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Hairspray the Musical - The Review

by Craig Parker

Take equal parts of vinyl acetate, crotonic acid and aminomethyl propanol, and pack them under pressure into an aerosol can. Then spray the contents in a halo mist around your head for 10 seconds, covering every follicle. The result is a helmet of firm-hold hair, impermeable to wind, wet and withering looks. The sticky means to this end is hairspray.

In similar fashion, the new musical “Hairspray” is in Seattle, attempting to refine what is vision into a solid helmet of polish and entertainment. This is no small task. The difference between success and failure for a musical is a hair’s breadth. Disaster can strike through a lamely written joke line or inaudible song delivery. Judging from today’s matinee performance, this play has the potential to make a run at Broadway (where it will open August 15th). Set in 1962 Baltimore with a rock-and-roll flair, “Hairspray” fits Seattle’s desire for diversion to a hair.

The play is based part-and-parcel on the classic 1988 movie of the same name, directed by John Waters. In fact, Waters plopped down in the aisle seat next to my wife Denise just before the play began. Dressed impeccably in a chocolate-brown suit and brandishing a lit pen that allowed him to take notes in the dark, he looked lonely and a little like Steve Buscemi’s brother. Denise, without a clue of who he was, pointed to the pen and blithely inquired, “How do I get one of those?” His stunned silence was interrupted by a big, burley middle-aged woman who pointed out that the man was sitting in the wrong seat and kicked Waters clear to the other end of the row. Damn, and just when Denise had him by the short hairs.

For the record, “Hairspray” has energy, spunk and a spate of decent songs. It has fine performances from a number of actors, most notably Harvey Fierstein and Dick Latessa, who steal the show with their rendition of “Timeless to Me.” The choreography, costumes and dialogue combine with the music to provide a smorgasbord for the senses that leave the audience smiling and theatre filled with applause.
Not to split hairs, but the play is lacking in certain respects. Due to its antecedent year, there were no Hendrix guitar riffs, no Bon Scott lyrics of Quaaludes and attitude, no Keith Moon drum rolls to remind us that once we were young. Tracy Turnblad’s performance is only mildly winning, and the show’s dancing seemed a bit workmanlike at times. Health wise, Harvey Fierstein could develop polyps on his throat at the first sign of Seattle rain. Most importantly, the play is without a pop hit. And, as David Lee Roth’s solo career can testify, a pop hit is indispensable to a successful musical career. That and a Stonehenge set design.

Overall, “Hairspray” delivers the goods; this was apparent when the Seattle audience jumped to their feet at show’s end. There still is much to do before August, when the play moves 3,000 miles east to the Broadway Mecca of stage. New York City: island of possibilities, city of lights, tower of sadness. “Hairspray” has the verve and fragrance to solidify its thespian place with Seattle audiences.
Whether its helmet can withstand the thumping of New York critics remains to be seen.