Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song had a moment of deja vu on November 1 when it opened at the Helen Hayes Theatre on Broadway: It’s the same theatre where it opened in 1982, though at that time it was known as the Little Theatre and the play as Torch Song Trilogy. The three plays of the Trilogy have been slightly abridged (hence the title) and narrowed to their essence, according to director Moisés Kaufman.
Fierstein spoke to Playbill on the opening night red carpet, along with director Kaufman, stars Jack DiFalco, Michael Hsu Rosen, Ward Horton, Roxanna Hope Radja, Michael Urie, and Mercedes Ruehl. Watch the full video below.
The full play, which consists of “The International Stud,” “Fugue in a Nursery,” and “Widows & Children First” tells the story of Arnold Beckhoff, a young gay man and drag performer clear in his identity and searching for love. Over the course of the three “acts,” we watch Arnold—and his relationship with Ed—evolve.
“I was sitting tonight with the guy that Ed is based on. We just looked at each other and we know which was him and which was me,” Fierstein shared.
And the Tony-winning playwright, who also won a Tony for his performance in Torch Song Trilogy in 1983, relished being back at the same theatre. “I went down to the dressing rooms today to my old dressing room, it's not there anymore. It's the stagehands room now.”
Though Fierstein does not step onstage in this version—Arnold is played here by Urie—he says he would like to get back onstage. “I have two more pieces that I've written that I'm not in,” he said. “These days I don't like acting in my own things, I like acting in other people's things. So if you want to write something for me I won't f*ck it up.”
Urie spoke to Playbill about finding his own version of the character, particularly Arnold’s voice. “When I first did it for Harvey around a table—that was my audition—it just came out that way,” he said. “When I read it I knew I couldn't do Harvey's voice, that would be crazy. I thought I can do my own voice, I can find my own voice. I knew I wanted it to be Brooklyn because he's from Brooklyn and I knew I wanted there to be a distinct sound. You can’t really do Nöel Coward without a British accent, you can't really do Tennessee Williams without a southern accent and you can't really do Torch Song or play Arnold without that accent.”
Playbill also spoke to Urie about the devastating scene he performs each night opposite Tony winner Mercedes Ruehl, who plays Arnold's mother.
“Every night we do that scene and she goes out to the bedroom, but then she leaves the stage, she heads back to the dressing room and goes out through the front door and we bump into each other and we usually hug. Sometimes I lay on the floor. It's so painful and so draining and we actually love each other very much. There are many things that happen in that scene that are just devastating,” Urie said. “She's such a consummate [not just] professional but actor with a capital A. It's like working with the greatest teacher.”
As for Ruehl, who earned a Tony for her work in Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers and a nomination for Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, she looks to the writing. What is it about storytellers like Albee, Simon, and Fierstein? “You can't break it down. They are just touched by something that is extraordinary,” she said. “It's about language, it's about humanity, it's about rhythm, it's about music, it's about understanding characters. It's about understanding human nature. It's about an urge to write a story that is as old as Homer. They are storytellers first, last, and always. They need to tell stories and they tell stories through theatre. The ones that are great are touched with magic and it's hard to break it down beyond that.”