Waters' casting call starts here

Auditions: The Broadway version of the 1988 film `Hairspray' is casting around for the Ricki Lake role.

Theater

November 22, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

"A baby Divine and Ricki Lake put together who can sing like Ethel Merman." That's how filmmaker John Waters describes the ideal actress to play Tracy Turnblad, the tubby teen star of Hairspray, the Broadway musical being fashioned from his 1988 movie of the same name.

On Thursday, Dec. 6, Tracy wannabes will get a chance to show their stuff when Hairspray holds an open-call audition at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. It's the first stop in a nationwide search that will include New York, Los Angeles and possibly Chicago, according to the show's New York casting director, Bernard Telsey.

Nor is Tracy the only role Telsey hopes to fill. He'll also be looking for performers to play all the primary teen-age characters, including Tracy's love interest, Link; her archrival, Amber; her best friend, Penny; Penny's boyfriend, Seaweed; and Seaweed's kid sister, Inez. (The role of Tracy's mother, created on screen by Waters' late cross-dressing star, Divine, is expected to be played on stage by Harvey Fierstein, whose credits include writing and starring in Torch Song Trilogy and writing the book for the musical La Cage Aux Folles.)

Finding the right Tracy, however, is crucial. A bubbly, overweight teen-ager, Tracy becomes a local celebrity - and civil rights activist - when she wins a spot on a segregated TV dance show modeled after WJZ's former Buddy Deane Show.

"Size is very important and a big belt pop sound," Telsey said. But equally important is "an incredible presence and personality. ... Someone who's going to really have the whole audience rooting for her."

Three hundred people showed up at a similar open-call audition Telsey conducted in Baltimore three years ago for the musical Rent. Matt Caplan, currently in the Broadway production, was one of the actors cast from that audition.

Past success is only one reason for holding auditions in Baltimore, however. "We're looking for a young heavyset girl who can really dance and sing and act, so that requires a massive search, and we thought it would be really fun to begin that search in Baltimore because it's the home of the show," explained Margo Lion, the musical's Baltimore-born producer.

Waters, who is serving as a consultant on the musical, heartily concurs. "I think Baltimore could bring out somebody who is untraditionally a star. I think Baltimore is always great at that," said the filmmaker, who will be attending the local audition with his longtime casting agent, Pat Moran.

Waters acknowledged that he was unable to find a Baltimorean to play Tracy when he made the movie. (The career-making role ultimately went to Lake.) Now, however, Waters believes Hairspray could have better luck locally.

"When we made Hairspray, I couldn't find any big girls to even audition, and in this one, she will have to be able to sing, too," he said. "But after Hairspray came out, thousands of fat girls tried out for Crybaby, when we weren't looking for them."

Hairspray will have its second full reading in New York on Dec. 14. At that reading, the role of Tracy will be played by Marissa Jaret Winokur, an actress whose credits include the movie American Beauty and the Broadway revival of Grease. Winokur played Tracy in the first reading a year ago and may play it on Broadway. Even if that's the case, Lion said she hopes the open-call auditions will produce a standby for the demanding role.

Hairspray has a score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and a book by Mark O'Donnell. Thomas Meehan, a Tony Award winner for The Producers and Annie, has also been reported to be working on the book. Lion said an out-of-town tryout is being planned for the spring, with a Broadway opening anticipated next season.

Auditions will be held 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Meyerhoff, 1212 Cathedral St. Prepare a 1960s-style pop song that shows singing range; bring sheet music, a photo (snapshots are acceptable) and a resume or list of experience, if any. Roles under consideration range in age from 16 to 17, except Inez, who is 11-14. Auditioners are advised to arrive by 10 a.m.

Protesting `Music Man'

When The Music Man opens at the Mechanic Theatre Tuesday, the trouble in River City may not be entirely confined to the stage. Actors' Equity, the union of professional stage actors and stage managers, will have pickets handing out leaflets outside the theater.

"We are protesting non-Equity tours that call themselves `Broadway' shows and charge the public top dollar but refuse to pay actors fair wages or benefits," Equity executive director Alan Eisenberg said in a statement urging theatergoers to boycott the production.

"Equity rates for productions of this size have tended to be not feasible," Dan Sher, executive producer of Big League Theatricals, which is producing the tour, responded last week. The Music Man has a cast of 38 and a 16-member orchestra, which is also non-union.

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