Hair-hopping hons!

August 19, 2002

GOTTA BE A FIRST: Formstone on Broadway. In all its gray-on-gray glory on the stage of the Neil Simon Theater, evoking the concrete-tinted, blue-collar charm of Bawlmer.

Now that's beautiful, hon. Something to be proud of.

And whom do we have to thank? The city's baron of bad taste, John Waters, and a brilliant band of producers, songwriters, librettists, designers, director, choreographer and the like who believed the story of a fat girl from Baltimore would sell on the Great White Way.

The Broadway musical version of Mr. Waters' 1988 film Hairspray opened last week to pompadour-high praise. But then, Baltimoreans could've predicted that. After all those New Yorkers have endured this year, they needed a dose of Charm City charm.

Not the O's-lovin', crab-pickin', marble-stepped days of summer, but a blast from Baltimore's past, 1960s-style, when beehives soared and doo-wop rocked and teens just wanted to dance, preferably on The Buddy Deane Show.

The musical offers New Yorkers a taste of Baltimore, and not just a tray of Berger cookies. It's a cup of Domino Sugar and a dollop of Tulkoff's Horseradish, a hint of Old Bay, a platter of sour beef and dumplings, a bottle of Natty Boh, a plate of lake trout and an egg custard snowball.

In other words, it's genuine Baltimore, that second-class American city on the Patapsco that doesn't take itself too seriously. Mr. Waters has proved that time and again.

And while Baltimore has tried to tony up its image on occasion, the city knows how to celebrate its originality. The Hon Fest in Hampden may be only 8 years old, but its roots date back decades.

But this show isn't all fluff and Aqua Net, even though hair has a starring role. It repackages the tale of an ugly duckling against a backdrop of race relations. The musical Hairspray captures the spirit of a wannabe city that deserves to be loved.

Divine, the film's late cross-dressing star, must be strutting his stuff.

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