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Wednesday, June 13, 2012
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London Theater Jounral: A Flickering ‘Torch Son’
NYTimes.com/ArtsBeat blog – by BEN BRANTLEY
Long before America cuddled up with those wholesome gay pixies on “Will and Grace” and “Modern Family,” there was “Torch Song Trilogy,” a play that scratched the surface of a fierce drag queen to discover a lovable Jewish mother with good family values beneath. Arnold was this comforting creature’s reassuringly plain name. The man who created him on the page and the stage, Harvey Fierstein, won Tony Awards for both Best Play and Best Actor in 1983, giving daring and triumphant new breadth to the notion of theater queen.
Now Arnold is back in London, a town he first visited in 1985 (when he was portrayed to huzzahs by Antony Sher). And though it may ungallant to say it about a sometime lady, 30 years on Arnold is showing his age. He seems thinner, too, and not just because David Bedella, the accomplished actor playing him at the Menier Chocolate Factory, is many dress sizes smaller than Mr. Fierstein was or because of cuts made to the original, elephantine text.
With the shock waves he once set off stilled by the passage of time, Arnold now looks like surprisingly close kin to a couple of other characters who have invaded London in a revival this season: the wise-cracking vaudevillians of Neil Simon’s “Sunshine Boys.”
The Menier Chocolate Factory, a hit-spawning napkin-sized theater in Southwark, is undeniably an appropriate place for the resuscitation of “Torch Song,” which runs through August. It was here that “La Cage Aux Folles,” the musical by Mr. Fierstein and Jerry Herman about another maternal female impersonator, was revived (and truly rejuvenated) in 2007. It went on to pick up most awards on offer in the West End and on Broadway, including a Tony for Best Actor for its cross-dressed leading man, Douglas Hodge.
Mr. Hodge is the director of the current “Torch Song.” He has staged this production with an ingratiating, crowd-courting sweetness – a trait that was evident in, but only a part of, his barnstorming performance in “La Cage.”
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