Theatre Review: Three Cheers For Harvey Fierstein’s New Play ‘Bella Bella’

Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein in his new play, Bella Bella

By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.

Before AOC, before Nancy Pelosi, there was Bella, Bella Abzug.

Known as “Battling Bella,” she was a graduate of Columbia Law School who became a civil rights attorney, social activist, leader of the women’s movement, member of the House of Representatives, and famously wore hats because “as a young lawyer it helped me to establish my professional identity. Before that, whenever I was at a meeting, someone would ask me to get coffee.”

Bella Abzug

Bella Abzug’s brilliant, often biting words and crusading work are the genesis of Harvey Fierstein’s enthralling, tour de force, new play Bella Bella which opened last night at Manhattan Theatre Club’s City Center Stage I.  Awaiting the fateful results of the 1976 New York Democratic Senatorial primary, Bella holds up in the bathroom of her campaign suite reflecting on her life’s work; and for 90 minutes Mr. Fierstein holds an audience captive with her hilarious, heroic, and often heartbreaking story as few other performers could.

Billed as “written and performed by Harvey Fierstein from the words and works of Bella Abzug” it’s difficult to know where Abzug stops and Fierstein begins without being her scholar.  But Bella Abzug knew how to make her point in no uncertain terms and Harvey Fierstein knows how to weave a story for maximum impact.   Together, Bella Bella is a stunningly relevant and eye-opening call to action for a country that doesn’t seem to have progressed much beyond the America outside the window of her john in 1976.

Harvey Fierstein in Bella Bella (photo: Jeremy Daniel)

Bella’s opening diatribe on equality, sexist elections, and how women, who are a 2% differential in the electorate yet 1% of the House, (still only 30%) vote against themselves, is immediately passionate and gripping. Ringing so familiar, one wonders whether she’s been transported to the present or if we’ve been taken back to her, and so it is throughout Bella Bella.

Her fight for civil rights and equality fifty years ago mirrors the very challenges still facing America today.

Most widely known for her leadership of the women’s movement and the ERA, Abzug was also a pioneer of Federal Gay Rights.  Representing the Lower East Side of Manhattan and Greenwich Village, she embraced her LGBT constituency, even campaigning at the Continental Baths.  In 1974 she introduced in Congress the first Gay civil rights bill, the “Equality Act” which would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.  It failed to pass but succeeded in getting Gay rights into the national conversation.

In 1970 when Bella Abzug was elected to Congress, Harvey Fierstein was in Brooklyn already writing and performing in drag.  Fifty years and four Tony Awards later he has brought them together on one stage in what can only be described as the perfect pairing of subject and performer.  With her words, he has written a smart, insightful, and impassioned portrait of a woman, a Jewish woman, who recognized the discrimination in her path; but walked it anyway because she believed in equality and had the hutzpah to fight for it.  With his command of the stage, he creates a Bella that is anything but a drag.

Harvey Fierstein in Bella Bella (photo: Jeremy Daniel)

Fierstein gives a vibrant, passionate, and powerful performance with no want of makeup or an Abzug ensemble, apart from her iconic hat.  In plain black rehearsal clothes, Fierstein is at the top of his prowess as the fierce firebrand wisecracking one minute, outraged the next, inspiring throughout.

Some works are a labor of love, done for the joy, not the reward. Still, there are a few others, like Mr. Fierstein’s triumphant Bella Bella which are even more. To those lucky enough to hear what she “thinks about in the bathroom,” this is clearly his labor of passion, created and performed because it had to be done and done now, much like work of Bella Abzug herself.

Bella Bella

Written and Performed by Harvey Fierstein
From the words and works of Bella Abzug
90 minutes No intermission
Now through December 1st
Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center Stage I
More Information and Tickets HERE https://bellabellaplay.com/

Lawrence Pfeil, Jr., is a freelance writer/playwright who has reviewed film and theatre, both on and off-Broadway, for media outlets including The Randy Report, the New York Blade, and Edge Publications

PSA: Matt Bomer, Billy Porter, Michael Urie, Harvey Fierstein & More #EraseHate

Matt Bomer, Billy Porter, Harvey Fierstein, Zachary Quinto, Michael Urie, Mary Louise Parker, Bridget Moynahan, Annaleigh Ashford and Michael Benjamin Washington appear in new PSA for #EraseHate campaign meant to combat anti-LGBTQ violence
Matt Bomer for the #EraseHate campaign

Twenty years ago, in the aftermath of the horrific murder of 21-year-old college student Matthew Shepard outside Laramie, Wyoming, The Tectonic Theater Project traveled to the town to conduct interviews with the people of the town.

