Monday, July 26, 2010

Best of the Decade: The Best Musicals #5

Since we are now talking the 5 BEST musicals of a whole decade, I figure each of them deserves their own blog.  And so that brings me to my 5th most favorite new musical that opened between the 2000-2001 and 2009-2010 seasons.

5.  Hairspray -

Book: Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Music: Marc Shaiman
Lyrics: Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman

Statistically Speaking: 
Began Previews: July 18, 2002 
Opening Night: August 15, 2002 
Closing Night: January 4, 2009
31 Previews, 2642 Performances at the Neil Simon Theatre

Hairspray On Tour

  • 13 Tony nominations, 8 wins: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical (Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan), Best Score (Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman), Best Actor (Harvey Fierstein), Best Actress (Marissa Jaret Winokur), Best Supporting Actor (Dick Latessa), Best Costume Design of a Musical (William Ivey Long), Best Direction of a Musical (Jack O'Brien).  Nominees were Jerry Mitchell (Choreography), David Rockwell (Scenic Design of a Musical), Harold Wheeler (Orchestrations), Kevin Posner (Lighting Design of a Musical), and Corey Reynolds (Best Supporting Actor).
  • Winner of 2 Theatre World Awards: Jackie Hoffman and Marissa Jaret Winokur

"The Nicest Kids in Town":
The Original Broadway Cast

Over the years**, there were:
  • 4 Corny Collins (originally Clarke Thorell) including Lance Bass and Jonathan Dokuchitz.
  • 9 Amber Van Tussels (originally Laura Bell Bundy) including Haylie Duff, Brynn O'Malley and Aubrey O'Day.
  • 9 Velma Van Tussels (originally Linda Hart) including Barbara Walsh, Michele Pawk and Karen Mason.
  • 3 Seaweed J. Stubbs (originally Corey Reynolds) including Tevin Campbell and Chester Gregory II.
  • 3 Motormouth Maybelles (originally Mary Bond Davis) including Jenifer Lewis and Darlene Love.
  • 6 Link Larkins (originally Matthew Morrison) including Ashley Parker Angel and Aaron Tveit.
  • 7 Penny Pingletons (originally Kerry Butler) including Diana DeGarmo, Jennifer Gambatese and Caissie Levy.
  • 8Wilbur Turnblads (originally Dick Latessa) including Jm J. Bullock, Jerry Mathers and Jere Burns.
  • 7 Edna Turnblads (originally Harvey Fierstein) including Bruce Vilanch, Paul Vogt, Michael McKean and George Wendt.
  • 5 Tracy Turnblads (originally Marissa Jaret Winokur) including Shannon Durig, Kathy Brier and Carly Jibson.

** - NOT including return engagements, understudies, swings or stand-bys.

Ashley Parker Angel as
Link Larkin

Lance Bass, who played Corny Collins

Diana DeGarmo and Tevin Campbell
as Penny and Seaweed

The original cast included the following actors who have gone on to some acclaim since their stint in Hairspray: Eric Anthony, Shoshana Bean, Adam Fleming, Jennifer Gambatese, John Hill, and Jackie Hoffman.

Among the replacements, these now known names made their Broadway debuts: Alli Mauzey, Jerry Mathers, Alexa Vega, Tracy Jai Edwards, Daniel Robinson, Lance Bass, and Leslie Kritzer.

The Original Turnblads: Harvey Fierstein (Edna),
Dick Latessa (Wilbur) and Marissa Jaret Winokur (Tracy) 

My Favorite Songs/Moments in Hairspray:
  • "Good Morning, Baltimore":  One of the best opening numbers ever.  From the "rats on the streets" to the bar stool for the town flasher, to the inordinate amounts of "hairspray," this number is a visual feast and one catchy tune!
  • "The Nicest Kids in Town":  The sassiest, funniest and most spot on sarcasm, parody and irony in a Broadway song, maybe ever.  Plus the dancing/staging and infectious tune...
  • "I Can Hear the Bells":  The clever conceit of characters frozen in time worked perfectly, as did the fantasy wedding, and my favorite part, Penny Pingleton walking around in "reality", playing with her gum, oblivious to it all.

Forbidden Love:
Penny (Kerry Butler) + Seaweed (Corey Reynolds)
Tracy (Marissa Jaret Winokur) + Link (Matthew Morrison)

  • "The Madison": I love a dance number for the sake of a dance number.  Jerry Mitchell's brilliant all-stage dance number seamlessly changed perspective so much so that it seemed like a surprise every time some one spoke during the scene.
  • "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now": A tribute to the generation gap, the song is hilarious and the staging, with fold out walls and "singing" posters put it wonderfully over the top.
  • "Run and Tell That": Who will ever forget the line "the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice"?
  • The "patter" during "Timeless to Me":  Sure it was a comic plant of a breaking of character, but it made the silliness sillier and the characters more real as we glimpsed the actor beneath.
  • "You Can't Stop the Beat":  The show opens with a bang and ends with an explosion.  An exciting, beautifully staged finale that left the cast breathless and the audience panting for more.

The Replacements: Aaron Tveit (top, right) as Link,
Bruce Vilanch (below, center) as Edna and Kathy Brier as Tracy

Why this show is one of my favorites:  It is funny, clever, theatrical and the perfect mix of old-fashioned and modern.  The presentation and lavish production values scream old school, but the subversive point of view and edgy humor made it a modern wonder.  And it is a show with a message; it doesn't hit you over the head with it, but rather revels in presenting all sides and still making you see what is right.  You'd have to be cold as a stone not to feel something after the anthem "I Know Where I've Been," and even colder not to find the odd-ball family that the Turnblads are still charming and utterly identifiable.

Christopher Sieber as Edna

Drew Lachey as Corny Collins

Life After Broadway:  And ever since it closed, there have been high profile tours and resident productions.  The most recent include one with Christopher Sieber as Edna, and one with Drew Lachey as Corny Collins.  The show was a huge hit in London, winning its Best Musical prize.  And of course, there was the hit film, starring John Travolta, Christopher Walken, Nikki Blonsky, Queen Latifah, Michelle Pfeiffer and some kid named Zak Efron.

Artwork for the movie version

Comments?  Leave one here or email me at jkstheatrescene.  Or send me a question at and look me up as "jkstheatrescene" or "Jeff Kyler."  Go ahead!  Follow me!

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