He hasn't been to Los Angeles for 10 years, says the Tony-winning actor and playwright, and he's never been to the Hollywood Bowl, where he stars in the musical "Hairspray" for three nights starting Friday.
Inhabiting Edna brought Fierstein his fourth Tony Award in 2003. His onstage daughter Marissa Jaret Winokur — who will be joining him at the Bowl — also received a Tony, and "Hairspray" won six more, including best musical.
Gravelly voiced, uninhibited Fierstein has come a long way since his first professional acting job at 16, when he played "an asthmatic lesbian maid" in Andy Warhol's only play, "Pork." He won 1983 Tony Awards as both playwright and actor for his first major play, "Torch Song Trilogy," and in 1984 he received another Tony for the libretto of the musical "La Cage aux Folles." While "Hairspray" was his first Broadway musical performance, Fierstein has since played Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" twice — on Broadway and on tour — and this year concluded several weeks performing in "La Cage."
Coming up are librettos for two new musicals: "Newsies," based on the 1992 Disney film, opens in September at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J., and a musical version of the film "Kinky Boots" is in development with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper.
Barbara Isenberg spoke with him by phone from his home in what he describes as "a small fictional town in Connecticut."
What can you tell us about this new production of "Hairspray"?
It's being directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, so I would guarantee an all-star, energy-exploding, knock-your-socks-off concert version. Jerry has a lot of energy. And they've put together what looks like a really fun cast.
Do you know Drew Carey, who will be playing your husband onstage?
I've never met him, but I hear he's a good kisser. You can forgive a lot when a man's a good kisser.
You have fared very well over the years playing men playing drag performers. What is it like to take the stage as a woman?
When I was a kid, we had every cast album there was, and I lip-synced to a lot of stuff. I loved Ethel Merman. Then, 30 or 40 years later, you're standing onstage in a red wig and singing — you're Ethel Merman.
Is it difficult for you to perform as a woman, much less belt out rock 'n' roll?
No. It's just a different part of my voice that I haven't used in many years. It's a character voice. You know, we actors are athletes. You have to be sure you do your warm-ups, and I have two aps on my phone for that. I do 30 or 35 minutes of warm-up every day.
And the dancing?
The first time we did "La Cage," George Hearn walked into the room and said, "I don't dance." So when I went into "Hairspray," I was going to jump up and say, "I don't dance." If George Hearn could do it, I could do it. But then I thought to myself, "If you don't dance now, nobody will ever again ask you to dance." So I shut my mouth and thought if I dance badly, they won't have me dance. Nobody complained about my dancing.
Besides all the singing and dancing at the Bowl, I hear we should expect to see some of the William Ivey Long-designed costumes that took you from laundress to bombshell.
It takes a team to put together Edna's wigs and costumes, and there are plans afoot that I am not yet privy to. But that's part of the excitement.