×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Broadway Review: ‘Torch Song’

A trim new version of the 1980s trilogy gets a sweet, imperfect staging that can't erase memories of Harvey Fierstein in the original.

With:
Michael Urie, Mercedes Ruehl, Jack DiFalco, Ward Horton, Roxanna Hope Radja, Michael Hsu Rosen.

Following an Off Broadway run at Second Stage Theater last year, “Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song” opened on Broadway Nov. 1 with the same cast and creative team. The following is Marilyn Stasio’s review, dated Oct. 20, 2017, of the Off Broadway production.

In “Torch Song,” an affectionate if ill-considered revival of Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy,” Michael Urie makes a brave but bizarre effort to channel the playwright’s own groundbreaking star performance as a lovelorn drag queen in Manhattan’s 1970s gay society. Everyone fell in love with Fierstein when he played himself (a.k.a. protagonist Arnold Beckoff) in the three plays of his beloved “Torch Song Trilogy.” But as imperfectly directed here by Moises Kaufman, Urie has made little attempt to make the role of Arnold his own.  Arnold may be a professional performer, but he doesn’t deserve to be played as a professional puppet.

At more than an hour less than its original four-hour run time, the trimmed-down show has kept its basic storyline but lost some of its grace notes. It seems strange, for instance, that both playwright and the director should retain certain references that are pure Harvey Fierstein, like the chubby jokes and the broad stage gestures that defined his quirky charm, but hardly apply to the trim new star. Even more grating is Urie’s strained attempt to imitate the writer’s distinctive voice, which sounds something like a frog being scrambled in an eggbeater.

Arnold’s story is as sweet as ever. A success as a drag performer (handsomely costumed by Clint Ramos) known as Virginia Ham, but shy and awkward at matters of the heart, Arnold is desperate for true love and all its trappings — marriage, kids, hot sex — but doesn’t know how to find it.  Lucky for him, he meets a sweetheart of a guy named Ed (a wonderfully honest performance from Ward Horton) at a gay bar notorious for its luridly lighted (by David Lander) backroom.  Urie has fun in these backroom bar scenes, especially when Arnold is taken in hand by person or persons unknown.

You have to love Arnold.  Ed does, but he happens to have a nice, steady girlfriend named Laurel (nice, steady Roxana Hope Radja), which complicates things. But this is 1979, after all, and Arnold wants to show how up-to-date and au courant he can be. So, in a funny scene that unfolds on a gigantic bed designed with tongue in cheek by David Zinn, Arnold and his very young new boyfriend, Alan (Michael Rosen), are staying with Laurel and Ed for the weekend in their country place.

It’s frankly unbelievable that a straight woman would be so gracious about sharing her man with his sometime male lover.  But Laurel is the playwright’s fantasy, a good sport and profoundly understanding.  “There was no fight,” she says about her own relationship with Arnold. “I just pulled back enough to let Ed feel his freedom. No commitments. No pressure.”

This kind of relationship just isn’t in the cards for Arnold, who wants those very commitments and stubbornly persists in looking for real love, lasting love, faithful love — with great sex. As the play progresses, he loses a true love but acquires an adopted son, David (Jack DiFalco), to show off to his overbearing mother, (“the Sylvia Sidney of Brighton Beach”) played by a strangely stiff Mercedes Ruehl. And eventually, yes! He finds true love.

Does this history piece hold up? Yes, in the sense that the show is kind to its characters and true to its dated sensibilities. No, in the sense that the characters are unbelievably sweet and its sensibilities are dated. But the playwright is nothing if not generous to Arnold, who is a real mensch after all. If you want to take him to your heart, you really have to imagine someone like… well, Harvey Fierstein, in the lead role.

Broadway Review: 'Torch Song'

Helen Hayes Theater; 585 seats; $157 top. Opened on Broadway Nov. 1, 2018.  Reviewed in its Off Broadway premiere Oct. 17, 2017. Running time: TWO HOURS, 40 MIN.

Production: A presentation by Richie Jackson, Eric Kuhn & Justin Mikita, Stephanie P. McClelland, Ken Fakler, David Mirvish, Lassen Blume/Karmen Boyz Productions, CJC & Priest/Judith Ann Abras, Burnt Umber/True Love Productions, Caiola Productions/Torchbearers, Jujamcyn Theaters and Second Stage Theater of a play in two acts by Harvey Fierstein.

Creative: Directed by Moises Kaufman. Sets, David Zinn; costumes, Clint Ramos; lighting, David Lander; sound, Fitz Patton, production stage manager, Frank Lombardi.

Cast: Michael Urie, Mercedes Ruehl, Jack DiFalco, Ward Horton, Roxanna Hope Radja, Michael Hsu Rosen.

More Legit

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed the news. He wrote, “It is with [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

  • Choir Boy review

    Broadway Review: 'Choir Boy'

    Honestly, I was afraid that “Choir Boy” — the sweetly exuberant account of a gifted prep school boy’s coming of age, written by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — would be swallowed up in a Broadway house, after winning us over in an Off Broadway staging in 2013.  But aside from the odd set [...]

  • Jason Robert Brown

    Listen: How Ariana Grande Got Jason Robert Brown to Madison Square Garden

    Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown never expected to find himself performing onstage at Madison Square Garden. But he did — thanks to his pal Ariana Grande. Brown met Grande before she was a superstar, when she was in the 2008 Broadway cast of his teen musical “13.” The two have kept in touch ever since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content