“He’s always there,” Urie explains in the latest episode of “Stagecraft,” Variety‘s theater podcast, when asked how he dealt with performing in the shadow of Fierstein, the playwright-actor who originated the role of drag performer Arnold. “In terms of shaking the Harvey, I never tried to do that. I knew that there was no way that I could do the Harvey. I knew that I would have to attack Arnold from within me.”
Urie is playing Arnold in the newly revised version of Fierstein’s breakout, “Torch SongTrilogy,” now shortened and called simply “Torch Song.” Fierstein trimmed down the script by more than an hour for the production at Second Stage Theater.
It took him 35 years to go back to “Torch Song,” and in “Stagecraft,” Fierstein explains why it took him so long. “Frankly, I wanted to stay far enough from AIDS,” he said. “My feeling has always been that AIDS is a disease, and I hate that the gay community has been labeled with it as if it defines who we are. I didn’t want ‘Torch Song’ colored by that. There were people when the movie came out [in 1988], they said, ‘Why didn’t you put AIDS in it?’”
Fierstein gave his most significant advice to Urie on the first day of rehearsal, in the meet-and-greet with everyone involved in the production, including the ushers. “He said, ‘If this play doesn’t embarrass you, you’re not doing it right,’” Urie recalls. “Which embarrassed me! Everyone looked at me.”
Fierstein and Urie also talk auditions, Estelle Getty, bus and truck tours, and the legacy of gay history plays in this episode of “Stagecraft,” now available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.