I Was Better Last Night 

A black and white photo of Harvey Fierstein from below, as he looks down into the camera whild having his hands against one side of his face.

by Cherise T.

Harvey Fierstein, I beg to differ with your memoir title, I Was Better Last Night. Although I’ve never had the privilege of experiencing one of your shows two nights in a row, every time I have seen you, the performance has been remarkably bodacious and sincere, distinctive and familiar. You immerse the audience in worlds we’ve never seen before, drawing us in even deeper with elements resonating from our own lives. How could you have been even better? 

I Was Better Last Night opens a treasure trove of stories for theater lovers. Did you know that Disney thought Newsies could never be a hit musical? That the original producers of 1983’s La Cage aux Folles vehemently nixed the gay couple’s kiss? That beloved actress Estelle Getty of The Golden Girls first found fame at age 59 in Torch Song Trilogy, starring in a role written just for her? Brimming with mostly loving, but occasionally scathing, Broadway backstage tales, Fierstein’s memoir exposes the details of show creation. We learn his insights into what worked and what didn’t and how the cast and creative crew contribute to the final product. We hear juicy tales of relationships gained and broken, Tonys won and lost, musicals with multiple revivals and singular flops. 

As an actor, playwright, screenwriter, and proudly out gay icon, Fierstein has a lifetime of stories to tell, and the book truly spans his whole life. The memoir maintains a captivating balance between the personal and the professional. Some of the most poignant chapters in the book explore his evolving sexual identity and the context in which he places his own growth as a queer man within the current social environment. He spares few details when writing about New York City’s bathhouses and the HIV/AIDs epidemic. 

Fierstein has won many awards and garnered extensive fame for his contributions to Mrs. Doubtfire, Hairspray, Fiddler on the Roof, La Cage Aux Folles, and Torch Song Trilogy, to name a few. It’s fascinating to learn how he credits his becoming a successful performer and writer to character, lucky timing, supportive mentors, and determination. In another life, he would now be a retired public school art teacher. 

The book is available in print and electronic formats. Consider the audiobook version, if you enjoy Fierstein’s distinctive gravel-filled Brooklyn accent as much as I do. Describing the creation of the musical Kinky Boots, for example, he does a spot-on impersonation of Cyndi Lauper, the first solo woman to win a Tony for best original musical score. Offering lyrics he’s sung and lines he’s written, Fierstein is a compelling author-narrator, adding an additional layer of insight into his creative life. His self-deprecating sense of humor really shines. For the wonderful photographs, check out the print version as well. 

And the title? Yes, Fierstein seems to have the ego we associate with stars. There’s no doubt he believes in himself and the strength of his work, but like the final principle of Lola’s six–step program in Kinky Boots, “You change the world when you change your mind.” He describes times he could have done better, admits missteps, and encourages everyone to open their minds and hearts. 

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks. 

In Conversation: Pierre Jean Gonzalez

The photograph depicts actor Pierre Jean Gonzalez in his starring role as Alexander Hamilton, wearing a white shirt, pants, vest, and cravat, with a brown overcoat with gold buttons. His head is turned to the side and he is gazing into the distance.
Photo credit: @ Joan Marcus

By Cherise T.

Fans of Hamilton know the impressive acting, singing, and dancing skills required to bring to life the musical’s complex characters. Hamilton showcases multiple musical genres, innovative choreography, and insightful portrayals of historical figures responsible for the founding of the United States. We are excited to share highlights from our conversation with one of the show’s remarkable stars whose work impacts the artistic content we will see in the future.

The photograph is of Hamilton star Pierre Jean Gonzalez, wearing a black shirt and facing the camera.
Photo credit: @ Ambe J. Photography

Growing up in the Bronx, Pierre Jean Gonzalez never saw himself represented in the television shows he watched. Today, he is starring in the national touring company of Hamilton, and is the co-founder of DominiRican Productions, whose “mission is to see People of Color on both sides of the camera.” The creation of the production company was part of his “pandemic journey” to “address issues of representation.” He feels grateful that “because of Hamilton, I’m able to use my status to help others.” 

What’s it like playing Alexander Hamilton? “Challenging” and “amazing.”

Is BIPOC casting in musical theater important and why? To summarize, it has changed Pierre’s life as well as the lives of other creative people and audience members.

How are opportunities for underrepresented and marginalized communities created? Case study: DominiRican Productions.

We examined these issues and took audience questions at our September 20 event at HCLS Central Branch. The evening featured a screening of DominiRican’s award-winning experimental short, release, directed by Pierre, featuring a poem and performance by Cedric Lieba Jr., the cofounder of DominiRican Productions, and Pierre’s fiancé. Explore their inspirational projects at https://dominiricanproductions.com.

The photograph depicts Pierre Jean Gonzalez looking at books from the HCLS Central Branch equity collection with instructor and research specialist Ash Baker.
Instructor and Research Specialist Ash B. highlights the HCLS Central Branch Equity Resource Collection for Pierre Jean Gonzalez.

The focus of Pierre’s biography surrounds his advocacy for Latinx and LGBTQ+ opportunities on stage, on screen, and behind the camera. He and Cedric used the pandemic’s constraint on their acting careers as a chance to construct a unique artistic venture highlighting original voices and fresh talent to viewers. Inspired in part by the musical heritage, humanity, and diverse casting of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work in Hamilton, Pierre builds and supports projects that might otherwise never be produced. His dedication to inclusion and community is clear, and we were all motivated by his empowering message of kindness and empathy in art. Pierre shared his personal coming out story as well as guidance for all of us to live our truth, share our stories, and lift up those around us.

Pierre Jean Gonzalez is on the stage at HCLS Central Branch, speaking into a microphone in front of an audience.
Pierre Jean Gonzalez in conversation with Cherise Tasker, Instructor and Research Specialist, at HCLS Central Branch.

Howard County Library System was excited to host this talk with Hamilton star Pierre Jean Gonzalez. Although registration for this event filled almost immediately, please watch our Classes & Events page for daily updates on future presentations and interactive sessions: https://howardcounty.librarycalendar.com.

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.