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.
Getty Images
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.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

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.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.