We Got Bruce!

Shaiman, Vilanch, and The Cast Of Hairspray at the Gentry in Chicago

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Mister D: I had the fortunate pleasure of sitting next to Mr. Jones, the Tribune critic who wrote this review. He was very amiable and kind and seemed to have had a grand time. He told me he interviewed Mister Vilanch a while back…in fact, he has Mister Vilanch’s old job:-) I told him I read the interview and posted it on my site….:-) Also, I will be writing up my own story at some point…many thanks to Jim Vukovich and Eric McCool for inviting me and making me feel so welcome….

Shaiman showcases unique talent
By Chris Jones
Tribune arts reporter
February 10 2004, 1:30 AM CST

When “Hairspray” was being turned into a musical, the producers happily signed on for that uniquely weird John Waters aesthetic. Up to a point.

“Good Morning Baltimore” was one thing. But the producers did not necessarily want a song called “Blood on the Pavement (Will Ruin Your Prom),” a “Mother-Daughter Cha Cha Cha,” “It Ain’t Over ‘Till The Fat Lady Sings,” or a number with the promising title “The New Girl in Town,” only to conclude with said new girl getting run over by a bus.

All three of those numbers by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman got cut before or during out-of-town tryouts. But on Monday night in the downtown Gentry cabaret, all three numbers briefly lived again, performed in vigorous fashion by the national touring cast of “Hairspray” with Shaiman at the piano and Whitman, the composer’s life partner and co-lyricist, sitting a few feet away.

“I think this one was a bit too John Waters for our producers,” said Shaiman as he introduced Todd Susman (Wilbur in the “Hairspray” tour) warbling yet-another deleted number called “It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This” which would not have been out of place in “South Park.”

No great surprise there. Shaiman co-wrote most of “South Park’s” greatest hits, including its finest hour, “Blame Canada.” Since Monday night’s show was billed as a retrospective of Shaiman’s work (which includes a bevy of film scores), they did that one too.

Talents the likes of Shaiman and his young acolytes don’t show up every Monday night in Chicago nor does one often see this level of talent in so intimate a setting. And thus the sold-out room was crammed with people ponying up money in aid of the Harbor House and Bonaventure House. Patrons got the entire company of “Hairspray” performing about 10 feet away and Bruce Vilanch dispensing bon mots.

“I only know the names of the ones I have slept with,” Vilanch growled, introducing the cast. “So I can’t name them all. Yet.”

And so the night went—a cheerful, funny, mildly chaotic insiders’ melange of Shaiman compositions. His catalog has a few serious surprises—including the sultry ballad “June Cool,” sung with staggering intensity and craft by Jacqueline B. Arnold.

The rest of the week merely another face in the ensemble, Arnold had the crowd staring with its collective mouth open. She offered the best five minutes of a special night.