Hairspray' coming next year

THEATER

A national tour plans to kick off at the Mechanic

Theater Column

July 04, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Baltimore theatergoers can start making their hair appointments now. Although no contract has been signed, Hairspray, the coming Broadway musical based on John Waters' 1988 movie, plans to launch its national tour at the Mechanic Theatre in September 2003.

"All the scary optimism lately is making me nervous, but I can't think of a better place in the whole world for it to start," Waters said this week.

In other news about the musical, the cast album already has been recorded, and it includes a new song, "(The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs," added since the show's tryout in Seattle last month.

Sung by Linda Hart, who plays villainess Velma Von Tussle, the song replaces a number called "Velma's Cha-Cha."

According to a spokesman for the show, the lyrics to "Velma's Cha-Cha" were re-written in Seattle in an attempt to soften the character. After trying the lyrics out on the West Coast, the show's creators decided to go in the opposite direction. In "Miss Baltimore Crabs," Velma is more hard-edged than ever.

Hairspray begins previews at Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre July 18. The official opening is Aug. 15.

Celebrating Sondheim

It's Stephen Sondheim season in this part of the country. On a grand scale, there's the Sondheim Celebration at the Kennedy Center in Washington; on a far more modest scale, there's Theatre Hopkins' production of the Sondheim revue Putting It Together.

If you'd like just a taste of the master's music, or if the Washington shows have whetted your appetite for more, director Todd Pearthree's sophisticated handling of Putting It Together will fill the bill.

The five-person revue features a wide variety of songs from the Sondheim catalog, including a few obscure numbers, such as "Bang!" and "My Husband, The Pig," which were cut from A Little Night Music, as well as several songs written for the movie Dick Tracy.

The show's format is a cocktail party, with Michael Himelfarb serving as an urbane emcee, guiding the audience through the evening with, among other things, verses of "Merrily We Roll Along," which pop up at regular intervals. His performance blends the amiable with the acerbic in a manner well-suited to Sondheim's songs about longing, the difficulty of connecting and the type of affable neuroses conveyed in "I Could Drive A Person Crazy." (Sondheim sticklers take note, the personal pronoun is changed from "You" to "I" in this number from Company, one of several lyric changes made for the revue.)

With similar minor adjustments, most of the songs work well out of context; the chief exception is "Hello, Little Girl," which was written for the Wolf to sing to Little Red in Into the Woods, and which doesn't make a great deal of sense here.

Still, as the Wolf's prey, Lauren Spencer-Harris is adorable, as she is throughout the production, whether portraying the flirty maid in "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" or the vixen in "Sooner or Later," part of which she sings while straddling a chair and leaning backward until her head touches the floor. Even upside-down, her slick, precise delivery makes her the star of the show.

Although there are no specific characters, Liz Boyer Hunnicutt and Peter N. Crews do an impressive job suggesting a couple whose marriage is on the skids in such songs as "Country House," "Remember," "Sorry-Grateful" and "Like It Was." Crews also shines in the heartfelt solo portions of "Being Alive."

There are a few missteps, however, including some overstated staging, such as having affable Brent Bell pantomime what Himelfarb is singing about in "Now." And, though the men look natty in black dinner jackets, the women's outfits are unflattering.

Theatre Hopkins was to have ended its season with another Sondheim musical, Assassins, a 1991 show about presidential killers and would-be killers. But just as a planned Broadway production of that show was postponed after Sept. 11, so did this community theater back off - in this case, in favor of a milder and more politically correct choice (although the revue does include one Assassins number, the aptly titled "Gun Song"). The result is an evening even the Sondheim-phobic will probably find inoffensive - and enjoyable.

Theatre Hopkins performs in the Merrick Barn on the Homewood campus of the Johns Hopkins University. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:15 p.m. Sundays, through July 14. Tickets are $12 and $15. Call 410-516-7159.

Ring a bell?

If one of the new movies in town seems familiar to Baltimore theatergoers, there's good reason for it. Triumph of Love, directed by Clare Peploe and starring Mira Sorvino, is a film adaptation of the same 18th-century French play by Marivaux that was produced at Center Stage in 1993, then transformed into a musical that originated at that theater in 1996. The musical went on to Broadway a year later.

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