Review Roundup: TORCH SONG at Second Stage - All the Reviews!
TORCH SONG features Michael Urie as Arnold Beckoff, and Academy Award and Tony Award-winner Mercedes Ruehl as Ma, as well as Jack DiFalco (Marvin's Room) as David, Ward Horton ("Pure Genius") as Ed, Roxanna Hope Radja (Frost/Nixon) as Laurel, and Michael Rosen (On the Town) as Alan.
It's 1979 in New York City and Arnold Beckoff is on a quest for love, purpose and family. He's fierce in drag and fearless in crisis, and he won't stop until he achieves the life he desires. Now, Arnold is back...and he's here to sing you a Torch Song. The Tony Award-winning play that forever changed the trajectory of Broadway returns for a new generation.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: This latest incarnation of "Torch Song," directed by Moisés Kaufman, finds an irresistibly compelling gravity beneath the glibness. Best known for staging lyrical but earnest topical dramas ("The Laramie Project," "Gross Indecency," "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo"), Mr. Kaufman turns out to be just the man for eliciting the sting within the soap bubbles of "Torch Song." Even more important, without overdoing the tremolo, Mr. Kaufman and Mr. Urie make sure we see the vital links between camp comic postures and the genuine fear and pain that lie beneath. Defiantly quipping bravado is a suit of armor for Arnold Beckoff, the show's leading man (and occasional lady).
Christopher Kelly, NJ.com: To witness the extraordinary new off-Broadway production of Harvey Fierstein's "Torch Song" -- a freshly edited version of "Torch Song Trilogy," the 1982 Tony-winning play that made Fierstein famous -- is to step into a kind of living time capsule. Set mostly in New York City, in the 1970s and early 1980s, this is a work that feels uniquely of its bygone moment, yet still manages to speak -- urgently, poignantly, often hilariously -- to concerns and anxieties of today. That's one definition of a modern classic.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: While Urie's strained vocals grow wearing, turning his occasional throwaway lines into welcome bursts of oxygen, the actor's resourceful physical-comedy skills provide more consistent pleasure. But only in the play's superior final act, when he's matched with a comparably outsize scene partner in Mercedes Ruehl as Arnold's archetypal Jewish mother - swooping in from Florida in an orchid-pink traveling suit, a lacquered bouffant and a Miami Beach cancer tan - does he dig into the pathos, anger and desperate longing of this complicated character.
Jonathan Mandell, DC Theatre Scene: What does feel dated, though, is a steady beat of jokes as if set to the metronome of an old-fashioned Broadway comedy. To be fair, much of the snappy dialogue is still funny; a few gags even retain their ability to shock, albeit in a charming way. Indeed, there's a sly art, almost an artful politics, in the way Fierstein used his disarming humor to make some blunt facts of gay life in the 1970s more palatable to a matinee crowd - most memorably when Arnold has sex in the backroom of a gay bar. But there's a sheen of artificiality to much of Torch Song - a patina of calculation even in some of the heartfelt confrontations - that wasn't so noticeable before Angels in America; The Normal Heart; Love! Valour! Compassion!; Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde' and Laramie Project - these last two ironically by Moises Kaufman, who is directing Torch Song.
Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: In its early stages it feels static, a series of monologues, with characters voicing things for themselves rather than contributing to an active piece of theater. We hear of things happening, we don't see them, and that distancing distances us. When Ma and her suitcase enter in the play's final furlong, dispensing sharp asides, indiscriminate finger wagging, and awful, homophobic judgment, the play begins-almost too late.
Barbara Schuler, Newsday: Guided by Moisés Kaufman's gentle direction, Urie ("Buyer & Cellar," "Ugly Betty") gives a nuanced, emotional performance. Yet he wisely avoids any attempt to channel Fierstein, though the story has always been accepted as somewhat autobiographical (the playwright's pet rabbit explains the recurring bunny motifs, including those oh-so-recognizable slippers). Urie's gift for physical comedy keeps the first act (the first two plays, "The International Stud" and "Fugue in a Nursery") entertaining and moving along as the story of love and loss is set up. Some might quibble, though, with his inconsistent Brooklyn accent and less-than-imposing stature (interesting that Fierstein didn't trim references to Arnold's weight and size).
Matt Windman, amNY: Urie masterfully combines his nimble comic abilities with an exposed vulnerability. His scenes with Ruehl (in combative mood) make for compelling and relatable family drama, When a historically significant play about gay life and social issues (from pre-Stonewall to the AIDS crisis to gay marriage) is revived, the inevitable question arrives of whether the play has the durability to sustain new productions (like "Angels in America") or if it is likely to remain an artifact of its time (for example, "The Boys in the Band"). With its clunky plot developments and uneven structure and pacing, "Torch Song" probably falls into the latter category, but it was well worth a second look. Kaufman's production contains some genuinely beautiful moments and excellent performances all around.
Adam Feldman, TimeOut NY: Urie is less distinctive than Fierstein-who isn't?-but he gives his voice an eccentric Snagglepuss extension, and he's a gifted physical comic. (He has a hilarious scene of trying to smoke a cigarette while getting schtupped in the back room of a bar.) Kaufman works hard to dispel any scent of schmaltz, sometimes to somewhat dry effect; the central fight between Arnold and his Ma gets a little buried. But the overall approach seems right: It gently and lovingly tends to Fierstein's flame.
Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Directed by Moises Kaufman, the new production shows off the play's strengths. That includes great one-liners, graceful touches (like when Arnold signs the words "not enough") and daring (not just the simulated sex scene, either). It starts perfectly as a man applies make-up, a sly way to underscore a story about hiding and exposing oneself. But it can't mask weaknesses of this deeply sentimental work. Laurel's understanding about her husband's sexuality strains credulity. The David adoption subplot is simplistic and feels off. Urie isn't a perfect fit either.
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: Urie, so memorable in Michael Tolan's tour-de-Babs Buyer and Cellar, skates across Arnold's words; he hasn't sunk his teeth yet into the role and it comes across as shticky. Ruehl is fiery and on top of her game even as she dismantles the stereotype of the little old Jewish lady. That's a good thing.
Peter Marks, The Washington Post: Leaner - and better for the reducing regimen - Harvey Fierstein's "Torch Song Trilogy" is back on the boards of off-Broadway, where even its title has been put on a diet. Trimmed of something like 40 minutes of material, the 1982 Tony-winning work is now simply called "Torch Song." And with the irresistibly antagonistic Michael Urie and Mercedes Ruehl in the marquee roles, the evening feels no less moving, or weighty, than it did all those years ago.