Those interviews evolved into The Laramie Project, which premiered in 2000 and has become one of the most performed contemporary plays in the world.

On September 24, 2018, the Matthew Shepard Foundation and Tectonic Theater Project will present a benefit reading of The Laramie Project to honor the progress made over the last two decades to erase hate.

As part of the company’s #EraseHate campaign, a stellar collection of stars came together to help create a new music video set to a new original song, “Love Is Love.”

Directed by Sue Kramer, the PSA features Matt Bomer, Billy Porter, Harvey Fierstein, Zachary Quinto, Michael Urie, Mary Louise Parker, Bridget Moynahan, Annaleigh Ashford and Michael Benjamin Washington.

Learn more by visiting laramiealegacy.org.

Matt Bomer, Billy Porter, Harvey Fierstein, Zachary Quinto, Michael Urie, Mary Louise Parker, Bridget Moynahan, Annaleigh Ashford and Michael Benjamin Washington appear in new PSA for #EraseHate campaign meant to combat anti-LGBTQ violence
Tony Award-winner Billy Porter for the #EraseHate campaign 

(h/t TheOUTfront)

Podcast: Broadway, Conversion Therapy, Transgender Soldiers, LGBT Workplace Discrimination, Out Oscar Winners

In this week’s podcast:

• Harvey Fierstein’s iconic play Torch Song is heading back to Broadway

• California aims to make so-called “ex-gay therapy” illegal

• Georgia lawmakers are trying to legalize discrimination against same-sex couples wanting to adopt

• South Carolina looks to label same-sex marriage as “parody” marriage

• Defense Secretary James Mattis has given Donald Trump his recommendations for transgender soldiers

• The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals says Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTs from workplace discrimination

• Anti-gay bakers in Oregon take their case to the state Supreme Court

• How many out LGBT Academy Award winners can you name?

All that and more in this episode of The Randy Report podcast.

Tease: “You Can’t Stop The Beat” From HAIRSPRAY LIVE!

This year’s LIVE! musical from NBC is the bouncy and bold Hairspray, complete with original Broadway star, the incomparable Harvey Fierstein in full “Edna Turnblad” drag.

We got a taste of the upcoming television production on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade today. A great reminder why this show was a huge hit in 2002 with 8 Tony Award wins and over 2,500 performances.

Check out “You Can’t Stop The Beat” below with that fab Jerry Mitchell choreography. If this doesn’t make you smile, you might want to check your pulse.

Hairspray LIVE! premieres December 7th at 8PM ET/7PM CT.

First Look: HAIRSPRAY Live!

Get your first look at the upcoming Hairspray Live! set to air December 7 at 8PM ET/PT featuring an all-star cast: Harvey Fierstein as “Edna Turnblad,” Jennifer Hudson as “Motormouth Mabel,” Martin Short as “Wilbur Turnblad,” Derek Hough as “Corny Collins,” Ariana Grande as “Penny Pingleton,” Andrea Martin as “Prudy Pingleton” and Kristin Chenoweth as “Velma Von Tussle.”

I know the show well and I have to say this is dream casting across the board. I can’t imagine any better than this.

In addition to being the best “Edna Turnblad” ever (Tony Award don’t you know?) Harvey Fierstein will provide a new teleplay and original Broadway choreographer Jerry Mitchell (“Kinky Boots,” “On Your Feet,” “The Full Monty,” “Legally Blonde”) will bring the moves as choreographer. I have to admit I missed Jerry’s choreography in the movie version.

Harvey Fierstein as "Edna Turnblad" in NBC's "Hairspray LIVE!"

Hairspray LIVE! Casting News: Harvey Fierstein & Jennifer Hudson To Join Cast

Most excellent casting news for the upcoming live presentation of the Broadway smash-hit Hairspray.

Not only will Academy/Grammy/Golden Globe winner Jennifer Hudson take on the role of “Motormouth Maybelle” (and her show-stopping “I Know Where I’ve Been”), but Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein will reprise his leading role of “Edna Turnblad.”

In my opinion, there’s never been a better “Edna.”

