The Dayton Playhouse will open its 54th season Friday with Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s 2002 Tony Award-winning musical “Hairspray,” based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name subsequently adapted as a movie musical in 2007.
Set in 1962 Baltimore, “Hairspray” centers on the hilarious yet eye-opening adventures of Tracy Turnblad, a plus-size teenager who longs to appear on the local TV program “The Corny Collins Show.” When her dream comes true, Tracy’s spirited personality captures the attention of heartthrob Link Larkin, a featured star of the show. Along the way, Tracy boldly attempts to racially integrate the program enabling her to be an unexpected force for change within her family and community despite ridicule.
“There are so many aspects of ‘Hairspray’ that people can identify with from the characters to the events themselves,” said Tamar Fishbein, who portrays Tracy. “I hope that teens in particular take the message on bullying to heart. Tracy lets no one under her skin, and in the end, it pays off.”
Fishbein, who appeared as a courtesan in the Playhouse’s production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” last season, is also attracted to Tracy’s magnetic persona, which allows her to remain a sunny presence no matter how hopeless or off-putting the situation.
“Tracy is everything I was and wish I was at her age,” she said. “What I love about her the most is her eternal optimism. Even when she hits rock bottom she finds something positive.”
Playhouse board president Brian Sharp, whose Playhouse directorial credits include “Gypsy,” “Side by Side by Sondheim” and “The Sound of Music,” has some particularly big shoes to fill. In fact, he’ll be wearing a women’s size 14 as he embodies Tracy’s larger-than-life mom Edna, immortalized on stage by Harvey Fierstein and on screen by Divine and John Travolta. Sharp was seen this summer at the Playhouse’s FutureFest in a reading of “St. Paulie’s Delight,” but Edna marks his first full-scale return to the stage since portraying Lazar Wolf in “Fiddler on the Roof” 30 years ago in college. The chance to play the endearing yet timid Edna was simply too hard to resist.
“I have always loved the role ever since I saw it portrayed by Harvey Fierstein on Broadway,” said Sharp. “It’s a great role and I have a whole new respect for women in heels! While this show speaks to some very important issues like integration, race and bullying, I think these issues are still relevant today. I also think (the show) is a kind of coming-of-age so to speak for Edna. She hasn’t believed in herself. Even though Edna’s daughter exudes confidence, she doesn’t. Her size and lack of accomplishment are all shown. I want to be able to show all sides of Edna. She is full of life, but life has also worn her down. However, I am very excited to let loose and have fun.”
The principal cast includes Amber Butler, Amanda Carter, Ben Douglas, Marabeth Klejna, Tori Kocher, Kelli Locker, Jim Lockwood, Dean Swann, Desmond Thomas and Crystal Williams.
“Hairspray” will be directed by Tina McPhearson, a former Playhouse executive director who previously appeared in the Playhouse’s production of “Nunsense” last year. McPhearson’s artistic team includes choreographer Annette Looper, musical director Judy Mansky, set designer Chris Newman and costume/wig designers Steve Burton and Tim Grewe.
The fantastic, tuneful score by Shaiman and Wittman, composers of “Catch Me If You Can” and “Smash,” features “Good Morning Baltimore,” “Mama, I’m A Big Girl Now,” “I Can Hear The Bells,” “Welcome to the ‘60s,” “I Know Where I’ve Been” and “You Can’t Stop The Beat.”
How to Go
Where: Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton
When: Sept. 6-22; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.
Cost: $17 for adults; $15 for students and seniors
Tickets: Call (937) 424-8477 or visit www.daytonplayhouse.com