Since it took Broadway by storm in 2002, Hairspray, the Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman musical based on the 1988 film by John Waters, has gone on to become one of theater’s most beloved properties. To the delight of millions, the story of Tracy Turnblad, the hair-hopping Baltimore teen whose dedication to dancing topples the racist policies of the fictional Corny Collins Show, now occupies a secure spot alongside Gypsy Rose Lee, Dorothy, and even that great problem that is Maria. Jammed with rapid-fire, plot-advancing dance numbers and anchored by that over-protective mother-who’s-a-man-in-drag, Hairspray continues to enchant audiences wherever it goes. Recently, I spoke with PCPA director Michael Jenkinson, who’ll bring Hairspray to the Marian Theatre, Santa Maria, June 16-July 2, and to the Solvang Festival Theater, July 8-31. For tickets and info, call 922-8313 or visit pcpa.org.
Last summer you did West Side Story. Is Hairspray really in that league? Yes, I think it is, and here’s why. First of all, the writers—all of them, not just Shaiman and Wittman, but Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, who did the book, as well—totally knew and respected the time-honored features of the classic Broadway musical format. The result is a show that really works, and one that’s built to last as a vehicle for performers in an ensemble. Secondly, it deals with real issues—racism, self-acceptance, and interracial relationships—and while, at times, it does so tongue in cheek, overall the impact of the treatment is sincere: strong issues dealt with in a fun way. Isn’t that the same formula as, say, West Side Story?
Can you describe that formula? Of course. When you approach something serious in a fun way that’s also fitting, you activate the hearts of the actors and the audience. In Hairspray, the way that the characters end up dealing with the challenges they confront is through love. Whether it’s the romantic love that we see growing between the kids or the parental love that, in the end, overcomes initial feelings of prejudice, it’s some kind of love that wins out in this show, and that’s a great message. But what makes it even better is that because of the context, and all of the other funny stuff that’s going on, it takes you by surprise.