Saturday, July 12, 2008


Last week, our sister-in-law, Bethany, and her youngest daughter, Login, came to see us from Seattle. It was a short visit—just 4 days—so we tried to get in as many of our favorite NYC experiences as we could manage. We took in a ball game at Yankee Stadium (which neither Catherine or I had done before, actually); had dinner in Brooklyn and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge; rode the Staten Island Ferry out and back (a much cheaper way to see the Statue of Liberty—and no waiting in long lines); and spent a lot of time just walking around the City, pointing out places of interest.

Of course, you can't visit New York and not see a Broadway show. Login is 12, so among the shows that interested her were The Little Mermaid, Mama Mia! and Mary Poppins. The show they finally chose was Hairspray and Bethany very generously bought tickets for Catherine, me and her friends, the Bloodworths.

I like John Waters' films fine, although I'm not a big fan of bathroom or gross-out humor. Catherine and I rented the original film last week because I'd never seen it and she hadn't in a very long time. The zit scene aside, I thought it was a smart, funny and quirky film; I wouldn't run out and buy the DVD, but I'd definitely watch it again. And I could see how it could make a pretty decent musical. So while I'm not generally very enthusiastic about musicals—especially film-to-stage adaptations, which always seem to me to display an incredible lack of imagination (not to mention a more-than-slightly cynical belief in the audience's lack of imagination)—I was optimistic about seeing the show.

With the exception of the first number, "Good Morning Baltimore" (which seemed to be an elaboration on the program note "Location: Baltimore," but took 3-4 minutes to do it), I was pleasantly surprised by the show: the script is much better than I expected; the songs were fun and tuneful; and the entire cast a pleasure to watch. The production captures the essence of the film's humor and style and translates it into musical theater very well. It's understandably less edgy than Waters' film, but the stage production doesn't shy away or candy coat its condemnation of racism.

While the ads touted George Wendt (Norm from Cheers) as starring in the show—and he does a good job—there's no doubt that this production is Marissa Perry's show: she's an incredibly talented singer, dancer and actor and a joy to watch as Tracy Turnblad. Jennifer Lewis, as Motormouth Maybelle, was another standout: she has one of those big, brash and bluesy numbers in the second act that's guaranteed to get her a well-earned standing O every night.

All in all, Hairspray is a trifle... but I'm all in favor of having a candy bar every now and then.

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