The Main Event

After a triumphant opening night for 'Hairspray,' John Waters and his Baltimore pals revel in Broadway's white hot spotlight.

August 17, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

NEW YORK - The spirits were higher than the bouffant hairdos Thursday night.

While the New York newspapers were going to press with a raft of rave reviews for Hairspray, 1,500 elated partygoers celebrated Broadway's first big hit of the season.

And indications are that Hairspray could be one of the bigger hits of many seasons to come. On Thursday, even before the reviews were out, a new block of tickets (through March 2) went on sale and the daily box-office total soared to $1.9 million.

Thursday's post-performance festivities were held at Roseland, the legendary ballroom that has been the site of everything from Rolling Stones concerts to prize fights.

The tables were decorated with candle-holders shaped like old-fashioned TV sets and cotton-candy-colored beehive wigs atop towering tulle-draped stands. The buffet stations were strewn with plastic hair curlers, and the disc jockey's platform was flanked by two megalithic cans of hair- spray.

Nathan Lane was there and Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Martin Short, Bette Midler, Rosie O'Donnell, Kathleen Turner, Patricia Hearst and Ricki Lake. But holding court at a central table was the musical's eminence grise - Baltimore filmmaker John Waters, whose 1988 breakthrough mainstream movie inspired the Broadway musical.

"I used to have a standard answer when people asked what I thought of his movies," said Waters' mother, Patricia, dressed in a ladylike sky blue suit and triple strand of Barbara Bush pearls. "I used to say, `I'm waiting for him to make another Sound of Music.' Well, he's done it. This is better."

Her son, whose Greenwich Village pied-a-terre was the cover story in Thursday's New York Times home section, called the evening "incredibly moving" and added wryly, "I'm going to have `over-exposed' tattooed on my forehead."

In addition to his parents, the guests at Waters' table included a host of cohorts dating back to the early days of the filmmaker's Dreamland studio. Bob Adams, whom Waters has dubbed "the ultimate Dreamland archivist," said, "The thing that amazes me is, I remember 30 years ago being in front of the Elgin Cinema ... begging people to see Pink Flamingos. Thirty years later, [Waters' work] is on Broadway and all of New York sees the show."

The evening was bittersweet for Waters and his friends, who have lost many of their original cadre, including Divine, the cross-dressing star who originated Hairspray's matriarchal role of Edna Turnblad.

"This movie was one of the best things in our lives," said Waters' longtime casting director, Pat Moran. "There are a lot of memories. Divine died two weeks after the New York Times raved it. I never saw Hairspray again. When Harvey Fierstein [Broadway's Edna] turned around in the first scene, I couldn't contain myself. I spent most of the time weeping."

Also traveling back in time was Ricki Lake, the actress-turned-tabloid-talk-show host who became a star after portraying Edna's rotund daughter, Tracy, in the film. "It was overwhelming in a lot of ways," she said of the Broadway show. "You do a little movie that changes your life, and the fact that it comes back 14 years later is really amazing."

The only time the blaring Sixties rock 'n' roll abated during the party was when the musical's Baltimore-born producer, Margo Lion, stepped up on the deejay's stand to express her gratitude to the folks behind the show.

"Thank you for making my dream come true," said Lion, her shoulders draped in an abundant blue-and-pink marabou stole created by the musical's costume designer, William Ivey Long, to match the feather-trimmed ensembles worn by Tracy and Edna in their big makeover number, "Welcome to the 60's."

By midnight, after most of the '60s-era comfort food - macaroni and cheese, meatloaf and mini-crabcakes (a salute to the show's Baltimore setting) - was gone, the wig centerpieces had also disappeared. Some of the synthetic tresses were perched on the heads of partygoers, both male and female. Others festooned their hair with the plastic curlers from the buffet tables.

Young cast members and their guests crowded onto the deejay's stand, dancing with abandon to golden oldies written before they were born. But when the deejay played tracks from Hairspray's just-released cast album, the tremors on the dance floor went off the Richter scale.

One guest who didn't make it to the opening was Buddy Deane, whose late 1950s, early 1960s WJZ-TV dance show was the model for Hairspray's Corny Collins Show. Deane was at his Arkansas home caring for his wife, who is recovering from a recent stroke. "I would have loved to have come, but my wife of 54 years comes first," Deane said Wednesday.

If he'd made it, Deane would no doubt have agreed with Rosie O'Donnell, who aptly proclaimed the new smash hit musical, "A love letter to Baltimore."

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