Jibson goes off road, onto Broadway stage in `Hairspray'

TheaterReview

April 08, 2004|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

There's going to be a new Tracy Turnblad on Broadway, and Baltimoreans saw her first.

Carly Jibson, who debuted in the lead role of Hairspray when the show launched its national tour at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in September, will assume the role on Broadway on May 4. That's also the day Michael McKean (who played Lenny on the long-running ABC series Laverne & Shirley) takes over the role of Tracy's mom, Edna, from Tony Award-winning star Harvey Fierstein.

"Carly has just been a revelation to everybody, and she's an extraordinary Tracy," Hair- spray producer Margo Lion said of Jibson, a 19-year-old from Muskegon, Mich. "We're delighted."

As to the pairing of Jibson and McKean, Lion commented, "I think they're going to be adorable because he's so tall and she's so short."

When Jibson makes the move to Broadway, the role of Tracy in the touring production (which is currently booked through 2006) will go to Keala Settle, Jibson's understudy on the road.

Meanwhile, a third company of the John Waters-movie-turned-musical begins preview performances in Toronto tonight.

Toronto's Tracy is Vanessa Olivarez, a 2003 American Idol finalist, who stood up to - and even cracked a joke - when tough judge Simon Cowell told her she needed to lose a few pounds. ("It worked for J.Lo," she quipped.) Olivarez will have the last laugh when she takes the stage at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre and belts out, "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now."

Summer theater

This summer's four-show lineup at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va., includes two world premieres and plays with subject matter ranging from Little League to homeland security.

"All these plays deal with contemporary life," said festival producing director Ed Herendeen. "I think they're all very timely."

The shows, which will be performed in rotating repertory from July 9-Aug.1, include:

Homeland Security, by Stuart Flack, a play about a couple - a second-generation American doctor of East Indian descent and his American girlfriend - detained by airport security. Herendeen calls it "a play about trust: Do we ever really trust one another and what happens when trust breaks down?"

Rounding Third, by Richard Dresser, a comedy about two Little League dads with divergent philosophies. Dresser's fourth play to be produced at Shepherdstown asks "what kind of kids are we raising?" according to Herendeen, who adds, "It's a values play, even though it's a rollicking comedy."

Flag Day, by Lee Blessing, a pairing of two short plays. One concerns racial tensions in the workplace, and the other is inspired by the case of a black Texas hit-and-run driver whose white victim bled to death over several days while impaled in her windshield. Herendeen describes this world premiere (by another festival veteran) as "two very different yet connected experiences [about] race and how we talk about it and how we deal with it."

The Rose of Corazon: A Texas Songplay, music by Keith Glover, Billy Thompson and George Caldwell; book and lyrics by Glover, a world premiere musical, commissioned by the festival. "A love story told through song," in Herendeen's words, this small-scale musical focuses on a Spanish war bride (circa World War I) who becomes involved in a romantic triangle in Texas. Glover's play with music, Thunder Knocking on the Door, was produced at Center Stage in 1996.

Subscriptions to the four-play season cost $90 and $110 and are on sale now. Single tickets cost $28 and $33. For more information, call 800-999-CATF or visit www.catf.org.

News from New York

New productions of two plays that got a start in this area opened in New York recently. Ken Ludwig's rewrite of the 1932 Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur comedy, Twentieth Century, made its world premiere at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va., in August. Lisa Kron's Well, a play about health and the playwright's socially conscious mother, received a staged reading in Center Stage's First Look series two seasons ago.

Here's what some of the New York critics had to say about Twentieth Century, whose Broadway cast is headed by Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche:

"Whenever [Heche's] onstage, this Twentieth Century, set on a New York-bound luxury train, picks up speed. Otherwise ... this comedy of grand postures and bad manners feels stalled in the 1930s, gathering dust. You start to realize there are reasons it hasn't been revived on Broadway in more than 50 years." - Ben Brantley, New York Times

"In Walter Bobbie's slick production, the leading roles have been superbly cast. Like their characters, Baldwin and Heche have lived out their own caprices in public; ... they bring to the stage their own legends, which lend a particular vividness to their characterizations and make for a rich theatrical chemistry." - John Lahr, New Yorker

"The new Broadway revival of Twentieth Century ... never works up a head of steam. The marquee stars ... are sorely mismatched, and Walter Bobbie's staging of Ken Ludwig's new adaptation is alternately limp and labored. All aboard for boredom." - Christopher Isherwood, Variety

And about Well, Kron's first play for a cast of more than one:

"The show has a warmth and accessibility that make you want to recommend it to everyone, not just downtown hipsters who like to have their theater and deconstruct it, too." - Brantley

"Well is all those things Kron claims it is, and everything she claims it is not. It is also both lighthearted and deep. It seems to ramble but is extremely well organized. ... The revelations are both graceful and awkward, subtle and obvious, elegant and confusing. Like life." - Linda Winer, Newsday

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