Tuesday, July 15, 2014

PlayMakers Summer Youth Conservatory presents: HAIRSPRAY

PlayMakers Summer Youth Conservatory presents: HAIRSPRAY
Based on the New Line Cinema film written and directed by John Waters

Directed by Desdemona Chiang
Choreography by Matthew Steffens

July 16–20, 2014
Center for Dramatic Art, UNC-Chapel Hill
Buy your tickets today!

Friday, July 11, 2014

You Can't Stop the Beat

The Summer Youth Conservatory is hard at work on this summer's production of Hairspray. This week we're featuring "Timeless to Me: A Charm City Chronicle," a three-part series by PlayMakers dramaturg Gregory Kable.

Hairspray captures both the reality of Baltimore at a climactic moment in its social evolution, and that utopian sense of possibility informing its variations on Cinderella stories. Amid his several works of non-fiction (“When you’re unemployable, as I am, you have to think of ways to supplement your income,” Waters explains of his creative expansions), Waters writes with humor and insight about influences ranging from Johnny Mathis to Tennessee Williams, and the original Hairspray successfully bridges the two in a work as poetic and musical as a prose, non-musical film can be. Though he confesses to initial skepticism about the transition of his film into a Broadway Musical, Waters quickly became a convert as he grasped the implications of the underdog motif which continues to faithfully anchor the narrative but now characterized the project itself. As is always the dream if more rarely the result, the creative team of Hairspray, The Musical—librettists Mark O’ Donnell and Thomas Meehan, composer and lyricist Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman—succeeded in amplifying those musical virtues that were still latent treasures in the original.

Source: www.gregpeasephoto.com
Waters’ decision to green-light the musical has added immeasurably to the delight of many a joyous audience, and implanted a retroactive memory to give my hometown a boost. Baltimore’s troubled social history with class, economics, religion, and particularly race, has never made it that appealing for artists. Granted, it’s the locale for Fanny Brice’s galvanizing diva turn, “Don’t Rain on My Parade” in Funny Girl, but she’s just passing through, writer/director Barry Levinson’s (another son of the city) coming-of-age comedy Diner is mostly notable for making movie stars of Kevin Bacon and Mickey Rourke, veering a little too far toward sentimental nostalgia, and Al Pacino’s role as a beleaguered defense attorney in …And Justice for All caused a flurry in its time but blurs into that medley of trademarked tirades of disaffection marking Pacino highlights. Levinson returned with TV’s Homicide which largely begat The Wire, two procedural studies in urban decay, with loads of local color but windows on the soul of the city? Hardly. For that gift, we finally have to thank Hairspray.
Source: www.retrobaltimore.tumblr.com
One more point bears mentioning. The consistent tone of exaggeration in Waters has always been part of his power. Everyone in and from Baltimore is peculiar; the place is a hotbed of idiosyncrasy. If I hear you’re from Baltimore it won’t explain everything, but it sure will account for a lot. Hairspray effortlessly captures the look, sound, and tone of all manner of gentle and insistent non-conformity, as evident in Charm City’s towering beehive hairstyles as anywhere. The extreme bouffant is among Baltimore’s enduring hallmarks, as expressive of a basic love of tackiness as a visible symbol of personal yearning: in Baltimoreans, the hairdos themselves reach for the sun and the stars. So the heightened quality in this further iteration of Hairspray isn’t just the consequence of the musical treatment, but emblematic of its core fidelity. In all incarnations (film comedy, stage musical, movie musical), Hairspray is as faithful and loving a portrait as any play by Noel Coward. It offers us Baltimore as it truly is by way of what it was, a heady cocktail of wishes and warts, both speaking to and singing of its glorious eccentricities.

In conclusion, here are a few important life lessons learned from John Waters and Hairspray:
  • Dare to cross those stale borders of taste and utility. Time misspent can be time well spent.
  • A kid from the shoals of suburban sameness can end up a rebel—and probably should.
  • Maybe there’s no insider status, really: to live on the margins might be our natural, and healthiest, habitat.
  • Scratch the ordinary and you’ll discover the strangeness it only superficially conceals. The same might be said of the mundane and miraculous.
  • Find the music in everything. As Tracy affirms in her opening number, “every sound’s like a symphony.”

 For these and more reasons, to his many fans, the John Waters universe is a land of liberation. Thank goodness (or badness) he’s not through freeing us yet…
Source: www.theweeklings.com
Source: www.darkroom.baltimoresun.com
Bonus Track: Listen to an NPR podcast of Waters’ latest writing project, Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America here.

Hairspray, presented by the PlayMakers Summer Youth Conservatory, runs July 16 - 21, 2014. Get tickets and info at www.playmakersrep.org/hairspray.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Run and Tell That

The Summer Youth Conservatory is hard at work on this summer's production of Hairspray. This week we're featuring "Timeless to Me: A Charm City Chronicle," a three-part series by PlayMakers dramaturg Gregory Kable.

Waters was decidedly older, but as I grew into exploring the arts scene in my own right, I recognized he made movies unlike anyone else. That first big trinity of Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Desperate Living were some of the most startling and transgressive films I’d ever seen. That such stories and characters were being situated only miles from my family’s home made them that much more affecting. How could a place like Baltimore contain such outlandish figures and clandestine events? Where was access to these hidden dimensions? Waters himself often underplayed his influence, embracing such monikers as the ‘Duke of Dirt’, but for all of the improvisational and amateurish elements of those movies he was steadily something more: a restless experimenter who rightly sits on the shelves of our own Davis Library dead between Andy Warhol and Orson Welles, an authentic avant-garde auteur, the local celebrity who broke bad to make good, the Francois Truffaut of trash. The Waters persona was that of a hipster Boris Karloff, right down to the manicured moustache and natty wardrobe, and the city took its homegrown Prince of Darkness to heart. In the seventies, it seemed that Waters had established the career that would contain as well as define him.

