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