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'Torch Song' review: Michael Urie shines in revival of Harvey Fierstein classic

The comedic drama comes to Broadway following last year's acclaimed revival at Second Stage Theater.

Michael Urie and Mercedes Ruehl in Harvey Fierstein's

Michael Urie and Mercedes Ruehl in Harvey Fierstein's "Torch Song." Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

'Torch Song' runs through Feb. 24 at the Hayes Theater. 240 W. 44th St., torchsongbroadway.com.

“There are easier things in life than being a drag queen, but I ain’t got no choice,” explains self-deprecating Jewish nightclub entertainer Virginia Ham, better known as Arnold Beckoff and originally played by the gravelly-voiced Harvey Fierstein, in the first segment of Fierstein’s long-winded but deeply-felt crowd-pleaser “Torch Song Trilogy,” which ran 1,222 performances on Broadway in the 1980s.

Trimmed by Fierstein to a running time just under three hours and renamed simply “Torch Song,” last year the comedic drama received an acclaimed Off-Broadway revival by Second Stage Theater, starring Michael Urie (“Ugly Betty,” “Buyer & Cellar”) as Arnold alongside Oscar-winner Mercedes Ruehl (“The Fisher King,” “Lost in Yonkers”) as his domineering and difficult mother.

Directed by Tectonic Theater Project founder Moisés Kaufman, the revival has now transferred to Broadway for a limited run, returning to the same venue (then the Little Theatre, now the Hayes Theater) that housed the original production.

“Torch Song” — the title of which equates Arnold’s unrequited love with the sad and emotional songs he performs in drag — consists of three one-act plays that originally premiered Off-Off-Broadway at different times between 1971 and 1980.

“International Stud” (much of which is an extended confessional monologue) introduces Arnold as he is getting into costume backstage and observes his romantic misadventures with the bisexual Ed (Ward Horton).

It is followed by “Fugue in a Nursery,” where Arnold and his new boyfriend Alan (Michael Hsu Rosen) pay a disastrous weekend visit to Ed and his new wife Laurel (Roxanna Hope Radja) at their country house.

The third and most substantial act — “Widows and Children First!” — observes the long-delayed confrontation between Arnold and his estranged mother, who objects to Arnold adopting a troubled gay teen (Jack DiFalco). In a stunning climax, Arnold informs her that she will have no place in his life if she cannot respect him.

Urie masterfully combines his nimble comic abilities with an exposed vulnerability. His combative scenes with Ruehl make for compelling family drama.

Following Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” and Mart Crowley’s “The Boys in the Band,” “Torch Song” marks the third Broadway revival this year of a canonical work in American gay drama.

While “Torch Song” lacks the brilliance of “Angels in America” and the bite of “The Boys in the Band,” it is well worth a second look. And though at times it can be rather clunky and schmaltzy, Kaufman’s production contains some genuinely beautiful moments and excellent performances all around.

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