the look of LOUD

Three designers are taking outrageous steps to make sure 'Hairspray,' the musical, gets noticed.

Hairspray on Broadway

Cover Story

May 26, 2002|By Stories by J. Wynn Rousuck | Stories by J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- No doubt John Waters meant it fondly when he quipped: "Come to Baltimore and be appalled."

Now his vision of 1960s Baltimore is headed to Broadway, where, with the help of a team of designers, the musical theater version of Waters' 1988 movie Hairspray will show Charm City in all its delightfully excessive glory -- complete with big hair, fake Formstone and fabrics with more florals than a florist's shop.

What will Baltimore look like on Broadway? Right now, only Tony Award-winning costume designer William Ivey Long, set designer David Rockwell and -- most crucial for a show called Hairspray -- Paul Huntley, Broadway's top wig designer, know for sure.

FOR THE RECORD - Due to an editing error, a quotation attributed to filmmaker John Waters in last Sunday's Arts & Society section was incorrect. The quote should have read: "Come to Baltimore and be shocked."
The Sun regrets the error.

Their efforts go on public view for the first time Thursday, when Hairspray -- the story of a chubby Baltimore teen who finds fame on a local TV dance show and, in the process, brings integration to the airwaves -- begins its pre-Broadway engagement at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre.

But before Hairspray wows (or should we say appalls?) its first paying audience, three of its designers sat down with The Sun to discuss their craft, and offer a sneak peek of Waters' Baltimore on Broadway.

Enter: Hairspray. Exit: Quiet good taste.

To read the first installment in the series about this musical, visit www.sunspot.net / hairspray.

THE COSTUMES

Forget minimal. William Ivey Long's colorful creations promise plenty of patterns.

Here's a William Ivey Long rule for designing costumes for the stage:

Avoid splashy prints. They detract from the actor's face.

Here's a William Ivey Long rule for designing costumes for Hairspray:

Go wild with florals.

And checks.

And stripes.

And polka dots.

A three-time Tony Award winner, Long knew from the start how he'd capture 1960s Baltimore fashion on stage. "I'm going to dive right in on this one," the preppy-looking, bespectacled designer says.

"Nothing succeeds like excess. That's Oscar Wilde, I think, and I'm sure he came to Baltimore."

That explains the plethora of patterns appearing in the musical adaptation of John Waters' movie. The heroine's mother, Edna Turnblad, a middle-aged Baltimore housewife played by Harvey Fierstein, will wear "Baltimore Chanel -- a floral Chanel with ruffles." And when Edna and her daughter, Tracy (played by Marissa Jaret Winokur), get a makeover, they'll sport matching, feather-trimmed, mother-daughter outfits.

Though he was raised in Raleigh, N.C., Long is no stranger to Baltimore. His mother grew up in Bolton Hill, and he frequently visited relatives there. "I was a difficult child to adore because I was weird as all get-out. I bring that to this piece," he says. "That's why Baltimore has a big halo around it for me, because I was accepted there and it really meant a lot."

Long sees Baltimore as a place that welcomes outsiders and outcasts, a notion that's a continuing theme in Waters' movies. His own idiosyncrasies -- and love of costumes -- began in infancy. The oldest of three children born to parents who worked for the Raleigh Little Theatre, the 54-year-old designer says, "I was raised in a costume shop and put to bed in piles of fabric." His first home, during the post-World War II housing shortage, was "the stage-left dressing room."

Now one of Broadway's most successful costume designers, he still lives in a costume shop -- his 1854 Chelsea brownstone, "the house Crazy for You built," he calls it, referring to the show that won him his 1992 Tony.

Rack upon rack of 1960s clothing, culled from New York's vintage and second-hand clothing stores, is jammed into the front of his home. When searching for inspiration he sorts through plaid shirts, coats and narrow-waisted, full-skirted dresses in everything from pastels to leopard prints. The 100-plus costumes for Hairspray, however, are all brand new, sewn in six different New York shops.

Long is a veteran of musicals that started out as films. Two of his Tony Awards are for shows adapted from movies -- The Producers and Nine. And that brings up another rule he's broken on Hairspray: Typically, he doesn't use the movies -- or, as he calls them, "previously owned vehicles" -- as reference. But in this case, he says, "We really are encouraged to look at the movie because of the type of authenticity that John Waters was able to gather."

Costumes help define character, or entire groups of characters, Long says. He has divided his designs for the last scene into three basic color schemes, one for each of what he describes as the show's main groups: Red for the "winners," Tracy and her family and friends; yellow for the "losers," Tracy's rivals; and gold for the black characters who help Tracy bring integration to Baltimore television.

Clothing also can indicate character development. As Tracy and her mother change and grow during the course of the musical, their outfits evolve, too.

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