Honestly, I did not know what to expect. I knew that Hairspray had a huge reputation as a knock-out musical comedy, but plot, music, stars ... I knew nothing.
Well, it is in performance at the 5th Avenue Theater, and if you get a chance to see it, by all means, do. It takes place in Baltimore, 1962, and for me, who started ninth grade in 1962, it was as familiar as letter jackets and sock hops. The plot, a simple morality play about equality and working together to make a difference, is woven into comedy that is occasionally side-splitting. Or am I letting my I-was-there biases color my reaction?
My 19-year-old companion, a politics junkie, understood even the most oblique references to the cold war, but when it came to the Debbie Reynolds/Eddie Fisher comments, he was completely lost. Oh well, I guess it isn't really as important as we thought at the time. We didn't know that Debbie's daughter would become Princess Leia or that Liz would become ... well, whatever she became.
The dancing, the singing, the whole evening was nothing short of ebullient. There was a good-natured vitality that was irresistable. And when the star of the show discovers her rival for the Miss Baltimore crown has influenced a judge to win the contest, she is disbelieving and outraged.
"Manipulating the judicial system to win a contest is un-American," shouts Tracy Turnblad. The audience cheered, and it had nothing to do with Ultra Clutch hairspray.
"Hairspray" premiered at the 5th Avenue in 2002 before going to Broadway. It cleaned up there, becoming a smash hit and winning eight Tony awards. Now it has "come home" for another, triumphant run. It really is swell.
As we left the theater, my companion, who has been completely innocent of musical theater up until now, was impressed.
"Are all musicals this good?" he asked.
Nope. Not even close.