Following an acclaimed, sold-out engagement at Second Stage Theater's off-Broadway home at the Tony Kiser Theater, Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song, starring Drama Desk Award winner Michael Urie and Tony & Academy Award winner Mercedes Ruehl, transfers to the Hayes Theater on Broadway - where the play originally ran from 1982 to 1985.
Harvey Fierstein's has edited his beautifully crafted trilogy of acts - International Stud, Fugue in a Nursery, and Widows and Children First! - down into a more-than-manageable 2 hours and 40 minute production and has symbolically passed the torch to a new leading man in Michael Urie. Torch Song's protagonist - a Jewish drag queen named Arnold Beckoff, who longs for love and a family to call his own - was originated off-off-Broadway by Fierstein. He took the character (and his play) to off-Broadway and then all the way to Broadway, finally winning two Tony Awards in 1983 (for "Best Play" and "Best Actor in a Play") and immortilized him on screen in the 1988 film adaptation (also writing the screenplay, of course). So, some might say that slipping into the fluffy bunny slippers of Arnold for this first-ever Broadway revival is a tall task in itself, but that didn't stop Urie, who has managed to create a vulnerable and empathetic Arnold of his own (rather than a simple caricature of Mr. Fierstein).
Under the direction of Moisés Kaufman, this slick production has three distinctive styles - both in terms of the mise en scène and the delivery. International Stud is comprised of a series of monologues and interactions with imaginary on or off-stage characters, as we are introduced to Arnold and (bisexual) Ed, whose on-again-off-again relationship provides the thread for the three acts. In Fugue in a Nursery (a year later), the action takes place in a huge bed that takes up the majority of the stage and where we are also introduced to Alan and Ed's respective partners: Laurel and Alan. And finally, after intermission, in Widows and Children First! (several years later), the play takes a more traditional, kitchen-sink drama approach, set in Arnold's apartment, where we meet David, a gay teenager who is on an adoption trial with Arnold. The final piece of the puzzle is Arnold's mother who comes to visit and old wounds are ripped open in a theatrical showdown that is as exhilirating as it is gut-wrenching.
Kudos to this fine cast of actors, who re-imagine this iconic cornerstone of popular gay culture for a new generation of theatregoers. Even though the idea of gay couples adopting is no longer science fiction in today's society, many of the themes of the play are still as relevant in some parts of the world as they were in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many will recognise the wrought parent-child relationship on show, many still struggle with accepting and feeling fulfilled by their sexuality and many still fall victim to hate crimes. Torch Song is a period piece with everlasting appeal and simply a must-see for any theatre aficionado.
(Photos by Matthew Murphy)