, the euphoria-inducing new musical at the Neil Simon Theatre, was deemed a hit even before it opened, for good reason: it’s a riot from start to finish. Based on the John Waters film set in Baltimore circa 1962, it’s the story of Tracy Turnblad, plus-sized hair hopper turned social revolutionary, who integrates the local dance-party TV broadcast, finding fame and love along the way. The opening number, “Good Morning, Baltimore,” in which Tracy greets the day in her neighborhood, filled as it is with rats, drunks, and the local flasher, immediately sets the tone, in which wide-eyed innocence and wicked mockery blissfully cohabit the stage. What’s amazing is how director Jack O’Brien and his creative team keep it going for two and a half hours.
The book, by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, is well structured and filled with hilarious lines. It’s also utterly true to the Waters spirit, with such details as a villainess obsessed with her past as Miss Baltimore Crabs, a raucous tap dance for women behind bars, and a number called “Cooties.” Marc Shaiman’s music is almost fiendishly catchy, working the Phil Spector Wall-of-Sound concept for all that it is worth. The lyrics, by Shaiman and Scott Wittman, are unfailingly clever, as is Jerry Mitchell’s bop-til-you-drop choreography. As Tracy, Marissa Jaret Winokur is the show’s personal dynamo, driving the action throughout. She is more than matched by Harvey Fierstein as Edna, Tracy’s drab, agoraphobic mother, who, “having wandered beyond the boundaries of the biggest McCall’s pattern,” gets one of the all-time great makeovers.
David Rockwell and William Ivey Long were obvious choices for this project and they do not disappoint. Rockwell’s gag-filled sets include the now-celebrated overhead view of Tracy’s bedroom, plus an elaborate Rube Goldberg device in the joke shop run by Tracy’s dad, and a giant, exploding hairspray can which plays an important part in the finale. He also provides authentic Baltimore streetscapes, a women’s prison right out of Chicago, and a jungle gym that pays homage to Bye Bye Birdie. Long has fun with every form of 60s fashion excess; as for Paul Huntley’s wigs, let’s just say they are monumental. Kenneth Posner’s lighting design features a wall of LED units that pulses, chases, and runs patterns in a riot of colors. It’s a stunning, proto-Pop Art effect that adds to the excitement onstage. As the final, gale-force number says, “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” I couldn’t agree more.
What a difference a day makes! The night after Hairspray, I saw The Boys From Syracuse, the Rodgers and Hart show based on Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, at the Roundabout. Where Hairspray played to tumultuous response throughout, long stretches of The Boys From Syracuse were greeted with silence. That’s because Nicky Silver’s new book—George Abbott wrote the original—is studded with flat jokes about pedophile priests, The Wizard of Oz and a courtesan named Chlamydia. Many of the production’s pre-opening interviews suggested that what was a one-dimensional farce had been filled out with rounded characters; in fact, Silver’s work is borderline-chaotic, filled with ideas that are raised once, then dropped. (He starts to suggest that one of the leads has a gay past, then forgets to follow up on it.) In his own plays, Silver’s particular brand of right-for-the-jugular wisecracks can be very, very funny. Here, they’re merely unpleasant, undermining the characters and fighting the songs.
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
It doesn’t help that Scott Ellis’ staging is listless and Rob Ashford’s choreography is so basic. There is still that heavenly score (“Falling in Love with Love,” “This Can’t Be Love,” “Sing For Your Supper”) and the game cast delivers it attractively. However, two interpolations, “A Lady Must Live” and “You Took Advantage of Me,” do little but add to the running time.
Thomas Lynch’s scenery has been criticized as too bare-boned: a strange idea, as it is, in fact, rather complex, with numerous moving parts. Composed mostly of drops and the occasional Classic architectural detail, it is often appealing, but does suffer from a lack of detail; there’s a smashing show curtain, however, a kind of Greco-Deco rendering of two sailing ships. Martin Pakledinaz’s courtesan costumes are, amusingly, more reminiscent of Caesar’s Palace than the Acropolis, though the two male leads look rather uncomfortable in their unflattering tunics. Don Holder’s lighting and Brian Ronan’s sound are both solid, professional jobs.
The strangest moment in The Boys From Syracuse takes place near the end, when a notable 70s TV supporting player makes an unannounced cameo appearance—to virtually no response from the audience, who apparently don’t recognize her. It’s a symbolic moment for a production that wants very much to entertain and simply doesn’t know how.--David Barbour
Seen Dangling on the Side of a Building: Dancing in the Streets, New York's site-specific dance organization, is offering Picture Red Hook this weekend. It takes place in Red Hook, Brooklyn, at the Port Authority Grain Terminal, a grain processing plant that was used in the first half of the 20th century. Zaccho Dance Theater, which specializes in such things, came all the way from San Francisco to perform at this site, which is a conglomeration of several buildings with lots of interesting architectural features to play with. Choreography, by Joanna Haigood, features aerial dancing, in which performers in harnesses rappel, run, leap, and spin along the 12-story rippled facade of the main building. There is also large-scale video projection, by Mary Ellen Strom, of interviews with residents, rooftop panoramas and streetscapes of the neighborhood, and interior tours of abandoned factories in the area. Rigging and set elements are by Wayne Campbell, lighting is by Jack Carpenter, and the sound score is by Lauren Weinger. Picture Red Hook will be performed Friday and Saturday at 9pm. A more in-depth article will be on lightingdimensions.com in September.
