Saturday, January 3, 2009

Once Before It Goes

Can you believe that it took until this afternoon for me to see Hairspray for the first time? I'd seen the original 1988 film, listened to the original cast album and just a few weeks ago caught the finale of the musical film at the Virgin Megastore with Roxie (where we made our initial plans to see this). With the return of Tony winning originals Harvey Fierstein and Marissa Jaret Winokur, it became our mission to see this particular show that for whatever reasons fell by the wayside.

The show is a gem from start to finish, quite possibly the strongest of the contemporary musical comedies that have been coming around this decade (and especially one where the script and score are equals; witty, playful and most importantly, funny). Fierstein is a giving a diva turn for the ages, taking on the challenges of playing a middle-aged woman with great success. If you've seen the performance, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, believe when I say that he exceeds the hype. Winokur, in spite of the fact she's turning 36 in a few weeks, is as youthful as ever and has exudes great charm as Tracy.

I also can't recall a late-run cast that was as polished and focused as this final Hairspray company. The actors were alive and not just going through motions as you can (and I have) witnessed at other long-running hits. Bravo to the director (Jack O'Brien), the choreographer (Jerry Mitchell, whose stage work far surpasses what is seen in the film) and the stage manager for giving NY audiences a show as vibrant and fresh at the end of it's run as it was at the beginning. It's sad that this show, which I think should have a couple more years left in its run, is closing tomorrow. Or perhaps I'm more sad that I can't go back to the Neil Simon to enjoy it again. In spite of the end of the NY run, the beat goes on in London, on tour and will continue in the future when this becomes a mainstay of educational theatre.

1 comment:

Esther said...

I'm so glad you and Roxie had a chance to see "Hairspray." As you know, I've loved this musical ever since I saw a touring production in 2007 and I was thrilled to be able to see it on Broadway in November with Harvey. And he was awesome. I saw it on a Wednesday evening, so it was his second show of the day and only his third show since coming back. And he had so much energy, he was so hilarious. Seeing Harvey in Hairspray will always be one of my favorite Broadway moments.

I've been trying to think about what makes it so special and so much more satisfying (to me anyway) than some other screen-to-stage adaptations. (Spamalot, Young Frankenstein, Cry-Baby, Shrek, to name a few that disappointed me.)

First, it has a compelling story and very memorable, well-drawn characters - including a very sympathetic heroine and fun villains. I mean, I think on some level, we can all relate to Tracy.

Plus, it's so clear cut, black and white, if you will. There's no moral equivocation. We all know segregation was wrong. We're cheering for this group of kids - black and white - and it makes us feel good because we know we're on the right side.

Thirdly, this is a story that's inherently musical. I mean after all, it's about music! So adding songs to John Waters' original wasn't a stretch by any means. And the songs are great. They capture the era - the buoyancy of Welcome to the Sixties and You Can't Stop the Beat, the stirring "I Know Where I've Been," which sounds like it could have been an authentic 1960s civil rights anthem. You can't help but feel the energy from the vibrant choreography and songs.

Also, the book doesn't talk down to the audience. It's not afraid to include witty period references. It doesn't rely on bawdy humor, sight gags or scatalogical jokes. It comes by its emotion honestly. It's truly moving, truly funny.

I also think it's great that Hairspray is a truly integrated musical, with fully developed roles for white and black actors. It'll be a great show for high schools with a diverse student population.