New York's theater season has just begun, but Broadway already has a big hit musical, Hairspray, based on John Waters' cult 1988 movie. On the day it opened, Hairspray broke a Broadway record, taking in more money in sales than any other show.
New York theater critics have been positively giddy in their reviews of Hairspray. No surprise. Word of mouth about the show was so positive that theater-goers lined up waiting to buy tickets weeks before the show officially opened.
With its bouffant hairstyles, neon costumes, and high spirits, Hairspray brought down the house opening night, thrilling filmmaker John Waters. I have never been on a Broadway stage at the end of a curtain call," said John Waters. "That was exciting. To me, it is a great moment that brings back so many memories of making this movie, of all these new people who I met who worked on this play who were a delight."
The show appears to be just what the doctor ordered, a sunny, funny musical with a small dose - very small - of reality. It is also a salute to the style and spirit of the 1960s, rock and roll, and John Waters' hometown, Baltimore, Maryland. Hairspray takes place in Baltimore in 1962 during the U.S. civil rights movement.
Long-time New York theater critic Dennis Cunningham says the show is just short of wonderful. "Happily, the high spots, or much of the musical, add up to solid entertainment and a musical that is about as fancy free as a musical can be," said Dennis Cunningham. "An elongated but charming story about an overweight little Tracey Turnblad. Tracey aches to be on a televised teen dance show but she is way too different. She just does not fit in with the other kids."
Tracy's desire to be part of the teenage dance show is shared by her Black friends, who are allowed to appear one day a month, on Negro Day. Tracy joins the young Blacks, led by actor Corey Reynolds, in their efforts to integrate the show.
Tracy's campaign to join the show is undermined by her glamorous classmate, Amber Von Tussle, whose mother produces the program.
Hairspray weaves together the two stories about outsiders looking in. It is an unusual idea, a frothy musical about integration, big hair, big heart and big people. The largest of those people by far is gravel-voiced actor Harvey Fierstein in drag playing Tracy's mother, Edna Turnblad. Before long, Tracy enlists Edna in her crusade to join the show and integrate it.
Mrs. T:"Hello, everyone. I'm Tracy's Mom"
Mrs. Von T: "Oh, so you are what spawned that!"
Mrs. T: "Excuuuse me"
Mr. Fierstein, an award-winning film and theater veteran, says part of the show's appeal is its heroines, or chicks, in his terminology. "The thing about Hairspray is that we have not had a chick show in a long time. Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, The Producers, they are men shows," he said. "All the lead characters are men. In this show, the male characters are secondary. It is us chicks out there that are running the show, that are running the world and it is so exciting."
In the end, of course, Tracy and her friends not only become the stars of the television dance show, but the chubby teen also wins the heart of her rival's boy friend. In short, Hairspray is a confection of love, tolerance and rock and roll, leaving audiences smiling and producers with a sure success. Who can complain?