Harvey Fierstein

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Harvey Fierstein
Harvey Fierstein Shankbone Metropolitan Opera 2009.jpg
Fierstein in 2009
Harvey Forbes Fierstein

(1954-06-06) June 6, 1954 (age 68)
New York City, U.S.
Education Pratt Institute (BFA)
  • Actor
  • playwright
  • screenwriter
Years active1981–present

Harvey Forbes Fierstein ( /ˈfaɪərˌstn/ FIRE-steen; born June 6, 1954) [1] [2] [3] is an American actor, playwright and screenwriter. He is best known for his theater work in Torch Song Trilogy and Hairspray and movie roles in Mrs. Doubtfire , Independence Day , and as the voice of Yao in Mulan and Mulan II . Fierstein won two Tony Awards, Best Actor in a Play and Best Play, for Torch Song Trilogy . He received his third Tony Award, Best Book of a Musical, for the musical La Cage aux Folles and his fourth, the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, for playing Edna Turnblad in Hairspray . [4] Fierstein also wrote the book for the Tony Award-winning musicals Kinky Boots, Newsies, and Tony Award-nominated, Drama League Award-winner A Catered Affair. He was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2007. [5]


For his role on the television show Cheers , he was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.

Early life and education

Fierstein was born in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York City, the son of Jacqueline Harriet ( née Gilbert), a school librarian, and Irving Fierstein, a handkerchief manufacturer. [6] He grew up Jewish, and has said he doesn't believe in God, but "I pray three or four times a day." [7]

Fierstein attended High School of Art and Design and received a BFA from the Pratt Institute in 1973. He began working in the theater as a founding member of The Gallery Players of Park Slope before being cast in Andy Warhol's only play, Pork . [8]

Fierstein's distinctive gravelly voice is a result of an overdeveloped vestibular fold in his vocal cords, essentially giving him a "double voice" when he speaks. Prior to puberty, Fierstein was a soprano in a professional boys' choir. [9]


Fierstein in 1983 Harvey Fierstein, author.jpg
Fierstein in 1983

Fierstein is best known for the play and film Torch Song Trilogy , which he wrote and starred in both off-Broadway (with a young Matthew Broderick) and on Broadway (with Estelle Getty and Fisher Stevens). The 1982 Broadway production won him two Tony Awards, for Best Play and Best Actor in a Play; two Drama Desk Awards, for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Actor in a Play; [10] and the Theatre World Award. The film adaptation earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination as Best Male Lead. [11]

Fierstein also wrote the book for La Cage aux Folles (1983), winning another Tony Award, this time for Best Book of a Musical, and a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Book. Legs Diamond , his 1988 collaboration with Peter Allen, was a critical and commercial failure, closing after 72 previews and 64 performances, but the songs live on in Peter Allen's biographical musical, The Boy from Oz .

In 2007, Fierstein wrote the book to the musical A Catered Affair in which he also starred. After tryouts at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre in September 2007, the show opened on Broadway April 17, 2008. It received 12 Drama Desk Award nominations and won the Drama League Award for Distinguished Production of a Musical. [12]

Fierstein wrote the book for the stage musical Newsies , along with Alan Menken (music) and Jack Feldman (lyrics). The musical opened on Broadway in March 2012. Fierstein was nominated for the Tony Award for Book of a Musical. [13]

Fierstein wrote the book for a stage musical version of the film Kinky Boots with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. After a fall 2012 run at the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago, [14] it opened at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on Broadway in April 2013. The musical was nominated for thirteen 2013 Tony Awards [15] and won six, including best musical. [16]

Fierstein's play Casa Valentina was produced on Broadway by the Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. The play opened in April 2014. It was directed by Joe Mantello, with a cast that featured Patrick Page, John Cullum, and Mare Winningham. [17]

In April 2016, Fierstein, along with his Kinky Boots collaborator Cyndi Lauper, was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. [18]

In 2019 Fierstein wrote and starred in Bella Bella, a one-person play about New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug. It premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage One at City Center.

His other playwriting credits include Safe Sex, Spookhouse, and Forget Him. [19]

Fierstein wrote the teleplay for the December 3, 2015 NBC TV broadcast of The Wiz Live! , featuring Stephanie Mills as Aunt Em, Queen Latifah as The Wiz, and David Alan Grier as the Lion. The teleplay is an adaptation of The Wiz Broadway production which ran from October 1974 until January 1979. [20]

Fierstein then wrote the teleplay for, and starred in, the 2016 NBC TV broadcast of Hairspray Live! with Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Kristin Chenoweth, and Martin Short. [21]

As one of the first openly gay celebrities in the United States, Fierstein helped make gay and lesbian life into viable subjects for contemporary drama "with no apologies and no climactic suicides". [22]

In addition to his theatrical work, Fierstein has authored op-eds for The New York Times, [23] [24] [25] HuffPost, and the PBS series In the Life. [26] His I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir was released in 2022 and quickly became a New York Times Bestseller.