Via press release:

“We are beyond thrilled with this incredibly talented duo of stars for ‘Hairspray Live!,’” said Robert Greenblatt, Chairman, NBC Entertainment. “Harvey Fierstein created the role of Edna Turnblad on Broadway in an indelible Tony-winning performance that demanded to be memorialized on film, and we’re happy he wanted to step into her shoes one last, unforgettable time. We’re also so grateful that the incomparable Jennifer Hudson will play Motormouth Maybelle and we know her rendition of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ will literally stop the show.”

Based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, “Hairspray Live!” takes place in 1962 Baltimore. Teenager Tracy Turnblad’s dream is to dance on “The Corny Collins Show,” a local TV program. When, against all odds, Tracy wins a role on the show, she becomes a celebrity overnight and meets a colorful array of characters, including the resident dreamboat, Link; the ambitious mean girl, Amber; an African-American boy she meets in detention, Seaweed; and his mother, Motormouth Maybelle, the owner of a local record store. Tracy’s mother is the indomitable Edna Turnblad, and she eventually encourages Tracy on her campaign to integrate the all-white “Corny Collins Show.”

Harvey Fierstein, who is also writing the teleplay, will play Edna Turnblad, a role he created and won a Tony Award for in the stage version of “Hairspray.” The quintessential Edna, Fierstein portrayed the character for the show’s first two years of its seven-year run at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway.

The production will air live on NBC on December 7th at 8PM ET/PT.

Harvey Fierstein & Cyndi Lauper Get Neighboring Stars On “Hollywood Walk Of Fame”

From Variety:

It’s hard to imagine a more simpatico creative pairing than Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein.

Lauper, the award-winning (Grammy, Emmy and Tony) pop icon whose rainbow-colored hair and anthemic “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” single made her a hero among fiery female teens in the 1980s, has long established herself as a staunch humanitarian and leading advocate for LGBT rights. Fierstein, the gravel-voiced actor-cum-playwright who rose to fame with such landmark Tony award-winning triumphs as “Torch Song Trilogy” and “La Cage aux Folles,” is a preeminent human-rights activist who was openly gay at a time when almost nobody in the entertainment industry was.

Decades later, the two artists and longtime friends finally came together to write and score the 2013 Tony Award-winning musical “Kinky Boots,” an achievement for which on April 11 they will receive adjacent stars — hers for recording; his for live theater — on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in a plum spot located in front of the Pantages Theater where “Kinky Boots” is gearing up for its April 13-24 Los Angeles rerun.

“I’d wanted to work with Harvey for a really long time and when this opportunity came up I was very excited to take it,” says Lauper of her inaugural foray into Broadway musicals. “Harvey kind of protected me and walked me through the experience. Basically, he was my mother.”


Harvey Fierstein: “Why Are We Doing The Republican’s Job For Them?”

Broadway luminary and LGBT activist Harvey Fierstein shared an essay via Facebook explaining why America should stop protesting Donald Trump campaign rallies.

And he’s very, very right.

Watching our people protesting Trump today I have to say that I don’t understand what we’re doing. I understand that we must always speak out against intolerance and bigotry and anyone who would destroy American values to ensure their own profits but, at this moment…

WHY ARE WE DOING THE REPUBLICANS’ JOB FOR THEM?

They created Trump. They earned him. As if their hateful rhetoric wasn’t enough, just in how they treated our President, they earned Trump! With every racist slight, with every homophobic slander, with every manufactured semi-automatic weapon and oil spill and fracking disaster and shuttered women’s clinic and attack on affordable health care, the Republican leadership built this Frankenstein monster. Let the monster they created and nurtured destroy them!

What do you think they’ll do if we manage to Dump Trump? They’ll only turn around and give us the next horror from their arsenal of selfish intolerance. Look who they have to offer America. Next up is Cruz. CRUZ!!!!! Someone who has done nothing in his career but self promote, obstruct progress, and lie. Don’t you see that Trump is the radical that makes the dangerous Cruz look reasonable? Even THEY loathe Cruz. But they are willing to back him to the White House.

And even if it’s not Cruz, who do else do they have? Romney? We already said no to that vacuous man. Jeb? Why not run Neil Bush? America has already bailed him out. He’s been bought and paid for, so let’s have him? And since no one has ever taken Kasich seriously he’s avoided the lens of the microscope, but trust me, you don’t want him either. AND WHY IS IT OUR JOB TO GUIDE THE REPUBLICANS TOWARD A LESSER EVIL? They’ve already all said that they’d back Trump if he gets the nomination. Does anyone really think they have America’s welfare at heart????

