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Harvey Fierstein talks Broadway, dressing in drag, and his legendary voice

One of Harvey Fierstein's most well-known roles is as Edna Turnblad in the Broadway musical "Hairspray".
One of Harvey Fierstein's most well-known roles is as Edna Turnblad in the Broadway musical "Hairspray".

Harvey Fierstein first questioned his gender when he was 7 years old. The Tony-award-winning playwright behind Broadway hits including “Kinky Boots” and “Newsies” recounts the story in his new memoir, “I Was Better Last Night.”

I went at my face with abandon. Eyeliner, mascara, blush, and [my mom’s] brightest shade of red lipstick. I stood back and admired the results in the mirror. I gawked. With this act of defiance, something shifted. Something magical had happened. Staring into the mirror, squinting away the imperfections, my outsides at last matched my insides, and I heard the voice in my head ask that most frightening of questions: ‘Are you a girl?’

Sixty years later, Fierstein is still unsure. “I’m still confused as to whether I’m a man or a woman,” he told People. “I don’t have answers for anybody else ’cause I don’t have answers for myself. When I was a kid, I was attracted to men. I didn’t feel like a boy was supposed to feel. Then I found out about gay. So that was enough for me for then.”

Fierstein brought queer characters to the stage and screen. He won Tonys for “Torch Song Trilogy” and “La Cage Aux Folles,” both of which he wrote. The shows, which premiered in the 1980s, introduced gay relationships and characters to Broadway audiences.

Off-stage, Fierstein was living through the AIDS epidemic, a harrowing and tragic experience that led to him turning away from show business and towards substance abuse.

Fierstein has an impressive resume on both stage and screen, including roles in the hit films “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Independence Day.” Even so, he is perhaps most recognizable for his distinctive, warbling “double voice.” He won even more Tonys later in his career for his work on “Hairspray” and “Kinky Boots.”

We talk to Fierstein about his career and take questions from you.

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