Richie Jackson was 17 when his mother took him to see Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy on Broadway. It was 1982, and Jackson remembers sitting in the theater “laughing hysterically and crying” as he watched Fierstein play Arnold, a gay man with a heart of gold and a personal life that refuses to play nice.
“Arnold taught me to be who you are, to stand your ground and to make the world come to you,” Jackson said.
Now, over 30 years later, that advice takes on an even deeper meaning for Jackson. This fall, Jackson will be the lead producer on Torch Song, as the play is now called, when the show moves to Broadway after a smash off-Broadway run at Second Stage. Michael Urie and Mercedes Ruehl will reprise their roles when the show opens at the Hayes, the same theater where it originally played.
“To be able to produce the very first Broadway revival is both thrilling and a culmination of this long relationship I’ve had with this play,” he said.
What else does this revival mean to Jackson? His own words tell the story.
A Memorable Night
In 1982, I had known I was gay but had not said anything to anyone. I’d never met another gay person. There were no gay people on TV or gay elected officials. The very first gay person I ever came in contact with was Arnold, and therefore Harvey Fierstein. My role model for being a gay person was and has always been Arnold in Torch Song Trilogy. I also shared a desire with him—I had always wanted to be a father—and so when I saw that was possible, I never doubted that was going to happen to me.
I will never forget working at the Häagen-Dazs in Merrick, Long Island on the night that Torch Song Trilogy won for best play. My mother called to tell me, and we were both so excited.
My freshman year at NYU in 1983, I saw the play again with friends. I wrote Harvey a fan letter and told him how much I loved the play. He wrote me back a postcard with a picture of him wearing bunny slippers. For Harvey to take the time to answer a 17-year-old with a pearl of wisdom in that very motherly way? The feeling I had was I have a guardian angel.
Today, everything has changed and nothing has changed. It’s extraordinary to be born into a world where there is gay marriage—at least for now—and to be born into a world with a drug that can prevent you from getting HIV.
Back when I was 17 you weren’t quite sure who else was gay. Now there’s an app that tells you where the nearest gay person is. But the gay community is still under attack. I think it’s very important for a gay young person to know that they are special and that they are beautiful and that no matter the obstacles, there is a life for them that is full of love and beauty and excitement and creativity.