Within four short years came that most unexpected development. His subsequent films of the eighties, Polyester and Hairspray, catapulted Waters into the Hollywood mainstream. For those with a history, it was positively surreal to see Waters enjoying the red carpet treatment at Baltimore’s last surviving art deco movie palace, The Senator Theatre, an epicenter of glossy studio releases. There was much speculation on whether Waters had sold out or if his sudden rise was an omen of immediate cultural Armageddon. Both controversies, unlike the films that sparked them, quickly became moot points. The world wagged on so the doomsday scenario was quietly withdrawn, and soon thereafter, despite his higher visibility, Waters gave us Kathleen Turner as a homicidal housewife in the bloody farce Serial Mom, and to all appearances the mind behind Multiple Maniacs had (wisely? unwisely?) returned to form.
Source: www.darkroom.baltimoresun.com
I’ve always admired Waters for his determination and spunk, his maverick creativity, and his ability to create a definitive style as much as a Vincente Minnelli or Kubrick had, or contemporaries like DePalma and Scorsese were doing. If Polyester might be deemed a fluke, Hairspray proved that the breakthrough was no happy accident. I’ve also long shared Waters’ love of what many deride as junk culture, and that too may be a Baltimore thing. If we diverge in specifics, I understand and champion Waters’ attraction to the rough, unruly, populist arts with their nourishing roots in the working class. No matter how fleeting, the festive, outrageous, and even downright bizarre can reveal their own beauty and hold the virtue of being unmistakably alive. In that sense, Hairspray extended what Waters had been gravitating toward all along but with a skill and a savvy that surprised him most of all. That the movie gained momentum, achieving full-blown classic status on the home video market stands as further proof of its mythic foundations. At last, that delicate place between personal conviction and public consensus had been found. Either that or, as Waters suggests, maybe times were so terrible and felt so intractable that all you could do was laugh. (“All my career has been irony,” Waters maintains in a Hairspray interview, “it’s what delights me the most in this world.”)
Source: www.darkroom.baltimoresun.com
Source: www.darkroom.baltimoresun.com
Hairspray, presented by the PlayMakers Summer Youth Conservatory, runs July 16 - 21, 2014. Get tickets and info at www.playmakersrep.org/hairspray.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Good Morning Baltimore

The Summer Youth Conservatory is hard at work on this summer's production of Hairspray. This week we're  featuring "Timeless to Me: A Charm City Chronicle," a three-part series by PlayMakers dramaturg Gregory Kable.

(Scene: The Baltimore Railroad Terminal.) 
First Girl Dancer. Why do we always leave in the morning? 
Boy Dancer. Don’t complain—it’s Baltimore we’re leaving! 
--Funny Girl (1964)

Source: www.baltimoreorless.com
In my youth growing up in suburban Baltimore, I had only the vaguest notions surrounding Broadway musicals. While the prominent cast albums of the age enjoyed regular rotation on our stereo console—My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Gypsy, Mame, Funny Girl, and Cabaret all became permanent fixtures of my teens—as in the culture at large, change was in the air, reflected in as decisive a way as events play out in Hairspray itself and in a domestic-scaled battle of the bands in my own world with the music favored by my folks and that of my generation vying for space on the living room hi-fi: their Sinatra and Streisand to my Simon and Garfunkel, their Jack Jones and Lana Cantrell to my Jackson 5 and The Cowsills. In the case of a Tom Jones, James Bond soundtracks, or that seismic anomaly of Hair, we’d split the difference. As I would shortly discover, that same shift was happening everywhere. Truly, the tunes they were a-changin'.
Fifty years ago, in the  final flowering of the ubiquitous showtune, the latter day Beatles were memorably in combat with Louis Armstrong’s cover of Hello, Dolly!, and for a time the A.M. airwaves valiantly strove to honor the full spectrum of American music, as standards and new sounds jockeyed for position on the Top-40 charts like rearranged guests at a dinner party with diminishing chairs. But the writing was clearly on the wall, and as Broadway ceded to the rock era, and I gravitated away from shared space to the inner sanctum of a bedroom with my groovy mass market turntable, I wasn’t all that invested in what was imperiled. I liked all of those records well enough but, so often with exposure to the scores alone, I was none too sure of how they added up to a coherent experience.

Still, the very word Broadway conjured up a heady mix of maturity, sophistication, and glamor, an elusive trinity all recognizably lacking in my corseted, angsty, teenage cosmos. And something about musicals amplified that adventurous alternative. Musicals were those jazzy mean streets and overwhelming emotions of West Side Story or the chivalrous bygone dream of Camelot. In my wildest imaginings I could never envision that a musical might someday land on Baltimore as its setting. My hometown seemed strikingly, unrelentingly Kansas with Oz potentially anywhere else.
John Waters, director of the movie Hairspray.
Source: www.cinemagirl.com
So it was poetic justice that John Waters, who was notorious locally before making his name nationally and internationally, would be key to shocking me out of that longstanding, humbling, and wrongheaded view. In those days, when network television and electric typewriters were the last words in technological progress, both reputations and supporting evidence accumulated gradually. As we all do, I heard from older kids about the newest groups, the hottest movies, the latest fashions, the redefinitions and refinements of cool. And somewhere amid that gossipy pipeline was mention of a radically unusual, underground filmmaker shooting lunatic movies on a micro-budget with a recurrent cast and crew of locals in parts of town I’d actually heard of, if not always yet visited. Adventure awaited.

Hairspray, presented by the PlayMakers Summer Youth Conservatory, runs July 16 - 21, 2014. Get tickets and info at www.playmakersrep.org/hairspray.