Fierstein (left) with Anthony Rapp at the Annual Flea Market and Grand Auction hosted by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, September 2006 Harvey Fierstein and Anthony Rapp.jpg
Fierstein (left) with Anthony Rapp at the Annual Flea Market and Grand Auction hosted by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, September 2006

Fierstein made his acting debut at La MaMa, E.T.C. in Andy Warhol's only play, Pork. Fierstein continued to appear at La MaMa and other venues, but also having some aspirations to become a painter, he enrolled at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from Pratt in 1973. Fierstein appeared three times in The Haunted Host by Robert Patrick: in Boston in 1975, at La MaMa, and then off-Broadway in 1991. In addition to Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage aux Folles, and A Catered Affair, Fierstein's Broadway acting credits include playing the mother, Edna Turnblad, in Hairspray (2002), for which he won a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. He later replaced Alfred Molina as Tevye in the 2004 revival of Fiddler on the Roof .

Besides his leading role in the film version of Torch Song Trilogy co-starring Matthew Broderick and Anne Bancroft, Fierstein's film roles include Woody Allen's Bullets over Broadway and Merv Green in Death to Smoochy , in addition to parts in Garbo Talks , Duplex , Kull the Conqueror , and Independence Day . He narrated the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk , for which he won a News & Documentary Emmy Award. He also voiced the role of Yao in Disney's animated feature Mulan , a role he later reprised for the video game Kingdom Hearts II and the direct-to-DVD sequel Mulan II .

In 1993, Harvey Fierstein co-starred with Mara Wilson, Lisa Jakub, Matthew Lawrence, Sally Field, and Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire .

On television, Fierstein was praised [27] [28] for his 1990 role as the voice of Karl, Homer Simpson's assistant, in the "Simpson and Delilah" episode of The Simpsons and the voice of Elmer in the 1999 HBO special based on his children's book The Sissy Duckling , which won the Humanitas Prize for Children's Animation. In 1994, Fierstein became the first openly gay actor to play a principal gay character in a television series when he appeared as fashion designer Dennis Sinclair in the short-lived CBS series Daddy's Girls . [29] Additional credits include Miami Vice ; Murder, She Wrote ; the Showtime television movie Common Ground (which he also wrote); and Cheers , which earned him an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. He sang a tribute to Katie Couric on "Today" on May 31, 2006, her last day as anchor. He appeared as Heat Miser in the live-action remake of The Year Without a Santa Claus in December 2006. More recent television performances include an episode of Family Guy and a second-season episode of the series Nurse Jackie . He also provided the voice-over for Lily in the episode "Last Cigarette Ever" of How I Met Your Mother , when she gets a sore throat due to smoking.

Fierstein returned to the theatre when he reprised the role of Tevye, replacing an injured Chaim Topol, in the national tour of Fiddler on the Roof starting in December 2009. [30] On February 15, 2011, he replaced Douglas Hodge as Albin/Zaza in the Broadway revival of La Cage aux Folles playing opposite Jeffrey Tambor as Georges, [31] although days later Tambor pulled out, which the producers have stated was due to "complications from a recent hip surgery"; Christopher Sieber quickly replaced Tambor. [32] The show closed on May 1, 2011, after playing 433 performances and 15 previews. [33]

Fierstein wrote and starred in the solo monologue play Bella Bella, about Bella Abzug. The play opened off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club's City Center Stage 1 on October 1, 2019, directed by Kimberly Senior. [34]

Personal life

Gender identity

Speaking with People magazine in February 2022 to promote his memoir I Was Better Last Night, Fierstein stated, "I'm still confused as to whether I'm a man or a woman," and that as a child he often wondered if he'd been born in the wrong body. "When I was a kid, I was attracted to men. I didn't feel like a boy was supposed to feel. Then I found out about gay. So that was enough for me for then." The interview also noted his ease at playing both Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. He avoided identifying as non-binary in the interview, saying he had thought about it a lot and "it's the term that bothers me", but concluded that "I don't think I've missed anything by not making up my mind". [35] On the LGBTQ&A podcast the following month, Fierstein said, "I'm comfortable being me and if I ask myself, 'Would you want to transition?' The answer's no." [36] [37]

Theater acting credits

1982–1985 Torch Song Trilogy Arnold Beckoff Little Theatre Broadway
1986 Albery Theatre West End
1987Safe SexGhee Lyceum Theatre Broadway
2002 Hairspray Edna Turnblad 5th Avenue Theatre Regional
Neil Simon Theatre Broadway
2004–2006 Fiddler on the Roof Tevye Minskoff Theatre
2008 A Catered Affair Winston Walter Kerr Theatre
2009–2010 Fiddler on the Roof TevyeAmerican tour
2011 La Cage aux Folles Albin Longacre Theatre Broadway
2019Bella Bella Bella Abzug Manhattan Theater Club Off-Broadway
2022 Guys and Dolls Joey Biltmore (prerecorded voice, uncredited) The Kennedy Center Washington, D.C.



