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?Hairspray? launches national tour before raucous hometown crowd
From the
Sept 19, 2003

Friday, September 19, 2003 BALTIMORE (AP) ? This city was proud of ?Hairspray? from the minute it premiered on Broadway ? long before the near-unanimous chorus of ecstatic reviews, the months of sellout crowds and the eight Tony awards.

And now Baltimore has been repaid for its support.

?Hairspray,? the musical adaptation of John Waters? 1988 film about a chubby East Baltimore girl who achieves her dream of dancing on a local sock-hop television show, launched its national tour Wednesday night before a raucous audience at the Mechanic Theatre.

They cheered the rats that crawl in front of Tracy Turnblad?s Formstone row house; they laughed when Edna Turnblad entices her husband with the line, ?The Orioles may score tonight.? And when Tracy wins a scholarship to Essex Community College, the uproarious response drowned out the punch line.

?This is a real feather in the city?s cap, to have the national tour start here,? said Norton Michaelson of the Mount Washington area of Baltimore, who was seeing the show for the first time.

Veteran comedy writer and stage performer Bruce Vilanch steps into Harvey Fierstein?s size 13 pumps as Edna, and 19-year-old Carly Jibson, who plays Tracy, is a total unknown, as was Tony winner Marisa Jaret Winokur when she was cast.

?In both instances, they were chosen right away,? said producer Margo Lion, a Baltimore native. ?It wasn?t that hard, to be honest. There?s a lot of talent out there.?

The national tour is scheduled to run for two years, with performances in Canada and Australia also booked. ?Hairspray? will ultimately play in Europe and Japan, Lion said.

Lion attended the premiere, along with Waters, composer Marc Shaiman, lyricist Scott Wittman and other luminaries. They walked on stage during a five-minute standing ovation at the close of the show, and Waters dedicated the performance to the memory of Buddy Deane, the television deejay from whose show Waters drew his inspiration. Deane died July 16. His widow, Helen, was in the audience.

Despite the story?s big-hearted themes about acceptance of all races and body types, many on the ?Hairspray? team are still amazed that a cult film by a director dubbed the ?pope of trash? could be transformed into an overwhelmingly popular family entertainment.

Pat Moran, the casting director for nearly all of Waters? films, marvels the movie was ever made at all.

?You have to think back to 1987,? she said. ?I don?t think it was exactly safe moviemaking to make a musical, set in the ?60s, about racism in Baltimore, and starring a man playing a woman. It all seems so benign now, but it wasn?t then.?

Waters doesn?t believe his material has become dated as much as audiences have grown to understand it.

?It?s still about a fat girl. All my movies are about fat girls that might have been played by men,? Waters said. ?And the biggest love song in it is between two men. I haven?t changed ? you all have!?

Perhaps as a result, Waters appears on the verge of becoming a name brand on Broadway. ?Hairspray? co-producers Elan McAllister and Allan Gordon are developing a musical based on Waters? 1990 ?Cry-Baby? that they hope will premiere in two years.

?He creates wonderful, offbeat characters that are perfect for musical theater,? McAllister said.

The Baltimore premiere followed a week of previews, and ?Hairspray? will leave town after Sunday?s performance, making the first stops in its nationwide tour. Hurricane Isabel led to the cancellation of Thursday night?s performance and ticketholders were offered refunds.

The following dates have been set through the end of November: Hartford, Conn., Sept. 23-Oct. 5; Boston, Oct. 7-Nov. 2; Providence, R.I., Nov. 4-16; Rochester, N.Y., Nov. 18-30.

?This is a big, fun, family show. That should work in Kansas just as well as it works in Manhattan or Baltimore,? Lion said.