On Broadway 9-11 Scheduling

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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the September 4, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Broadway Review: `Hairspray’

There is always room on Broadway for another big fat

— make that bouffant — musical comedy hit. Now "The Producers"

can shake hands with "Hairspray," the new and very chubby

kid on the block.

"Hairspray" is a no a no-brainer to be sure, and if it continues

a growing trend toward more frivolous musical theater no one seems

to be complaining. Who knows what shows would have been spawned had

"Marie Christine" (a musical version of "Medea") been

a hit? Where "Hairspray" differs and stands apart from company

like the gag-filled "The Producers," the merry but mechanical

force of "Mamma Mia," and the satiric bite of "Urinetown,"

is that it is irresistibly playful and cartoon-like.

Inspired by camp film director John Waters’ low-budget 1988 cult classic,

"Hairspray" has been miraculously transformed into a shiny,

exhilarating, and mostly hilarious musical for the whole family with

(perish the thought) family values. With more in common with the wholesome

"Bye Bye Birdie" than the gross and tasteless "Grease,"

"Hairspray" is sure to be a family and school favorite long

after its Broadway run ends, maybe 10 years from now. Unlike Mel Brooks’

notable participation in the writing of "The Producers," Waters’

absence from "Hairspray’s" creative team is probably a blessing.

Thomas Meehan, co-author of the new musical’s book, looks to become

its hero. He was also co-author of "The Producers."

Set in Baltimore in the early 1960s, the musical is a bright and funny

valentine to our teen years, those days when adolescent rebellion

was being provoked by such major issues as first love, what to wear,

who to be seen with at the dance, and why can’t a chunky girl ever

get the hunky guy. It was a time when racial issues were just beginning

to surface in schools and in the predominantly white neighborhoods,

and when the music of one racial group was infiltrating and influencing

the music of another. It was also a time for girls to see how high

and wide they could tease their hair.

The joy of "Hairspray" is that it is not a tease, but a surprisingly

affecting and affectionate portrait of a young and sweet but overweight

teen, Tracy Turnblad (played with pluck and vivacity by Marissa Jaret

Winokur), who, although she starts off each day with a song ("Good

Morning, Baltimore"), also turns the tide of racism in her town.

For Winokur, who appeared in the most recent Broadway production of

"Grease," but is probably best known for her portrayal of

Janine in "American Beauty," her exuberantly endearing performance

as Tracy will be hard to top.

It’s a love-at-first-sight encounter for the unpopular

but sweet Tracy as she bumps into the pompadoured heartthrob Link

Larkin (Matthew Morrison) at auditions for an all-white TV teen dance

show. Although hosted by local station emcee Corny Collins (Clarke

Thorell), the TV show is being manipulated and kept racially segregated

by Velma (Linda Hart), its racist producer and the pushy mother of

snooty blonde teen queen Amber (Laura Bell Bundy). Those bigots better

get out of the way when Tracy’s parents — the mountainous Edna

Turnblat (played to gravel-voiced perfection by drag star Harvey Fierstein)

and Wilbur (Dick Latessa), her clownish but loving husband — take

a stand.

No back seat is taken by super swiveling and gyrating black teen Seaweed

J. Stubbs (Corey Reynolds) and the stage commanding presence of Mary

Bond Davis, as Seaweed’s mother, a formidable and show-stopping black

record shop owner. Watching Tracy’s introverted girlfriend Penny Pingleton

(a riotously funny Kerry Butler) change, in the arms of Seaweed, from

a mouse to a sex kitten, is worth the price of admission.

Propelled by Jack O’Brien’s fast and smooth direction, Jerry Mitchell’s

spirited choreography, the show is no less fulfilled by the torrent

of catchy do-wop and rock styled music provided by collaborators Mark

Shamain (music and lyrics) and Scott Wittman (lyrics). That the musical’s

book writers Meehan and Mark O’Donnell have stuffed into the joke-strewn

mix a generous amount of heady but heartening social issues and concerns

is no mean feat. With everyone cavorting in David Rockwell’s neon-lit

comic book settings and dressed to the outrageous nines by William

Ivey Long, "Hairspray" lifts its audience higher than any

beehive could. Three stars. You won’t feel cheated.

— Simon Saltzman

Hairspray, Neil Simon Theater, 250 West 52 Street, New

York, 212-307-4100. $40 to $100.

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On Broadway 9-11 Scheduling

September 11 note: To play or not to play? It’s a hard

call and different groups have decided different ways to honor the

one-year anniversary of the New York terroritst attacks. Shows that

are taking the show-must-go-on approach include "The Producers,"

"Hairspray," "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "I’m

Not Rappaport," "Metamorphoses," "Proof," "The

Boys from Syracuse," "The Graduate," and "The Tale

of the Allergist’s Wife."

Those keeping the house dark on September 11 include "The Lion

King," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aida," "The

Phantom of the Opera," "Chicago," "Les Miserables,"

"Cabaret," "Mamma Mia!," "42nd Street," "Frankie

and Johnnie in the Clair de Lune," "Into the Woods," "Oklahoma!,"

and "Urinetown."


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