1984 Garbo Talks Bernie Whitlock
The Times of Harvey Milk NarratorVoice role
1988 Torch Song Trilogy Arnold BeckoffAlso the screenwriter (adapted his own play)
1992 The Harvest Bob Lakin
1993 Mrs. Doubtfire Francis "Frank" Hillard
Bullets Over Broadway Sid Loomis
1995 Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde Yves DuBois
1996 The Celluloid Closet HimselfInterview about LGBT movies
Independence Day Marty Gilbert
Everything Relative The Moyle
Elmo Saves Christmas Easter Bunny
1997 White Lies Art Hoarder
Kull the Conqueror Juba
Three Little PigsThe Big Bad WolfVoice role (short film)
1998 Mulan YaoVoice role
Safe Men Leo
1999 Jump Dish Macense
2000 Playing Mona Lisa Bennett
2000 Kingdom of the Sun HuacaVoice role; unreleased
2002 Death to Smoochy Merv Green
2003 Duplex Kenneth
2004 Mulan II YaoVoice role; Direct-to-video
2006 Farce of the Penguins Sheila
2012 Foodfight! Fat Cat Burglar
2014Russian Broadway Shut DownBook WriterShort film
2017 Animal Crackers EsmereldaVoice role
2019The Little Mermaid: An Immersive Live-to-Film Concert ExperienceUrsula
2020Disarm HateNarratorVoice role (documentary)
2022 Bros Lewis


1983The Demon Murder CaseDemonVoice role (television film)
1986 Miami Vice BenedictEpisode: "The Fix"
Apology The DerelictTelevision film
1988Tidy EndingsArthur
1990 The Simpsons KarlVoice role (Episode: "Simpson and Delilah")
1991 ABC Afterschool Specials AndrewEpisode: "In the Shadow of Love: A Teen AIDS Story"
1992 Cheers Mark NewbergerEpisode: "Rebecca's Lover... Not"
Murder, She Wrote Stan HatterEpisode: "The Dead File"
1994 Daddy's Girl Dennis SinclairSeries regular (3 episodes)
1997 The Larry Sanders Show Harvey FiersteinEpisode: "The Matchmaker"
Fame L.A. Jeremy PinterEpisode: "Do or Die"
Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child Mrs. LeapermanVoice role (Episode: "Thumbelina")
1998 Ellen HimselfEpisode: "It's a Gay, Gay, Gay, Gay World!"
Hercules Argus Panoptes Voice role (Episode: "Hercules and the Bacchanal")
Stories from My ChildhoodGramboVoice role (Episode: "Alice and the Mystery of the Third Planet")
1999 Double Platinum Gary MillsteinTelevision film
1999The Sissy DucklingElmerVoice role (television film)
2000 Common Ground DonTelevision film
Behind the Music HimselfEpisode: "1984"
2004 Biography Episode: "John Waters"
2004–07 Sesame Street Recurring role (3 episodes)
2006 The Year Without a Santa Claus Heat MiserTelevision film
2008 Family Guy TracyVoice role (Episode: "The Former Life of Brian")
2009 How I Met Your Mother Lily's smoking voice (voice)Episode: "Last Cigarette Ever"
2010 Nurse Jackie John DeckerEpisode: "Monkey Bits"
2011 The Good Wife Judge Francis FlammEpisode: "Feeding the Rat"
2012 Submissions Only Auditioner #5Episode: "Another Interruption"
2013 Smash HimselfEpisode: "The Fallout"
Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen Episode: "Harvey Fierstein & Kim Zolciak"
2014 Saturday Night Live Episode: "Bill Hader/Hozier"
2015 Family Guy Buster Keaton Voice role (Episode: "Stewie Is Enceinte")
The Wiz Live! Television special (teleplay writer)
2016 Hairspray Live! Edna Turnblad
2017 BoJack Horseman HimselfVoice role (Episode: "Commence Fracking")
2018 Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen Episode: "Jane Curtin & Harvey Fierstein"
2018–20 Big Mouth JeromeVoice role (Episode: "Guy Town", "Horrority House")
2019 The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance The GourmandRecurring voice role (7 episodes)

Video games

1998 Disney's Animated Storybook: Mulan Yao
Mulan Story Studio
2005 Kingdom Hearts II English version
2007 Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix+

Awards and nominations

1982 New York Drama Critics' Circle Best American Play [38] Torch Song Trilogy Nominated
1983 Tony Award Best Play [39] Won
Best Actor in a Play [39] Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Play [39] Won
Outstanding Actor in a Play [39] Won
Theatre World Award Theatre World Award [39] Won
1984 Tony Award Best Book of a Musical [38] La Cage aux Folles Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Book of a Musical [38] Nominated
1992 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series [40] Cheers Nominated
2003 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical [41] Hairspray Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actor in a Musical [41] Won
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Actor in a Musical [42] Nominated
Drama League Award Outstanding Performance [43] Won
2008Drama League AwardOutstanding Production of a Musical [44] A Catered Affair Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Book of a Musical [38] Nominated
2012 Tony Award Best Book of a Musical [45] Newsies Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Book of a Musical [46] Nominated
2013 Tony Award Best Book of a Musical [47] Kinky Boots Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Book of a Musical [48] Nominated
2014 Tony Award Best Play [49] Casa Valentina Nominated

See also

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