My friends… This is the time for us to work FOR OUR PARTY and not for the Republicans. They poisoned their garden and can now only grow weeds and briers like Trump and Cruz. They need to make things right in their own world or, trust me, they will poison us all. They need to clean up the toxic waste dump that has become their party. We can’t do that for them.

Meanwhile, WE have our own work to do. We have our own candidates to support. We have America’s future to worry about. Let’s do our job. Let’s use our energy to work FOR SOMETHING. Not against it.

Harvey Fierstein: “Get loud against Putin and his anti-gay pogrom”

From Harvey Fierstein’s Facebook page

It’s time to start paying attention to what’s going on in Russia in case you haven’t yet. Putin has declared war on the gay community.

He’s made it illegal to promote homosexuality in theater, film, tv, print that in any way could be seen by youth. In other words anything gay is now pornography.

He’s outlawed the adopting of Russian children to any country that has legalized marriage equality.

And now it is reported that his next law will remove the children of GLBT families from their homes. This will apply to biological children as well as formerly adopted ones.

This is a horror. Not only for our community but even for straight families. Already divorced parents are threatening one another with blackmail to tell authorities that their ex is now gay just to control parental rights.

Putin wants this attack against human rights to be his legacy. He believes he can get the backing of the Vatican as well as all other conservative religious leaders to join his cause.

What can we do? Make his actions and his plans public. Shine the light of public opinion on this evil doer.
Boycott the Winter Olympics in Russia. Believe me, Putin will use the Olympics as proof that the world backs up his action. There are only two ways to deal with a tyrant: Starve out the rat, or destroy him.

So, my friends, do your research and then GET LOUD AGAINST PUTIN AND HIS ANTI-GAY POGROM. This is a very small world. Our brothers and sisters in Russia need us NOW!

(via Harvey Fierstein’s Facebook page)

Broadway-bound Kinky Boots opens in Chicago

Kinky Boots, the new musical by Cyndi Lauper & Harvey Fierstein, opened last night at the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago.

Directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell, the show appears to be headed in the right direction as Chicago gives the creators the opportunity to fine tune the piece.

A couple of the reviews from opening night:

Hedy Weiss, Sun-Times: While
no one would mistake this new musical, which celebrated its
pre-Broadway opening Wednesday night at Chicago’s Bank of America
Theatre, as groundbreaking in any way, it is an ideally crafted,
altogether feel-good show — something of a “La Cage aux Folles” for the
recession-plagued, anti-bullying, “it WILL get better” generation. And
its solid if predictable storytelling (Harvey Fierstein’s take on the
popular little British film comedy of 2005), its accomplished and varied
score (an impressive first Broadway effort by Cyndi Lauper, that petite
paragon of pop, who has penned several numbers that are sure to become
keepers), its conveyor belt-smooth flow (courtesy of
director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell), and its strong, winningly
genuine cast, all conjoin to make it an engaging entertainment.


Michael Roberts, Showbiz Chicago:
Kinky Boots has something unique going for it that will add to its
success; that is Billy Porter…I would venture to say that Kinky Boots
will do for Mr. Porter what Hello, Dolly did for Carol Channing, Funny
Girl for Streisand; Phantom for Michael Crawford and Evita for Patti
LuPone. This is will become a show and role that will be forever
synonymous with Mr. Porter, and rightfully so…Alongside Mr. Porter is
the equally engaging Stark Sands as Charlie Price. Though his character
could stand a little more development in the second act, Sands has
remarkable stage presence and chemistry with his co-star…The book for
Kinky Boots is classic Harvey Fierstein, who always has the innate
ability to create an environment where his characters can be bigger than
life one minute, then intensely internal the next…The material at hand
is perfect fodder for [Jerry] Mitchell to develop the environment to
allow his actors to find their truth…A musical would be nothing without
the music, and for this, Cyndi Lauper is a revelation…Not since Rent
has there been a musical that is poised to have at least three numbers
cross over to the pop charts.

The marquee of Kinky Boots in Chicago

Jerry Mitchell, Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein celebrate the opening of Kinky Boots in Chicagp

Pictures via Broadway.com