As Kinky Boots opens in Dallas, the flamboyant theater diva opines on Johnny Weir, Robin Williams and why we hate ourselves
“I’m sorry,” Harvey Fierstein growls in his unmistakable Brooklyn gravel, “I gotta go on with my life.” And so, after our insightful 40-minute chat peppered with Fierstein’s true-to-form frankness, he does.
But for Fierstein, a revered Broadway legend known for an iconic writing répertoire that includes Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage aux Folles and, most recently, Kinky Boots, which opens tonight at Fair Park Music Hall courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals, this isn’t just the Tony Award winner’s blunt way of concluding our extensive conversation. It’s a way of life.
Fierstein reflects on the past— up for the “sissies,” what he calls his “legendary disaster,” and how his own “12 steps of happiness” inspired his latest Broadway smash — but the 62-year-old’s very much living in the present, and for the future.
And look for our one-on-one interview with Fierstein’s Kinky collaborator, Cyndi Lauper, in Friday’s edition, in print and online!
— Chris Azzopardi
Dallas Voice: I’m certainly not the first person to tell you that Kinky Boots is a massive hit. When you first began writing the musical, did you imagine it would become as successful as it’s been? Fierstein: You know, you don’t. I’m really old. I’ve been around a really long time, and I’ve had — knock wood — an unbelievable run of hits, and I’ve had some horrible misses and a couple of in-betweens, but you go into all of them with the same heart.
I’ve done a couple for the wrong reasons. I did one to try and make money, which is really a very bad reason, and you make no money doing it that way. I’ve learned that lesson, and I would never do that again. But you basically go in for the right reason because you’re gonna spend years of your life involved with these characters, with these collaborators. And it’s not something you take on lightly if you’ve ever done it because, well, Kinky Boots took almost five years to write.
It’s clearly been a labor of love for you. They have to be. That’s exactly why they have to be a labor of love, because from sitting down and starting work, which was a year or more before I even called Cyndi [Lauper, who wrote the music and lyrics], to the opening in Korea [last December], we’re now up to seven or eight years. It’s part of your life for the rest of your life.
Jerry Herman and I wrote La Cage 30-something years ago and we are still the parents of that show. We still have to talk about it all the time. So, to say, “Did you know it was gonna be a big hit?” No, you don’t know. You go in with the best hopes and the best intentions of doing something that will entertain, which is our number one job.
What’s a project you did for the wrong reasons? Legs Diamond. I had a friend who was directing it. Peter Allen had AIDS and his best friend who was writing it for him, who was not a writer but a clothing designer, had AIDS dementia. My friend Robert [Allan Ackerman] called me up and said, “Look, will you come in on this? I know it’s a terrible idea — Peter Allen as Legs Diamond — but all we have to do is get Peter out there, let him shake his ass, sing a couple of numbers, and we can just cash the checks.” And I drank the Kool-Aid.