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Now Opening: ‘Torch Song' Sings Again

Category Broadway

|by Ron Fassler |

The revival of Harvey Fierstein’s groundbreaking play opens Nov. 1

It’s been thirty-six years since Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy opened off-Broadway (thirty-seven, if you count its very first off-off-Broadway production). Hilariously funny and deeply touching, the play gave a powerful onstage voice to the gay community at a time it truly needed it; one that had, up until that time, been marginalized at best. Though The Boys in the Band had broken the ground first, also off-Broadway, that was in 1968. Fierstein’s trilogy came fourteen years later. In that interim, plays with gay themes opened on Broadway, but usually closed quickly with little to no success. In fact, it was only this year that The Boys in the Band finally arrived on Broadway, with its author Mart Crowley now eighty-three, happily basking in the glow of the revival’s excellent reviews and sold-out audiences for its all-star limited engagement. Add to that its nine-member cast, lead producer and director were all out, proud, gay men, and you have some genuine progress and cause for celebration.

Michael Urie stars in the revival of Harvey Fierstein’s ‘Torch Song’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Michael Urie stars in the revival of Harvey Fierstein’s ‘Torch Song’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Now it’s Torch Song’s turn back in the spotlight. And though retitled, it remains as fiercely topical as when it opened on Broadway in 1982, where it had moved after a well-received run off-Broadway (making for the stage debut of the nineteen-year-old Matthew Broderick, and in a supporting role, a then-unknown Estelle Getty, who would shortly go on to Emmy Award-winning success as Sophia on The Golden Girls). The remounting of the play on Broadway was a huge gamble, and one that paid off when Fierstein took home two Tonys: one as Best Actor, and the other as the author of the season’s Best Play. When the show’s lead producer, Jon Glines, accepted his award, audiences watching all across America witnessed a first on national television when he thanked his co-producer, Larry Lane, by identifying him as his “lover.” Baby steps for Gay Pride, yes, but steps that led to Torch Song Trilogy’s eventual 1,222 performances on Broadway, an almost unheard of run for a non-musical nowadays.

The original Torch Song Trilogy consisted of three plays that all had individual productions of their own to start, International Stud, Fugue in a Nursey and Widows and Children First!, brought together for a then four-hour evening of theater. Now cut down to two hours and forty-five minutes, this Torch Song first opened in October 2017, as part of the Second Stage Theatre’s off-Broadway season. Ironically, it is now occupying that company’s exclusive new Broadway home, the old Helen Hayes Theatre on West 44th Street, which is the very same house Torch Song Trilogy ran for its entire three-year engagement. This time, Fierstein’s role of Arnold Beckoff is being played by Michael Urie – who, though best known from television’s Ugly Betty, is a fiercely committed theater actor.

After the end of the scheduled limited run of Torch Song earlier this year, Urie went to Washington D.C. to play Hamlet, a role as far away from a homosexual Jewish drag queen as possible. But this versatile actor brings new depths to Arnold, and the play’s setting of New York City in late in the 1970s and early ‘80s remains as topical as ever. Urie is supported by Tony and Academy Award winner Mercedes Ruehl as his mother, who in the final Torch Song play, go at it tooth and nail, in a scorching comedic and dramatic tour de force.  

Under the direction of Moises Kaufman, who (like Fierstein) is an accomplished playwright, with his plays The Laramie Project and Gross Indecency receiving productions across the globe over the years, this new Torch Song opens Nov. 1st. And who knows? With any luck (and just ask Harvey Fierstein, Torch Song has been very lucky for him), this run might be extended on Broadway beyond its scheduled limited engagement. Stranger things have happened to this enduring, important and great American play.

For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in November 2018


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