out on one of life’s most precious moments: his wedding. Little did she know that not only would he find a wonderful (albeit non-Hebraic) soulmate who truly adored him, but his nuptials would become a small yet colorful footnote in the history of gay marriage.
Just one day after New York State legalized same-sex marriage, Josh Levine, now a playwright, and Ryan Dietz, an actor, made Broadway history when they became one of the first gay couples to get married on the Great White Way, tying the knot at the Tony Award-winning revival of Hair. The event was organized by the producers of the show, the Jujamcyn Theatres, and Broadway Impact, a group dedicated to marriage equality in New York.
Along with two other same-sex couples, Levine and Dietz were brought onstage after the show for a special encore in the form of three weddings and a musical.
“It was nerve-racking,” said Levine. “But as soon as I looked at Ryan, everything else just washed away. I focused on him, his beautiful face, and I felt at ease.”
Although the actual ceremony (presided over by Tony nominee Colman Domingo) lasted no more than 15 minutes, it was enough to have the entire front row in tears—including more than a few straight guys when no one was looking.
Matt DeAngelis, who plays Woof in the show, admitted to being a big softie. “It was unbelievable,” he said, his eyes still puffy. “I’ve never been part of anything like this.”
As the ceremony ended and the couples kissed their lawfully wedded spouses for the very first time, audience members flooded the stage to the sound of “The Age of Aquarius,” hugging everyone in sight. It was the Summer of Love, 2011-style.
Judy Levine, who flew in from Texas for the event, took it all in the way only a Jewish mother can: She kvelled.
“It really hasn’t hit me,” she told The Daily Beast. “I was onstage in a Broadway theater and all these people were singing ‘Let the Sunshine In,’ and Josh was right there,” she said. “It was amazing.”
For her son and her new son-in-law, it was a dream come true. They met eight years ago at a party in New York City at the urging of a friend. The connection was instantaneous. After a few dates and countless emails, they knew they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. They had a commitment ceremony in May 2008 with matching wedding bands engraved with the word “Bashert” (Yiddish for “destined” and used to describe one’s soulmate). They were living happily ever after when the New York State Assembly passed a gay-marriage bill in late June. Josh and Ryan immediately made plans to get married.
It was supposed to be a simple affair at City Hall, this being their second wedding. But last week they got a call from the St. James Theater asking whether they might consider exchanging vows in front of thousands of strangers instead. For two diehard theater fans, it was a no-brainer.
“It’s groundbreaking,” said Dietz, showing off his New York marriage license. “Somebody asked us to sign their Playbill,” he said with a laugh, still tickled by the idea. “To feel so much support, it’s amazing!”
For Broadway veteran Terri White, it was a full-circle moment. She saw Hair when it first opened on Broadway in 1967. It left such an impact on her that she not only burned a few bras, she also became an actress, earning parts in musicals like Finian’s Rainbow and Chicago. But the only role on White’s mind Monday night was that of a blushing bride, marrying her partner of three years, jewelry designer Donna Barnett.
“The universe has truly been on my side,” she said with a huge smile on her face. “I call her my lucky charm.”
So what’s it like to get married on a Broadway stage?
“It was overwhelming, said Jared Pike, a theater usher and one of the grooms. He and his husband, stage doorman John Raymond Barker, called the moment historic. “You could feel it, it was palpable,” Pike said.
After a long night of interviews and hugs and pictures with strangers, Josh and Ryan Dietz-Levine were looking forward to a quiet night with family. When asked which of the dates they’ll pick as their wedding anniversary, both said, “May 25” (referring to their commitment-ceremony date). This one was just to make it official in the eyes of the law.
“But hey, any reason to celebrate and get a gift is fine by us,” Dietz said.
Judging by the number of people in the audience lunging at the bouquet tosses, it’s safe to say most were thrilled to be included in the celebration.
“It’s incredible,” said 26-year-old Zachary Collinger, an online editor who admits he had other plans that night, but agreed to come after hearing that people were getting married onstage. “It was the most joyful event I ever experienced,” he said. When asked if he cried also, he admitted, “I shed a tear. How could you not?”