Torch Song, opening on Thursday on Broadway, is a condensed version on Harvey Fierstein’s great four hour play Torch Song Trilogy (1981); this one starring the irrepressible Michael Urie and Mercedes Ruhl, coming in at a little more than two hours.
Torch Song Trilogy is really three plays by Fierstein presented in three acts: International Stud, Fugue In A Nursery, and Widows And Children First! That all center on Arnold Beckoff, a New York City Jewish drag queen in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The first staging of International Stud opened in 1978 at La MaMa, an Off-Off-Broadway theater, where it ran for two weeks. The Off-Broadway production later that year where it ran for 72 performances. The first staging of Fugue In A Nursery opened at La Mama in 1979.
Gathered together as one play, Torch Song Trilogy first opened in October 1981, and in January 1982 it transferred to the Actors’ Playhouse in Greenwich Village, where it ran for 117 performances. The cast included Fierstein as Arnold, Matthew Broderick, and Estelle Getty. The Broadway production opened in Summer 1982 where it ran for 1,300 performances. Torch Song Trilogy won Fierstein the first two of his four Tony Awards, plus two Drama Desk Awards, and the Theatre World Award.
At the height of the post-Stonewall clone era, Torch Song Trilogy challenged both gay and straight theatre audiences to champion an effeminate gay man’s longings for love and family.
Fierstein adapted his play to film in 1988, starring himself as Arnold, with Anne Bancroft, Matthew Broderick (in a different role than the play), and Charles Pierce. It received enthusiastic reviews and was nominated for Best Feature and Fierstein was nominated for Best Male Lead at the Independent Spirit Awards that year.