New York Post
Playing his ‘Song’
Harvey Fierstein’s career-making ‘Torch’ could burn bright on B’way
THE buzz around the revival of Harvey Fier
stein’s “Torch Song” at Second Stage Theater is so good, there’s talk of a move to Broadway in the spring. But don’t tell Fierstein. “Stop!” he says when I bring up rumors of a transfer. “I’ve got enough trouble with the ‘what nows’ without starting on the ‘what ifs.’ That’s my philosophy on that s - - t.”
Whatever happens, Fierstein is pleased that a play he began writing in 1978 can still entertain and move theatergoers, including many who weren’t even born when “Torch Song” (then called “Torch Song Trilogy”) won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1983.
“I love to hear from the kids,” says Fierstein, 63. “The other night a straight young couple waited for me outside the theater. They were from Australia — I’m not going to attempt their accent — and they said, ‘We don’t want to insult you, but we’ve never heard of you before. But we have to tell you we loved your play.’
“Do you know how thrilling it is for me to hear that about a play I wrote 40 years ago? And from straight Australians?”
As the original title indicates, “Torch Song Trilogy” consists of three plays. The first —“The International Stud” — introduces Arnold Beckoff, a professional drag queen and die-hard romantic. Fierstein played Arnold in the original production, winning a Tony Award and launching a career that’s kept him in the spotlight ever since.
Michael Urie, from “Ugly Betty,” plays Arnold in the revival, which is being directed by Moisés Kaufman (“I Am My Own Wife”).
“Fugue in a Nursery,” the second part, finds Arnold and his new lover, a male model, visiting Arnold’s ex-boyfriend, who left him for a woman.
The final (and best-loved) part, “Widows and Children First!,” features a star turn for Arnold’s domineering, hilarious Jewish mother — from Miami, of course — who still hopes her son will settle down with a nice Jewish girl one day. Estelle Getty shot to fame in the role, ending up on TV’s “The Golden Girls” after leaving the show. Mercedes Ruehl gives it her own, very funny spin in this revival. The audience still gasps when Mrs. Beckoff lets Arnold have it for “rubbing my face” in his homosexuality.
The character, as Fierstein now admits, was based on his own mother, who loved him dearly but struggled to come to terms with his sexuality.
“I’ll tell you a story about my mother,” Fierstein says. “She took my grandmother to see me in the play on Broadway. They came after the first part [which features a graphic sex scene in the backroom of a bar] because my grandmother would not have survived it. At the end of the show, my grandmother says, ‘So Harvey’s a homosexual?’ And my mother says, ‘How should I know? I didn’t sleep with him.’
“It took her a little while, but eventually she came around to accepting my sexuality,” he continues. “And at 85 she was delivering Meals on Wheels to people with AIDS.”
“Torch Song Trilogy” originally ran more than four hours, but Fierstein has spent the last several months trimming it to a fast-paced two hours and 45 minutes.
“I’ve noticed a lot of theaters only wanted to do one or two of the plays,” he says. “People are scared of the word ‘trilogy.’ So I’m now calling it ‘Torch Song,’ which is a lovely phrase. If you hear ‘trilogy,’ you think, ‘Oh, my God, I’m not going to get out of here till 5 in the morning. Marvin, get the car!’
“But it’s just ‘Torch Song’ now. So nobody has to be scared anymore.”