Seen at the Joyce Theater: Men in pink tights. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a troupe of men who dance ballet en pointe and perform loving send-ups of classical ballet works, are currently showing three new pieces: Agnes de Mille's Debut at the Opera (costume by Ken Busbin, lighting by Bob Bursey), which recreates scenes and poses from Degas paintings; La Trovatiara (costumes by Ken Busbin, decor and lighting by Kip Marsh), a supposedly rediscovered scene from a misplaced Verdi opera; and a new production of Don Quixote (costumes by Mike Gonzales, lighting by Kip Marsh, decor by Robert Gouge), from which Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza are completely absent, due to economic reasons.
For the most part, the design elements are played straight: Costumes are very reminiscent of classical Karinska styles, but a character here and there may have an exaggerated detail or two. The lighting uses slightly richer shades of pink, amber, and blue than might be seen at, say, the New York City Ballet, but it is very flattering and not at all garish, and some pieces are lit in a purely classical style with pale tints of blue and white. Scenery also stays very true to classical design, and the audiences I attended with ooohed and aaahed at the painterly backdrops. The comedy comes from tweaking the choreography to point out the sometimes pretentious conventions of classical ballet, and the diva-ish onstage interactions of the alter egos the men assume, such as Margeaux Mundeyn, Yurika Sakitumi, and the legendary Ida Nevasayneva. The technical level of the dancing is quite high, and any regular ballerina would be happy to be able to perform the virtuoso solos in Swan Lake or Don Quixote with the assurance of a Sveltlana Lofatkina or a Fifi Barkova. The "Trocks," as they are affectionately known, will be at the Joyce through Saturday, after which the company travels to Santa Fe, before touring Australia, New Zealand, and Europe for the rest of the year. Visit their website for details. -- Amy L. Slingerland
Seen at the Movies: In Simone, washed-up Hollywood director Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino) makes a comeback by introducing a major new star, named, simply, Simone. What the audiences and press hailing her don't know—what the studio chiefs and Simone's costars don't even realize—is that this blonde, full-lipped, perfectly proportioned and honey-voiced creation is actually a computer simulation (her name, in fact, comes from the program title, Simulation One). Taransky posits his protégée as a woman of mystery, an actress so private and averse to distraction that she must act alone, in scenes to be composited with the other actors later. This is clever enough—writer-director Andrew Niccol is the man who penned The Truman Show, and previously wrote and directed Gattaca. The problem is, I just didn't buy it, and I don't believe most other people would either. The title character is played by a real actress, Rachel Roberts, who has been given a slight, skillfully rendered digital blur. She seems synthetic, and so bland as to be utterly incapable of conquering the world in the manner depicted here. If you don't buy this conceit from the outset, the movie becomes a two-hour bust, even with all hands on deck giving their all.
The deckhands include DP Edward Lachman, production designer Jan Roelfs, and costume designer Elisabetta Beraldo, who all do their part in giving a Hollywood lot—made up of bits of Warner Bros., Paramount, and Sunset Gower Studios--that touch of inviting movieland magic. Effects and digital animation houses that worked on Simone include Black Box Digital, BUF, CIS Hollywood, and Perpetual Motion Pictures. The movie is too successful at making a flesh-and-blood actress appear virtual; you couldn't have gotten a better result by casting Britney Spears in the role.--John Calhoun
Seen Around Town: In a SoHo studio, design work is proceeding apace on the upcoming Broadway version of Puccini's La Bohème, directed by Baz Luhrmann, in a production originally seen in Australia in 1990. Luhrmann and his spouse Catherine Martin, scenic and co-costume designer (with Angus Strathie), are once again laying the story in 1950s Paris, though the design has been re-imagined for the Broadway Theatre, where the opera opens Dec. 8. Black and white costume sketches with color swatches and performer headshots are pinned all over the walls of the loft; at one side are two models, representing different stage pictures. The models come complete with tiny lighting sources, little plastic figures, and Luhrmann's famed L'Amour sign. Shutterbug extraordinaire Andy French is photographing Martin with her model: look for his pics, along with my story about the show, in ED December…Uptown, at the Time-Life building, the CNN street-level studio for American Morning with Paula Zahn is nearing completion. Architect Antonio Argibay of Meridian Design Associates gives me a tour of the 16,000 sq.-ft. facility, which also includes the up-and-running studio for Connie Chung Tonight. The American Morning studio is wrapped on three sides by several thicknesses of glass, providing views to Avenue of the Americas between 50th and 51st Streets, with Radio City Music Hall in the background. Argibay and his partner Bice C. Wilson's task included replacing a column with a steel girder system for structural support. The interior design of the studio is by Production Design Group; lighting is by Steve Brill of Lighting Design Group, with Murphy Lighting Systems supervising system integration and installation. Targeted on-air date is sometime in September, but the studio's LED zipper is already running, and if you walk by, you might see finishing touches being applied.--JC