Published in Gay and Lesbian Times September 5, 2002
Get out your Aquanet and your teaser comb; “Hairspray” is here to stay. The highly-anticipated new musical, based on John Waters’ 1988 cult film, is all it was puffed up to be: a boffo, bouffant beehive of hilarity! The show is incredibly good fun, with a crafty book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, with Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s clever lyrics illuminating Shaiman’s terrific score, filled with early ’60s music that’s both referential and reverential, inventively capturing R&R, R&B, even vaudeville soft-shoe.
The script is funny without being cynical, socially relevant without being preachy, touching on issues of body image and integration. Tracy Turnblad, whose heart is as big as her plus-sized frame, just wants to get on the American Bandstand-like ‘Corny Collins Show,’ become its queen, get the gorgeous guy and desegregate the dancing to boot — all of which, in this extra-large Cinderella story, she actually manages to accomplish. She couldn’t have done it without the doting support of her quirky parents, played with irrepressible warmth and humor by Dick Latessa and the incomparable Harvey Fierstien, he of the Gravel Gertie sandpaper voice. Fierstein hasn’t been on Broadway in 15 years, and never in a musical; judging from the screams of the audience, he’s been sorely missed. And he doesn’t disappoint. Pumped up in a fatsuit, glamorous in spangles and boas (the knockout costumes are by William Ivey Long), he’s a hoot who brings heart to the show.
There are three love stories here, but Fierstein and Latessa’s amorous Mom and Pop are the most moving and touching. As Tracy, Marissa Jaret Winokur is a real find, giving hope to singing, dancing plump girls everywhere, who will line up to star in this “Annie” of the oversized.
The extra bonus of this all-around success is the local angle –the dazzling direction of our own Jack O’Brien (of the Globe Theatres). Teamed again with his “Full Monty” choreographer, Jerry Mitchell, O’Brien keeps this bubbly bauble floating on air. The audience leapt to its feet and shrieked with joy at the end. This is no tease; it’s a do worth much ado.
“Hairspray” will very likely have a long run at the Neil Simon Theatre in New York; 212-307-4100 or ticketmaster.com
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.