Broadway's Biggest Do: Take John Waters's Whacked-Out Civil Rights Saga, Add a Backbeat by Marc Shaiman, and You Get Hairspray-A Big, Fat Hit

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Hairspray * Book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan * Music by Marc Shaiman * Lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman * Directed by Jack O'Brien * Starring Harvey Fierstein, Marissa Jaret Winokur * Neil Simon Theatre, New York City (open run)

Hairspray delivers what Broadway didn't even know it needed: a feel-good civil rights musical. By now everybody knows that composer Marc Shaiman, who cowrote the cheerfully obscene songs for South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, has transformed John Waters's tangy-sweet 1988 movie into a Broadway musical. He had help from his longtime boyfriend and co-lyricist, Scott Wittman, and The Full Monty's director-choreographer team of Jack O'Brien and Jerry Mitchell. Playing Edna Turnblad, the agoraphobic housewife-turned-proud celebrity mom inhabited on-screen by Divine, Harvey Fierstein gives a performance that is both clownishly broad and impressively nuanced. And in the role that made Ricki Lake a star, 29-year-old Marissa Jaret Winokur takes on Tracy Turnblad, the self-confident white chub whose desire to dance with her black friends on a local TV show ends up desegregrating 1962 Baltimore.

Word of mouth pitches Hairspray as the next big hit on the scale of The Producers. But these days not even The Producers can live up to its own hype. When you go to see Hairspray--and you will--reconsider your expectations. The show delivers a delirious good time, but it also contains many small pleasures worth noticing, especially Shaiman's score and the book by Broadway veteran Thomas Meehan and out comic novelist and playwright Mark O'Donnell.

Shaiman and Wittman have come up with the first original Broadway score since Dreamgirls to capture the spirit of early-'60s pop, when rock and roll met R&B. Many of the songs lovingly reference period classics, from the infectious opening number, "Good Morning, Baltimore" (which echoes the Ronettes' "Be My Baby") to the anthemic finale, "You Can't Stop the Beat" (which pays tribute to Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High"). …


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