Harvey Fierstein Gets 'Kinky' and Discusses His Jewish Roots

Broadway Star Says Theater Is His True Religion

Trial by Fierstein: The Tony Award-winning actor and author grew up attending a Conservative synagogue in Brooklyn.
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Trial by Fierstein: The Tony Award-winning actor and author grew up attending a Conservative synagogue in Brooklyn.

By Simi Horwitz

Published April 11, 2013, issue of April 19, 2013.

Harvey Fierstein says he had some reservations about adapting the film “Kinky Boots” into a musical. “To do a drag show doesn’t interest me,” he said. “Been there, done that. A show about shoes doesn’t cry out to me. Also, if something [like the original film] is good, why f–k with it? And a musical takes two to five years. You have to love it to put in the years.”

Ultimately, the Tony Award–winning writer, actor and gay activist was won over in part because he wanted the chance to work with director Jerry Mitchell, and on yet another viewing of the film, which is inspired by real life events, he finally saw what he could bring to it.

Set in working-class Northampton, England, the story centers on a young man who has inherited his father’s near-bankrupt shoe factory. With no interest in the family business, but feeling compelled to live up to his late father’s expectations, he joins forces with a drag queen — a bevy of drag queens, in fact — who are in need of heavy-duty stilettos. An unlikely bond is forged.

“An amazing story is in the film, but it’s not the focus,” Fierstein recalled. “I felt I could bring the focus to that emotional life. That’s the story of these two friends and how wounded they are as human beings and how through their friendship they end up healing each other and themselves. I said, ‘That’s worth a couple of years of my life.’”

Fierstein collaborated with Mitchell and Cyndi Lauper — who made her Broadway debut writing the show’s music and lyrics — and created a musical that is at once comic, original and heartfelt. Its centerpiece is the sometimes difficult father-son relationship.

The Forward’s Simi Horwitz chatted with Fierstein about his life and his hit show, now playing on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

Simi Horwitz: What do you relate to in this story?

Harvey Fierstein: We are all wounded creatures. But this is not my story.

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