Harvey Fierstein to Return to Stage Playing Bella Abzug

Harvey Fierstein -  Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Harvey Fierstein -  Getty - H 2016

The four-time Tony Award winner will star as the political firebrand on the eve of her bid to become New York State's first female Senator in his new solo show, 'Bella Bella.'

Harvey Fierstein will be back on the New York stage and back in drag this fall.

The beloved theater veteran, LGBT activist and four-time Tony Award winner will star in his new solo show, Bella Bella, playing Bella Abzug, the combative liberal feminist lawyer who was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973-77 and one of the first members of Congress to support gay rights.

Nicknamed "Battling Bella," Abzug was a larger-than-life figure in New York politics and a leader of the Women's Movement. Fierstein's play comes during a resurgence of interest in the trailblazing crusader; a documentary feature titled Bella! is nearing completion, directed by Jeff L. Lieberman for Re-Emerging Films.

Bella Bella is set in 1976, on the eve of her bid to become New York State's first female Senator, when she hides out in a midtown hotel bathroom awaiting that night's election results.

Manhattan Theatre Club will present the world premiere, described as "raucous, heart-rending and absurdly humorous," on its off-Broadway stage at New York City Center. Directed by Kimberly Senior, the production begins previews Oct. 1, with its official opening night set for Oct. 22.

Fierstein has a long history of exploring drag roles as both a writer and performer. He won his first two Tonys in 1983  (best play and leading actor in a play) for Torch Song Trilogy, in which he starred as a New York drag artiste looking for love. He won a Tony for best book of a musical in 1984 for La Cage aux Folles, set in and around a French Riviera drag club; and he landed best actor in a musical in 2003 for Hairspray, in which he played Baltimore housewife Edna Turnblad, a role created by drag legend Divine in the John Waters movie on which it was based.

More recently, Fierstein received a Tony nomination for best play in 2014 for Casa Valentina, set in a real-life 1960s Catskills Mountains cross-dressing resort where ostensibly heterosexual men went to explore their inner woman. That play also was produced by MTC. He also wrote the book for 2013 best musical Tony winner Kinky Boots, about a shoe factory that reinvents its struggling business by specializing in glamour footwear for drag queens and transgender customers.

Other productions newly announced for MTC's off-Broadway season include The Perplexed, about two intertwined New York families gathering in a Fifth Avenue apartment to celebrate a wedding in which nothing goes as planned. The Richard Greenberg play reunites the author with director Lynne Meadow, who staged his recent works The Assembled Parties and Our Mother's Brief Affair. It begins previews Feb. 11, 2020, ahead of a March 3 opening night.

Later in the 2019-20 season, MTC will produce newcomer Emily Feldman's The Best We Could (a family tragedy), about a daughter's road trip with her father. Daniel Aukin directs the play, which starts performances May 5, 2020, with a May 19 opening.

Next up on MTC's Broadway stage, the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, is Ink, the new play by James Graham that stars Bertie Carvel as a young Rupert Murdoch, breaking into British tabloid journalism in the late 1960s, and Jonny Lee Miller as Larry Lamb, the rogue editor who helped him carry out that assault on traditional print media. Rupert Goold directs the production, which begins previews April 2 ahead of an April 24 opening.